I almost skipped writing a post today… It seems that day twenty with no coffee and no tobacco is worse than almost every day leading up to it.
How is that possible?
Well, the first few days of withdrawals are awful. No two ways about it. You’re miserable, tired, irritable, confused, anxious, desperate – a whole long ugly list of “icky” thoughts and feelings, and urges and cravings that make you want to go back to the substance that for so many years has got you through all of those feelings.
It’s all you can do in that first week, maybe, to just resist the temptation to give in, and to continue the addiction. You’re miserable all the time… but… at least you can blame it all on the withdrawals.
(And withdrawals are miserable, whether they last for a weekend or most of a month. They’re supposed to be miserable, though; in fact, the addiction depends on withdrawals making you so miserable, that you’ll keep poisoning yourself, just to avoid the misery that is caused by withdrawal symptoms.)
In that first week, though, you can ascribe all those “icky” feelings to withdrawals – to your body (and mind) going absolutely crazy because it’s not getting the substance that it “needs” in order to survive!
(Spoiler: no body “needs” any drug or addictive substance, activity, behavior, etc., in order to survive… but when you are addicted it literally does feel like you will die without it. In fact when you stop taking an addictive substance – like nicotine – your brain actually believes you’re depriving yourself of something you need, and will go to tremendous lengths to convince you to keep taking it!)
But in the first week or two, all you know is that everything is miserable… and you don’t want to go back to the addiction you’re giving up… but you’re not really sure yet, that you’re capable of living without it. The withdrawals leave you feeling so messed up inside you just want to go back to bed and wait for it all to be over.
But, on day twenty… you start to realize…
It’s not all from the withdrawals
The horrible, overpowering fatigue I’ve been feeling all along is finally starting to fade.
I can handle sitting alone in my room, with the lights on. (Which is a huge improvement over last week.)
And I can focus long enough to write 400 words or so, and actually tie them all together. (But now I’m at 410 words, so no promises for the remainder of this post lol…)
“Things” are getting a little bit better…
But I’m still desperate for one cigarette… for one really good cup of coffee… for just one moment of rest, from all these miserable feelings that I haven’t been able to escape since I started saying “No” to coffee and cigarettes…
And no matter what I do, those miserable feelings, and those desperate cravings, are still there.
(To be clear, I don’t want to go back to coffee or cigarettes… but the cravings are so intense, it’s hard to always remember that I don’t want to…)
Now, for sure, some of it is from physical withdrawals from coffee and nicotine. But, this many days out, some of it is also from years of using coffee and cigarettes to “handle” all these miserable feelings. (Even though in reality neither substance ever actually made a lick of difference in my ability to handle or process or cope with any significant feelings…)
The psychological habit of feeling overwhelmed, or confused, or anxious, or nervous, or tired, (or basically anything at all), and then turning to coffee and cigarettes as a way to “get through” those feelings…
Leaves me, today, in a place where I don’t know how to handle my feelings without resorting to some sort of self-medication.
And now, without the addiction, I’m left alone with only the feelings… and an overwhelming sense that I don’t know how to feel.
The Real Reason Addicts Struggle to Quit
And that is what addicts truly fear. Not the physical withdrawals. Not the cravings, or the urges that may or may not ever completely go away. Not the pain that comes from breaking the addiction.
The thing that frightens me most is not knowing if I’ll ever be able to handle my emotions, without the “benefit” of some substance or behavior that I can turn to in those difficult, overwhelming, frustrating, frightening moments when I “need to escape.”
When I don’t know how I’m going to respond.
When I can’t face the possibility of my feelings “taking over.”
When I’m so emotional that I know I’m making myself vulnerable, and open to the possibility of giving other people power to influence and control and shape my actions, my decisions, my thoughts, and my behaviors.
And I get so scared of that happening… that I don’t see the good that can come from quitting.
The emotional intimacy I can enjoy with other people.
The peace of mind, from knowing that I am not a slave to my addiction.
The freedom to experience a fuller, larger spectrum of emotion than my addiction will ever allow.
(Not to mention physical health and comfort, financial stability, better rest, greater productivity, self-esteem – all the things that addicts really do want, but are never actually factors in their decision to quit, or continue, with the addiction.)
When you’re miserable all the time, with coffee and cigarettes (which, honestly, for the most part, I was)…
and when you’re miserable all the time, without coffee and cigarettes (even though you’ve only been without for twenty days so that’s not really enough to make any real judgments)…
it’s too easy to convince yourself that you’re just miserable all the time, and there’s nothing you can do to ever change that…
in which case, you might as well keep on with coffee and cigarettes, because even if they are bad for you (and in the case of cigarettes could potentially lead to serious devastating health issues or a horrible, slow, painful death)…
at least it appears that coffee and cigarettes give you a “temporary” reprieve from the misery that you cannot otherwise escape.
And that is hard to overcome… (and maybe takes longer than even twenty days? I guess so…)