There was a long time when I didn’t like myself. I made really terrible decisions about my life, my health, my beliefs. I sought out things that would hurt me, break me, and, in the long run, kill me.
One of those things was smoking. There were a lot of issues tied up into my usage of nicotine. I smoked to feel the buzz, the high that makes your body numb and shaky. I smoked to forget the stress and the anger of my life as a young woman. I smoked to avoid conversations and conflict. I smoked to avoid thinking about the things that were just too heavy.
I smoked because I thought it was cool. Because it reminded me of my mom and my brother, who left me before I was grown. I smoked because it seemed like such a wonderful and terrible thing to do to myself. I smoked around other smokers. I smoked because the smoke seemed to caress my skin and after a while it felt like a kind of self-love, even as it made me sick.
What snapped me out of it was a look on my dad’s face. I had come down with the flu and it turned into a double lung infection. I had already been suffering from recurring bronchitis already and this was the third time that my lungs had become infected within the past three years. I couldn’t even crawl out of bed. My breath rasped in my chest and even opening my eyes hurt.
Dad almost cried every time he looked at me. He kept asking me, “Is there anything I can do? Can I help?” Then, finally, after two weeks — “Do you need to go to the hospital?”
I’d never seen my dad look so scared.
Suddenly, I realized that the things I was doing to myself, to punish myself, weren’t just punishing me. They were punishing the people who cared about me too.
In that moment, I decided to quit.
Quitting smoking hasn’t been easy. For the first month, I coughed up all of the nicotine in my lungs, allowing my cilia to regrow and function. I wanted to chew my own arm off a few times in those first few weeks, because the cravings hit so hard. There were nights when I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t breathe, for the anxiety and the need to take a drag.
I started lifting weights and stretching when I felt a craving coming on. Each day, I looked up what was happening inside my body as I went longer without nicotine. I drank a lot of coffee and, for the first time in years, began taking bubble baths and treating myself to things that made me feel beautiful.
For the first time, I started looking at my money and my time and thinking, “How can I spend these things in ways that make me, and my dad, happy?”
As the year went by, I had to leave a lot of things behind. I left behind friends who encouraged me to smoke. I left behind the mindset that hurting myself is acceptable. I left behind the habits, such as drinking, that encouraged unhealthy behaviors in myself.
Most of all, I left behind the idea that I’m worthless. In that one instant, I realized that my life was worth everything to my dad.
I still have a long way to go, but I’m trying my best to be someone who merits that kind of love.