I've always been a roller coaster smoker.
Senior year of high school, I’d sneak one or two from my mom’s pocketbook most mornings. During college, I’d casually light up in the corner of a dark club—cigarette in one hand, Vodka 7 in the other.
Throughout my twenties, I'd go through weeks, even months of not taking a drag (it doesn’t really go with training for the NYC marathon), succumbing only to drunken-induced puffing (more than two glasses of wine and my self control flew out the window).
But with the stereotypical European photographer mega-smoker boyfriend, cigs were always within arm’s reach, right through to my thirtieth birthday. Still, I never thought of myself as a smoker. I mean, I never had my own pack and rarely lit up sober.
Then one night almost two years ago, the aforementioned ex, came home after work, ate my dinner and handed me a single-spaced hand written break up letter. The next morning, he walked out the door, despite my pleading for him to stay.
My heart shattered into a million pieces. The pain was so unbearable that I literally crumbled onto the kitchen floor. My stress level shot through the roof during the dark days and weeks and months that followed. And so did my smoking. I couldn't eat. I couldn't sleep. Most days I felt like I could barely breathe.
The only thing that I could do was smoke. Smoking as I packed up every box from that teeny tiny apartment we called home. Smoking after I left my new apartment every morning to get a coffee. When I bought a salad for lunch. Left a meeting. Got out of the subway. Finished at the gym. Drinks. Dinner. And often for no reason at all. Cig. Cig. Cig. Cig.
Long after I picked my heart and myself off the floor, I kept picking up cigarettes. Suddenly it was a year and a half later and even though I was consciously healing from a toxic relationship—one that I later discovered was tainted with endless cheating and lies and thankfully ended before a ring or children were involved—I continued to fill my body with toxic fumes. I woke up every day and vowed not to have one. Every time I put out a cigarette, I swore it was my last.
It was a never-ending cycle of failure and guilt.
The woman I knew followed through on whatever she set her mind to. I started running for the first time in my life about five years ago and after six months of light half hour jogs, I decided I’d run 26.2. And I did. Twice. Smoking simply wasn’t in sync with my personality or even more so, the non-smoking, uber-healthy image that everyone who knew me had of me. My family had no clue I smoked (or so I think). I curbed my cravings in front of friends that would say “Ewww” with a judgmental glance every time I’d pull a pack from my bag. Even my new boyfriend was kept completely in the dark.
But more importantly, smoking just didn’t fit into the picture I had of myself or who I wanted to be.
I became desperate to reprogram my thoughts. I tried telling myself that I was worthy of being healthy and happy in a life full of love and free of cigarettes. But deep down, I didn’t believe it. And so every day I lit up.
Finally, I decided to get hypnotized. Of course, I had my doubts. First of all, I didn’t even know what getting hypnotized meant. Would I be in a trance? Sleeping? I also wasn’t sure that it would work. What if I wasn’t hypnotizable? Any prior attempt at meditation only left me obsessing over how much laundry I had to do or what was in every crevice of my junk drawer. But what did I have to lose? I was already filling my lungs with carcinogens and continuing to lead a life and a lie that I wasn’t proud of.
On my way to see Ana Tucker, a board certified hypnotherapist in New York City’s flatiron district, I smoked four cigarettes. Yes, four. It was 9 a.m. I even lit up when I stood in front of the building, making myself five minutes late to my appointment. I realize now that even though I was desperate to stop, I was also terrified to.
In her cozy office, I broke out in a sweat and feebly attempted to control my wavering voice, as I recapped my emotional tale of heartbreak and the reasons I thought I couldn’t end my disgusting, robotic-like behavior: If I stopped smoking I might fall into a million pieces again.
Tucker took notes and interjected reassuring ‘Uh-huh’s and head nods in between my sentences. When I was done, I nestled into a large recliner. Her soothing sing-songy voice coupled with the leather arms of the chair wrapped around me like a long, warm hug. For the next hour, with my eyes glued shut, I followed her verbal cues, imagining what I would look and feel like as a non-smoker five years down the road compared to continuing to smoke. I envisioned a wrinkly, tired, depressed version of myself versus a Gisele-like counterpart—glowing and energetic with a ridiculously toned body in a floaty sundress. Tucker asked me to think of words and emotions that I associated with smoking (Tar! Cancer! Toxic! Fatigue!). My mind hung onto every ebb and flow of her repetitious mantra: “You don’t even want it, you don’t even think about it, it’s not even an option.
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