Letting Go Of Bad Coping Habits & Finding New Healthy Ones

October 11, 2017

I don't think many of you know this but I used to be a smoker, a heavy duty one. At the end of this year it will be my very first time that I'm actually completely smoke free! I 'quit' a long time ago, in fact I don't even quite remember when (I think 2013) but let me explain. I was 16 when I started, out of pure curiosity, I was growing up, trying to find my place in the world. Smoking was the cool thing to do, my parents did it, more than half my classmates, my boyfriend, everyone. It took me a long time to figure out that I was actually attempting to smoke away my worries. If I'd feel the need to cry, I'd just smoke, if I were anxious, annoyed or angry, I would just smoke. At 22 I was close to smoking 2 packs a day, one during the day and one at night, when I would go out for drinks or go clubbing. Kind of insane, I know but here's why: It took me a long time to figure out that it's okay to feel. 

I've always been a very emotional person - but that, unfortunately, didn't mean that I actually knew how to express myself. I'm learning that in therapy now, at 27. I'm learning how to listen to my heart and my body and how to figure out what's right for me. I still suppress a lot of my feelings, I do, and they end up building themselves up in my body and result into weird body pains like stomach aches, headaches, pelvic pains etc. but when I think back at how much I smoked and how much money I spent on cigarettes, I can't quite believe it. I'm happy I quit because I remember constantly having throat infections and severe colds, all year long. At some point, smoking even caused me to burn holes in my tonsils, however, it was only when I had a raspy voice for over 2 months that I finally decided to make a change. Quitting the smoking wasn't actually that hard, it was all the feels that I hadn't been dealing with that were very overwhelming. Even though I actually felt physically better and looked better after going completely cold turkey (meaning going from almost 40 cigarettes a day to nothing), I still wasn't taking care of myself emotionally. I was only focussed on the goal and not the cause of my addiction. 

I stopped smoking by tackling every 'habit' that came with it. I realised I smoked because I was in the presence of other smokers, because I was used to having it with my coffee or simply because I was outside! I clearly remember it would take me 2 cigarettes to get downtown, which meant 20 minutes in non smoking terms. The most difficult part for me definitely was suppressing the urge to smoke when I was out and about, alone or with my friends. Because I couldn't possibly lock myself up at home just for the sake of not smoking I decided I would chew gum, normal gum. Instead of coffee or alcohol I would drink tea. This was around the time that green tea was the solution to absolutely everything and I went with it. Green tea became a part of my daily routine. About a month or so into it I saw a huge difference in my health and appearance. Not only was my throat finally doing better, I just looked better overall, my face was less 'grey' and I didn't have bags under my eyes anymore. Looking back at it now I clearly swapped my nicotine addiction for caffeine, but it worked and I was happy. This green tea 'revelation' also steered me towards a 'healthier living', or that's what I thought. I partied less, quit drinking alcohol for a while, and even found the motivation to do a sugar detox (for medical reasons, not for weight loss). When I think about it now, it was all very much a distraction of what was really going on with me. Change was the only solution I could come up with to deal with the fact that my mental health was so poor. I switched jobs, shortly after moved back to my home country together with my new (now current) boyfriend and started uni for the second time. I was looking for some type of normalcy and comfort again, get my life sorted, you know, but that didn't happen. 6 months in I completely burned out and quit going to school. I fell into a deep depression and had lost whatever was left of my self confidence. 

It took me years to get out of that situation, to actually get help from professionals, to stop crying myself to sleep and stare at the ceiling all day long thinking of what a failure I was. I'm very happy I'm going to therapy now, every week, and I'm happy that I'm learning how to deal with my feelings. I have guidance for the first time in my life and I've never felt more relieved. Guidance is something I really lacked growing up. I still do have difficulties trusting myself a bit because I tend to fall back into old coping mechanisms quite easily. A simple example of that is that I have a hard time putting things into perspective. I mostly just freak out, then completely shut down and can't concentrate on anything for days and sometimes weeks on end. 

Today, I am perfectly able to drink a cup of coffee, go out or drink alcohol without smoking. I'd lie if I said the thought of having a cigarette never crossed my mind, but I'm not ready to swap my healthy coping habits now, with a bad one again. Last year I smoked exactly 5 cigarettes. I've seen people be disappointed in me when I say 'I quit smoking' and 'only smoked 5 last year' but I'm not disappointed in myself at all. I think I've come a long way and I'm proud of myself. 

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