Here’s an unpopular opinion you didn’t ask for:
Most people don’t know how hard it is to quit smoking. Most people don’t actually care.
I say this not because I want any kind of empathy for my struggle to kick the habit. I say this because there are a ton of people out there who wish they could quit—but find themselves coming up against judgment and dismissal. As though the world is black and white; as though you can ‘just quit’, like it’s that simple.
So this is my story. Of how I quit smoking in 37 steps.
Because that’s how long it took me—and I didn’t even succeed.
2. After a particularly stressful day at work, a colleague forgets I’ve quit, and offers me a cigarette. I don’t know how to say no.
3. This becomes a habit. I bump cigarettes from various colleagues throughout the day.
4. I reason that at least I’ve stopped spending money on cigarettes. It’s a start.
5. I finally start to feel bad for doing this, and decide to quit for real.
6. The next day, the craving hits, and I bump another cigarette. “Last one,” I tell myself.
7. I’m out for drinks, and instinctively reach for a friend’s pack. I don’t even realise I’m doing it. It feels amazing.
8. I no longer smoke on a regular basis. Only when I’m out for drinks with friends.
9. Strangely, my lungs feel cleaner. I feel lighter. I start to appreciate my smoke-free moments.
10. The cravings still hit. Especially after a heavy meal. Especially when I have my first cup of coffee in the morning.
11. I’m out with friends and we’re in a celebratory mood. A friend offers me a cigarette. I feel like I would ruin the mood if I refuse.
12. The cravings don’t hit as hard anymore, but it’s always there.
13. I no longer crave cigarettes, but I crave the moments that smoking has allowed me.
14. I miss the camaraderie amongst smokers—the banter in between stretches of work; the shared satisfaction of a smoke after an oily lunch; the casual bumping of cigarettes from other smokers who always understand.
15. I miss the quiet moments—outside alone, inhaling, exhaling, my own unhealthy version of a breathing exercise.
16. I miss the moments when a cigarette tastes best: when the weather is perfect and I’m in a comfortable chair. When I’m by the beach, or on a friend’s balcony which overlooks the Singapore skyline.
17. For no reason at all, I find myself having a cigarette. I realise I no longer enjoy it. The smoke stings my throat, sticks to my skin, and induces a slight nausea.
18. It upsets me that I no longer enjoy smoking. Is this how it ends?
19. Before I let this habit go, I need to know that the last time I did it, I loved it.
20. I bump a cigarette from a friend. I don’t actually want it; I just want to know that I can still enjoy it.
21. I really don’t enjoy it anymore. But I get over it by remembering the smoke, tar, and all the other shit I know is bad for me.
22. I’ve quit for 3 months. I proudly tell my friends who are smokers, and all of them are supportive. They puff on their cigarettes and tell me, “Well done, man.”
23. It’s been 6 months. Work is shit. I just got dumped. I need a smoke. I hesitate.
24. I buy a pack, chain-smoke 2 sticks, and throw the rest away. I’m surprisingly okay with wasting it.
25. Another 2 months later, shit happens again. This time, I have one cigarette and give the rest of the pack to my colleagues. For just one day, I’m everyone’s favourite person in the office.
26. I realise that there are moments when I simply feel, I neither want or need to smoke.
27. I’m amazed that sometimes, not wanting something can feel so much better than wanting it. I try to remember what this feels like.
28. A colleague asks if I want to join them for a smoke. I’m not actually busy, but I say that I am.
29. Eventually, both friends and colleagues stop offering cigarettes. In their own way, they support my choice to quit. I don’t feel left out.
30. An acquaintance says to me, “If you can quit, why can’t other people do it? It’s so simple.” I explain that it’s not, and that there is no reason to judge those who smoke.
31. I do not tell him that smokers are by far amongst the most non-judgmental people that I’ve ever met.
32. Out of spite, I have a cigarette. It feels good.
33. The cravings still come and go, but I try to remember step 21. I don’t always succeed.
34. I’ve heard stories from friends in Japan about alternatives out there that contain no tar or smoke. Why are those banned here?
35. I realise that this has never been about the people around me who smoke. It’s always been about me—why I want to smoke; what I’m trying to prove to myself.
36. Finally, I think I understand addiction. It is not something that just goes away; it’s a complex state of being that becomes you.
37. I may not have had a cigarette today, but I just might have one tomorrow.