Nicotine withdrawal, depression days and honoring how far you’ve come

On August 1 I quit chewing Nicorette gum.

I’ve been chewing it for years. I’ll smoke with it too sometimes, when I’m stressed or around social smokers or just bored. Last Sunday/Monday, though, I ingested enough nicotine that I gave myself a migraine.

That’s it, I decided. I’m done.

So cold turkey I went.

And I feel… like shit.

Nic withdrawal is no joke. I have all the symptoms.

My throat hurts.

I can’t focus.

I’m a super moody bitch. (At one point during this six-day period I yelled, “JUSTIN, COFFEE IS THE ONLY THING THAT MAKES ME NOT KILL MYSELF IN THE MORNINGS AND I NEED TO DRINK IT WITH MILK.” So, yeah. A little on edge.)

I’m craving, craving, craving. (This eased up demonstrably after day 3, though! Hang tough!)

I’m constipated, hungry (but also, everything I eat tastes like dirt) and exhausted.

I’ve tried many times to quit, so I expected all of this. I’ve experienced each of these symptoms before, though not to this extreme because I’ve always used NRT or smoked once a week to take the edge off. This is the first time in 11 years I’ve had no nicotine in six days. Brutal, but doable because it’s like I’ve been in training. I was prepared.

However. I did not expect what overcame me yesterday.

I woke up and everything was foggy. I felt like there was a thin layer of impenetrable cloud between my skin and bone. I wasn’t in my body anymore, I was somewhere else, somewhere cold. I was unable to get out of bed. Taking the trash to the dumpster right outside my building felt like an epic journey. The dumpster might as well have been in Kansas. I stared at the wall all day. That is, when I wasn’t sleeping. I felt hopeless, helpless, worthless, hurt. A balloon that didn’t belong anywhere, floating over everyone else’s lives, hoping I’d pop.

I remember this. I’ve felt like this before. This is depression.

This realization led me to panic. I had worked so hard to kick this. Is this how I’m going to feel for the rest of my life?

I wasn’t putting two and two together yet: Depression is a nicotine withdrawal symptom.

The brain is a weapon. Mine has turned on me many times before to get what it wants. For example, when I haven’t smoked for awhile, my mind will fuck with itself so I convince myself to go buy cigarettes. It’s happened enough times that, if I’m paying attention, I can pinpoint the moment my mind is starting to turn.

My mind will pick a fight with someone (whether they know it or not) so I can feel justified in going to get cigarettes to “calm down.” It’ll scare me or beat me up enough that I take on extra work so I can get stressed out and feel justified in going to get cigarettes to “calm down.” It’ll feel anxious about being too happy and convince me to smoke so I can worry about something, like dying a terrible slow shameful cancer death; ah, much better.

Addiction is sneaky and insidious. But I know my mind is just doing what the chemicals have trained it to do. I also know I’ve fought through a lot already and this is the last fight of chemical dependency I need to break through.

I think my brain recognized that too and was going for the sucker punch. A last resort power move. Yesterday, it decided to push the red button. It would make me sad and feel like life is pointless. Then why not smoke? Nothing matters anyway.

I haven’t felt depressed like this since I quit drinking, I thought.

Bingo. There was my turning point.

Recognizing this was related to nicotine withdrawal made the depression way less scary. This would pass. This was just my body working through not using. I just needed to let it happen and be gentle with myself. My depression is always exacerbated when I feel shame or fear about it, both of which naturally happen when you feel like every hour that passes puts you deeper and deeper down the hole.

I stopped beating myself up for getting nothing done that day, for not leaving my bed, even though it was almost dinnertime. I let myself have it. I could sleep all I wanted today. I could obsess over how bad I felt and have felt in the past. Because it was just today.

The only way through something is, well, through it. And if I smoked, I would just be putting this feeling off to feel some other time. That seemed worse. And scarier.

That was yesterday.  Today I feel better. Still shaky but the cloud in my body has dissipated. I went for a run this morning to try to set myself up well for the day and I ended up walking. Fuck, who cares. It’s way further than I got yesterday. I took the trash out. I don’t feel like Rapunzel is a dumb freaking idiot for trying to escape her safe, warm, locked, untouchable castle.

Today I feel relieved I was able to push through yesterday by not pushing at all. I’m so thankful that I don’t feel that low every weekend anymore, like I used to. I honor where I’ve been and the lessons I’ve learned. I’m in awe of my brain and its power. I’m determined to protect it, protect myself from harm in the future.

Now, I just need some coffee and all will be well in the world. 😉

Feature photo from @Girlboss

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