By 420dragonfly

My First Year As A Non-Smoker

I've been waiting all year for this day....the day I get to say I've been 365 days, a WHOLE YEAR, smoke free, not a single puff!!!  YES, I've done it!  After 43 years chained to cigarettes, I'm free!!!  Like most of us, I tried many times to quit, but this time felt different from the start and this IS my last quit!  For those just starting this journey or struggling greatly, please believe it is truly worth every craving, every tear, every sleepless night, every pound; I hope my story  helps you.  For those secure in your quit, let's never forget we are a puff away from letting that demon control us again; stay strong.

WARNING.... this is a lengthy post.  I've written it with the hope it will help or encourage someone struggling to recover from this addiction, as well as support my own continued healing. 

We all quit in our own way and our bodies all react differently to quitting.   Some have cravings that make them feel like they could strangle their loved ones.  Some are sick to their stomachs.  Some are certain they're having a heart attack.  Some can't sleep.  Some get depressed.  Some get angry.  Some get it all!  I don't think any of us has an easy time of it.  At some point all of us hear that little voice say, “just have one smoke, you'll feel better”.  

I was blessed that I really wasn't suffering from any negative physical effects from smoking.  I got a bit winded, had a little cough, but nothing like many of my fellow quitters have had to deal with.  Because of this, I didn't experience the huge physical benefits many talk about, quite the contrary.  I didn't have horrible cravings with this quit either, I don't know why, I just didn't (I truly believe for me it was just my time).  I thought I was prepared for what I'd experience while quitting, but I was not prepared for what my body went through (and is still recovering from).  I'm sharing this in case there's even one person out there who has a similar, extreme, reaction, so they know they aren't alone and will recover.

Early on in my quit, I was troubled with anxiety and insomnia.  I'm not a stranger to either, but nothing extreme, so I told myself it would pass, but it didn't.  It got worse and it didn't help that I was experiencing unusual stressors in my life (my beloved dog dying of cancer, major dental surgery, major employment change).   I'm not a fan of traditional medicine, choosing alternative therapies when help is needed.  I tried for a couple months to deal with the insomnia on my own, sleeping maybe 3-4 hours a night, until I gave in and saw my naturopath.  We tried herbs, tinctures, homeopathy, even a short run with Ativan and Ambien.  Nothing helped.  I was sent for massage & acupuncture.  I tried cranial electro-stimulation devices.  I tried Reiki healing and self-hypnosis programs.  I tried some of the strongest cannabis extracts I could find, but I slept less and less and became more and more anxious and less, and less functional.  

Sleep deprivation is brutal.   You don't think clear.  Making simple decisions becomes difficult.  You become obsessed with not sleeping, with finding a solution to the problem, all which makes the insomnia and anxiety worse.  Your heart pounds with every little thing you do.  Depression sets in and it's a very dark place.  Your work suffers, you're slower, you forget things, you don't think right.   I'm very fortunate that I worked from home, as most days I wouldn't have even consider driving (not to mention the black circles under my eyes).  Also very fortunate that my company was going through some major corporate stuff, so I was really “off the radar”, left pretty much to do my own thing.   Funny how that worked out :).   Your loved ones watch you suffer, unable to help, and you begin to feel like a burden.  Let me pause and say I am very blessed that the man in my life was (and still is) so very supportive.  He never lost patience with me (at least not outwardly).   Held me when I cried.  Gave me hope when I was running out.  He always told me “you're going THROUGH something baby, you will get THROUGH it.”  He supported every idea I had to help my self and every alternative therapy I tried.

By July (6+ months smoke free) I'd spent thousands of dollars trying to sleep (so much for saving money from quitting) and was sleeping 1-2 hours a night (some nights none, some nights 3-4 restless hours)!  I'm no stranger to insomnia, but I've never had anything like this!  I could usually fall asleep, but could stay asleep more than an hour or two.  I wasn't really tired, more like a wired zombie, a horrible feeling.  I also started having diarrhea all the time, which I figured was from all the herbs and remedies I was taking.  My naturopath ordered tests on my adrenal glands to check the levels of some hormones, particularly cortisol.  

