I’ve lost the urge of smoking.
When I told this to people, almost everyone immediately tried to rephrase for me: “you quit?”
The fact is, quitting smoking has never even crossed my mind once in my longer than 10 year’s smoking history. What happened is I’ve lost the urge to smoke. I don’t know since when, but when I realized that, I’ve already stopped smoking for a while. Even tho I’d still sneak one or two if it’s one of of those social situations, but I know it’s already an absolutely unnecessary act for me — either I have that cigarette or not at that moment makes no difference to me.
To be clear, smoking has never been a physical addiction to me, at least not to the extent that I can feel. I started smoking when my first serious relationship ended. It was the first time in my life I felt the need of self-decadence in the hope of numbing or simply matching up with my pain. For unexplainable reasons, it became clear that smoking was what I wished to do. I learned how to smoke so earnestly that it’s almost like a new useful skill to acquire, instead of a bad habit to pick up. When you’re young, you don’t care about bad habits.
Over all the years that I kept smoking, I’ve smoked for a lot other reasons — it looks cool, or at least it makes you think you look cool; it’s effectively cathartic since it stimulates the movement of intestine, for a long time I relied on smoking to poop; it comes in natural with alcohol and after a big meal; it eases up my social anxiety, or makes you look less alone; and sometimes, it’s simply easier to smoke than not to.
But underneath all these reasons, I know the original urge of smoking was always there, the need of self-decadence, and the assurance of caring little enough to afford self-decadence. I was almost secretly proud of the outward identity of “a girl that smokes”, which gradually turned into part of my self-perception: I am someone that smokes.
My relationship with smoking has gone through difference phases.
There was the time when smoking was new and faintly exciting. It was more like an act of formalism instead of a true interest at the beginning. I was so eager to break the self-reflection of a behaving and believing girl. I was trying to re-identify myself through the act of smoking. It went on smoothly until my parents found out. It was one day in the winter break of my final year in college, I was back home from hanging out with friends, casually left my bag half open on the sofa. My first instinct was to deny when my parents confronted me with the pack of cigarette that slipped out, my mother crying and my father furious, both of them deeply concerned. I had no choice but to deny it so their feelings could be protected. “It belongs to my friend,” I insisted. I didn’t stop smoking because of this parental intervention of course, but the fact that I had to hide my behaviour and that I continued to do it without even truly enjoying it make the formalism nature of smoking stand out more. It wasn’t before long that my father had another calmer conversation with me. He told me, he understood it had become more socially acceptable that women also smoke these days, even tho it would break my mother’s heart, he did’t think it’s the biggest problem here. What he concerned most was why I smoked, if I was in trouble or if I was in misery. It was at hearing that I burst into tears as an adult for the first and only time in front of my father. It was in front of my father i realised I wasn’t the same girl anymore. I’ve had my first taste of pain. I was 21.
There were the intimate times when smoking felt like an inseparable element in life. When I was on my first job as a newspaper reporter after graduating from master of journalism, I’d compulsively take one at every specific moment in a day — right after getting up, right before leaving home, right after coming back home, right before going to bed. And when I was out in the day doing the reporter job, I would take one after every press conference/event, as long as time permit. Smoking was like a ruler of time, a secret daily ritual, strictly marking the passing of my days and quietly burning my anxiety as I stood on the brink of a full-scale entrance to the real cruel world. I was 24.
There were also the times during all the disastrous events in my personal life, where I’d rediscover smoking as my one last resort, the loyal friend who always helped me get through heartbreaks, depression attacks, and moments of sheer solitude and misery. In moments like these, overconsumption of cigarette was almost a guarantee. I’m not sure how they helped, but I’m also not sure how I would get through without them.
There were finally the easier times, when smoking had little to do with any emotional struggles or major phase changes, but merely remained a natural habit, a companionship that doesn’t require any extra thought. This was the time when I’d always make sure there was a pack of cigarette in my bag wherever I go, no matter if I do consume it or not. I’d smoke whenever I want, wherever I want as long as law permits. I’d still do the ritual smoking thing but less, like every time I was at the airport to embark on a solo trip, I’d take one after checking in and before going through security. I’d smoke solely to reflect my free will. When I watch a movie or tv show, say Mad Men, when I see them smoking in it, I’d light a cigarette myself too in front the screen as if I’m part of the scene. I was almost enjoying it. I did enjoy it. In those years I’ve gone through several more rounds of emotional turbulence, several major life changes, mid-twenties crisis, late-twenties crisis, but my relationship with smoking had always been stable. Years passed by and it never crossed my mind it would stop being the case one day.
I can’t pinpoint from when I started losing the urge of smoking. I can only remember situations started to happen as such that I would easily say “no” when people invited me for a smoke, or that I actually needed to persuade myself into taking one when I didn’t really feel like it, or that I’d suddenly realise it’d been several days since the last time I smoked. I’ve also tried e-cigarette with innovative flavours in the hope of renewing my bond with smoking, but I quickly realised it’s a vain attempt. I cashed out by re-selling my iQOS and gave away all the cartridges I bought in Japan.
I came across a research paper the other day, which says someone giving up smoking at the age of 25–34 can eventually have a mortality close to the level of a “never smoker”. I giggled at this finding, it feels like winning by a fluke.
Today I’m still constantly struggling with my existential crisis, I still feel emotionally fragile from time to time and I guess I’m still largely not a high-spirited person, but I have lost the urge of smoking through all these moments. She left, without even saying a proper goodbye. In hindsight, I realize like many other things, she was just a visitor to my life, a visitor that stayed for 10 years.
I think of the saying “we don’t really make big decisions, big decisions make us” and wonder if this is one of those case. I wonder if this is part of growing old. I wonder if she left because she knew I’m not that person anymore, a girl who needed to do unnecessary things to harm herself. At any rate, I’m standing on the other side now, the side where people don’t feel the need to smoke. It’s almost like gaining a new identity, except that nothing is worth being excited about. I can already feel a remote mourning with a mixed affection for the smoking version of me, together with a mild anxiety with the new-found identity. I don’t know what would be the alternative ritual before I embark a solo trip. I don’t know what can I use to cover my social anxiety if I happen to be at a party full of people I sort of know but don’t feel like talking to. I can’t even take photos holding a cigarette and doing the whole looking-cool thingy anymore, and even if I do, it will only make me look more of a poser than I already am. But honestly, I think it will be fine.
I think I will be fine.