I wanted to talk about what happens when I stop smoking, and describe it in as much detail as possible. Why? I just felt like it, it’s something I’ve been wanting to kind of explore.
First, I would say that it’s worth noting that there are “phases” or “stages” of smoking, just as you might imagine that there are stages of alcoholism, or stages of say, a fitness habit. Smoking one or two cigarettes a day is a completely different experience from smoking 5-6, which in turn is different from smoking a pack a day.
I have smoked an entire pack in a day on several occasions, but they were almost always unique- when I’m really, really stressed, extremely upset, have been drinking or am spending time with a group of smoker friends. The best way to finish a pack of cigarettes is to gather a bunch of smoker friends, get drunk and talk about your feelings. There’s something about watching another person smoke that sets off a chain reaction. It feels polite to smoke too. It becomes a shared experience. I notice the same thing happens with drinking, and I’m sure even with more innocuous activities like eating. We do more together than we would on our own. At least, that has been my experience.
If you haven’t been smoking in a while, or you’re a non smoker, and you really inhale a cigarette properly, it elevates your heart rate. I’ve noticed that it doesn’t “take the edge off” until 3, 4 cigarettes in.
The experience of reality on and off cigarettes is staggeringly different to me, and I think it’s given me some vague insight about the effect of mood on perception. I remember jokingly thinking that the sky seemed extra blue after I was done with my last exam, and the grass extra green. On hindsight, I think it’s true. I remember feeling the same way when I was done with national service. And I remember the world being rather dark and dull during my depressing times.
If you watch the movie Limitless, I think they capture this really well. When the protagonist is living his normal life, the world is drab, grey. When he gets on the magic drug, it becomes bright, clear. Initially I thought it was just good use of cinematography- and it is. But I realise now that the brain is a cinematographer itself. We might see the same things, but our subjective experiences might be completely different. We focus on different things depending on what we’re primed on.
Ok back to smoking. When you’ve been smoking for a while, it coats your tongue, teeth, throat with filthy death-matter. (Yes, I’m sure that’s the scientific term.) You get nasty breath after a while, no matter how much you brush. Your nose and mouth- your entire respiratory system, really- starts “drying out”, like wilting plants. Your lips get charred and start cracking a little bit. Drinking lots of water and getting lots of sleep makes this a little less bad, but it’s still pretty bad. Your tongue starts accumulating a filthy yellow layer of death that screws up your sense of taste and just feels gross. I remember using the blunt sides of tweezers or scissors to scrape off layers of that icky yellow stuff so I could taste my cigarettes better.
You squint the whole time you’re a smoker. You don’t realise it, the way you don’t realise you’re slouching when you’re using the computer. You squint naturally to avoid letting the smoke get in your eyes. Watch smokers more closely, you’ll see it. The eyes dry out anyway, as does the rest of the skin on the face. The natural waxy textureof skin (from the oils, I guess?) becomes dry and dead. A couple of days of non-smoking and all this stuff starts getting reversed. Your eyes will thank you for freeing them from the constant abuse of heat and smoke. They’ll get whiter and “wetter”, in a good way.
As your nose clears up you’ll suddenly be more conscious of how bad your breath actually stinks. You’ll start being able to taste water again. (If you avoid McDonald’s and other “extreme foods”- stuff with high sodium, sugar, salt, etc during this time, your taste buds will go through a transformation too.)
I get a bit dizzy and blur-headed for a while. I yawn a lot more, and for a few days I sleep more, too. All of this is a recovery from the over-stimulation.
I burp and fart more, too. Cigarettes have a relationship with the digestive system. It feels good to smoke after a good meal. Cigarettes help alleviate the symptoms of low blood sugar- I read something about how it stimulates something… It makes even more sense why skinny supermodels smoke. It doesn’t just suppress their appetites, it keeps them going. And I’ve always noticed that I smoke more when sleep deprived. Like, a lot more. Cigarettes are in some senses like micro-coffees, giving you buzzes.
It’s interesting to pay attention to what happens to your body when you stop smoking, because it’s reveals what cigarettes do to your body. But doesn’t everybody already know? No, not exactly. Many smokers systematically overestimate the health costs of smoking- some call it a slow, controlled suicide. But I think we underestimate the day to day discomforts, because they happen so slowly and progressively. The first cough doesn’t seem too bad. The second is just a quick encore. Before you know it you’re hacking and sputtering, but you don’t notice it. That’s the power of small changes.
There are other things you notice. Your muscles and back get sore. How is that related?
You take much deeper breaths when you yawn. Just two to three days later your lung capacity seems to increase dramatically. It’s beautiful.
I wake up the morning after to sniffles and sneezes as my nose tries to recover from the damage. My nasal passage gets filled with watery, mucusy stuff.. ok i’m done here