Cortisol is our “fight or flight” hormone (many think of this as adrenaline, but that's really not the case).  Cortisol levels rise slightly in the morning to get us going, but it really rises when we're in a stress situation.  We've all heard the stories of the person miraculously lifting a car when a child is pinned under it...that's cortisol kicking in.  I had saliva samples collected at different intervals  during the day, which revealed I had very high cortisol levels all day and all night long; the lowest levels were in the morning, but still abnormally high.  I was in early stages of Adrenal Fatigue, where your adrenal glands are essentially stuck in overdrive.  I was put on Phosphatidylserine and a blend of adaptogenic herbs, along with anti-anxiety remedies.  I started practicing yoga again.  I meditated.  I diffused essential oils targeted to lower cortisol and calm the central nervous system.  Anything to calm my system. Nothing gave me relief.  I felt worse, and worse.  The  diarrhea got worse and I was gaining weight like crazy.  I was becoming less wired, but still couldn't sleep, as if my body forgot how to.

I had to try to find another source of help and learned of a doctor that specialized in adrenal gland and other hormonal issues.  It was September when I saw him (9 months smoke free and sleep deprived).  He immediately diagnosed me as having Candida overgrowth and started me on anti-fungal medication.  He kept me on the Phosphatidylserine and started me on Progesterone.  Within 2 weeks the diarrhea stopped and I was becoming less foggy.  I still wasn't sleeping and was becoming more depressed.  In October he started me on estrogen for the depression and Trazodone for sleep.  Although I'm very much against pharmaceuticals (and I shared this with him) I was desperate to sleep and feel better.  After trying so many different things (including Ambien and anti-anxiety meds), this very old medication, Trazodone, did the trick....I started sleeping!  It's actually an old anti-depressant that's no longer used for depression because it makes patients sleepy.  As for the hormones, I'm a post-menopausal woman (have been for years), but the doc felt the female hormones truly would help in my recovery as the entire hormonal system suffers during stress.

I asked him.... Why did this happened to me?  How could quitting smoking do all of this?  I won't be able to explain this like he did, but he called it 'a perfect storm'.  Stress is a horrible thing and does much more to us than we realize.  I tend to be a bit of a Type A personality, who thought she thrived on a busy life, a crazy stressful career, and for all these years, smoking has been my anti-anxiety med, my way of coping and it got taken away.  Unusual stressors, plus the stress of not having my coping mechanism, left me in a continual fight or flight state, pumping cortisol.  The excess cortisol eventually turns into sugars, too much sugar not only causes  weight gain, but it can take Candida (normally found in our bodies) to new, high levels.  This Candida overgrowth contributes to insomnia, diarrhea (and other gastric issues), foggy brain, and a whole host of other issues.  And then to really complete this crazy circle, making the perfect storm....the body considers this excess Candida to be a stressor and triggers the production of, you guessed it, cortisol!  

Strangely, through all of this I never really had bad cravings.  I did have to tell the voice that told me, “have a cigarette and you'll sleep”, to shut up many times and that truly made me stronger.  So as of now, my 1-year anniversary, I'm definitely on the upswing, though still battling mood swings.  I still sleep with the aid of Trazodone.  I'm at a reduced dosage from where I started, but still can't seem to go more than a couple nights without it or the insomnia starts again (doc said it may take a long time, but these aren't addicting).  I'm finally starting to lose weight, very slowly.  I'm very dedicated to my yoga and meditation practices.  My energy is coming back.  I'm thinking clearer.  When an opportunity to retire early came up, I took it and am looking forward to spending the winter in Mexico with my man.

I will NEVER go back to smoking.  Not because I don't want to go through this again, but because I don't want ANYTHING in my body that can take that level of control of me!!  I am free and free I'll stay!  You too can crush this demon.  You may get some battle scars, but you'll wear them proud.  Hugs to you all!!
Congratulations on your 1st year! Thanks for sharing your story. I am so glad everything worked out well. Our healing journey will be as individual as we are; and it is important that we remain strong just as you have. Way to go!!
Congrats and welcome to the penthouse. Thanks for sharing those who just started their recovery.