I have quit smoking. But I'm still a smoker.
Alcoholics call themselves alcoholics even if they have not had a drink in years. Fortunately smoking does not leave such a lasting and dire impression on one's life, if one can manage to quit at all. Nonetheless I will not consider myself an ex-smoker for another ten months. I've heard that you have to wait a year after you've quit smoking before you can officially give yourself that moniker, and before you can (legally) check the non-smoker block on questionnaires, medical evaluations and insurance forms. It's not been a year yet. At the time of this writeup, it has been exactly fifty days. Still more than 300 days away from being a full-fledged non-smoker. And I still get cravings.
The majority of that time has been very comfortable. More comfortable than I've been in a long time, in fact. The first week, however, was a living hell, and I became very well acquainted with cravings on a more personal level than I ever thought possible.
As of right now - since I'm past the physical addiction - I get the cravings in my head. They're becoming less intense, and less frequent, but I still get them. I find myself polishing off a delicious meal, and scanning the table for a pack of cigarettes, which once would have been there. This leaves a gaping hole in the ritual - a very prominent feeling that something is missing or incomplete. It's definately not tangible, and you can't point to where that craving is. It's like when you leave home to go to work or to the grocery store, and you get the feeling that you're forgetting something. It is very much like that.
Psychological addiction is less intense than physical addiction, but it lasts so damn much longer, and is that much more unpleasant.
All those years that I smoked, I never gave it much though. I never once questioned why I would want a cigarette, and I never pushed past wanting one before I went and got one. Consequently, I'm not sure that my withdrawal cravings were the same, but I would imagine that they are. When you want a cigarette, that is the first little mini-withdrawal symptom. I didn't feel any tingling or itching, or anything so obvious. It hit me right in the chest - where all the magic was happening.
The closest I can come to describing the actual physical sensation of wanting a cigarette, nay, needing a cigarette, is hunger. That's not exactly right, but it's the nearest mark I can hit that everyone can relate to. Instead of hunger in my gut, it's a hunger in my chest. It was very distressing.
To complete the hunger analogy - after about the third day of no smoking, my heart started to beat erratically. Nothing to call a doctor about, but enough to scare the living shit out of me before I realized what it was. I equated this with when your stomach rumbles. You know how you can feel your stomach preparing for a good grumble that you know will be heard by everyone in the building - my chest would feel like that, then Gurgle! my heart would play the drum solo to Rat Salad on my ribs.
Quitters wouldn't be so ornery if the withdrawal wasn't so unpleasant.
It has been over 15 years, 1 marriage, 3 children, 2 cross-country relocations and a lifetime since I wrote the above. It's been several years since I've written anything at all here. But in case anyone wistfully wonders what ever became of this, here is quick update.
I failed at the quitting attempt chronicled above. I did, however, gain a lot of weight. I quit again in 2004. That was more successful. But in an exceptionally stressful situation in August of 2007, I succumbed and started smoking again. I gained more weight during that period.
Less than a month after my 40th birthday, October 15, 2010 I suffered a massive heart attack. I should have died that day. This heart attack was not directly attributed to my smoking. Nor was it even attributed to my weight. It was an extreme side effect from a medication I was taking to fight diabetes - which I got from being fat, which I got from unsuccessful attempts to quit smoking.
It has been 7.5 years since that day. I lost over 250 pounds, going from a disgusting 420 lbs (190 kg) to a completely unhealthy 155 lbs (70.5 kg) - and back up to a wonderfully healthy and sexy 210 (95 kg), and I have not had a cigarette since. I found a fool proof way to quit! All I had to do was almost die.
The good news is that all the unpleasantness that I described in the above rant does go away, and it goes away for good. There is no longer the disturbing sense of an unfulfilled ritual after eating or sex. My heart beats (more or less) without sudden discord. My normally sweet demeanor replaced irritability (but now, I'm irritable because I'm a much older curmudgeon). The physical and psychological dependence is completely gone. Even during stressful periods, I don't even think about cigarettes, much less consider smoking one. There are no cravings whatsoever. It is, for all intents and purposes, as if I'd never smoked. Except for, you know the indirect damage to my heart and loose skin.
On the other hand, I have not noticed food tasting any better. But all the other benefits that the anti-smoking crowd raves over are real. Probably the best benefit I've noticed is that I'm not a slave to the cigarettes. I remember before I would go anywhere, I had to make sure that I had a pack of cigarettes before I could leave. I don't have to go outside immediately after dinner to smoke - unless I feel like socializing with someone who happens to smoke. There is a degree of freedom gained by not smoking and that's my favorite thing.
I don't even call myself a "ex-smoker" now.
I consider myself a "non-smoker".