The Smoking Gun: the Psychology of Lighting Up

I’m miserable today.

The reason I’m miserable is because I’ve quit smoking, and no-one really prepared me for how hard it’d be. Consider the horrible smoker’s catch-22: I feel miserable because I’ve had a crappy day, and naturally this makes me want a cigarette. Pause. Now I’m miserable because I had a cigarette (or more accurately, I had four puffs on a fag I lit up but had to stub out due to the massive headrush and general nausea) and feel guilty and weak-willed as a result.

As an antidote to this general gloom I thought I’d write about smoking, and perversely, hope to avoid looking too squarely at the fact I just fucked myself over, again. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but I bet they didn’t take cigarette breaks.

So, to begin. Confession: I have a slightly addictive personality. Is that a contradiction? Well, yes. I say slightly addictive because there are things I can say no to, like another glass of wine or any drug harder than marijuana. I like the feeling of a tattooist’s needle, but I’m not covered in ink. I like the buzz of impulse buying, but my credit’s still firmly in the black.

It’s common sense that people who have addictive personalities should avoid all things that require limitation, but welcome to real life. So let’s get to the root of my nasty nicotine addiction and see if we can figure out why I feel/felt (am I still a smoker? what’s the ‘trying to quit/falling off the wagon’transitory phase called?) the need to smoke at all.

Smoking is a crutch. It has been my crutch, on and off (but mostly on), since I was 14. Life is generally shit when you’re 14, and mine played right to type. To summarise a long and still sort-of painful story, school was hellish at 14, and smoking was the only one of my unhealthier outlets that I continued into adulthood.

It made me feel in control when everything else wasn’t. It calmed me down when I could only see black or red. It gave me the time to evaluate my own unhappiness, which sounds negative but probably stopped me from being fatally impulsive.

Whoa, dark. That was a long time ago, but like never wearing pleather jackets, rubbing your foundation in around your jawline and remembering to always lock your phone, smoking was one of the guidelines I carried with me into adulthood. When I was stressed, I smoked away potential panic attacks. For your common garden variety, low-level anxiety sufferer, smoking is a handy bridge between staying composed and losing your shit completely.

I’d scope out unfamiliar situations, fag in hand. It was comfort blanket, inhaler and intoxicant all rolled into one. I smoke when I write, too. Come to think of it, this is the first major blog post I’ve written sans fag. There isn’t really a correlation between this one other than pure force of habit. Oh, and maybe an unconscious association between smoking and making art. Some people think smoking clears the mind and brings your thoughts into focus; and of course, there’s something dreadfully, tragically poetic about the artist, cigarette in hand, spilling their literary truths like oil. 

Smoking is social, obviously. It’s political: nothing says ‘fuck you, propriety’ quite as eloquently as a cigarette. It’s two fingers to your poor mum and dad, who instilled in you at a young age that smoking was bad for you. It’s a feminist reappropriation of a masculine act, and god knows I’m into that. I always felt, when smoking, that I was in control. With a cigarette between my fingers I was grounded in the here and now. I was unafraid of the present and could calmly inspect the future without being overwhelmed by its uncertainties.

Without smoking, I am freefalling. I’ve lost control. Partly, it feels good. But partly it feels like losing a friend. On the good days I’m tightrope-walking with my chin held high; on the bad ones, my feet are kicked out from under me. They say nicotine’s harder to kick than heroin; but it’s more than that. Inscrutably, it’s become a support system, one intrinsically bound to my past and to getting through that past unscathed. It’s hard letting it go, but I’m trying.



About fiercemissc

Twenty-something Geordie girl living and working in Hong Kong. Young, free and single and making the most of it.
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