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I’ve Relapsed in My Smoking Addiction Recovery, So What Now?

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Editor's Note

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction, the following post could be triggering. You can contact SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

I was doing so well. I threw out all my cigarettes, destroyed my electronic cigarettes, and even spilled all of my e-liquids down the drain. That was months ago, I hadn’t had any major setbacks. I had an occasional cigarette, but never chain-smoking, and only with friends when I rarely saw them. I was doing well until I went home.

I’m a college student, and the winter break had just started. I went home for a couple of weeks, just to spend the holidays with my family and see my childhood friends I hadn’t seen in a year. One of the best ways to avoid engaging in addictive behaviors is with distraction, and during school, there are plenty of those. But during the break, I didn’t have anything to do. No school, no work, nothing. Nothing to distract myself with. That was the first factor in my relapse.

One of the first rules of addiction recovery is to avoid the substance or activity you were addicted to. I also failed in that category, and that’s what ignited the powder keg. My best friend in the whole world, whom I’ve just celebrated 10 years of friendship with, occasionally smokes e-cigarettes. Every time I was with her, she’d have one on her and she’d use it. Another step in addiction recovery is honesty with your support system, tell them what you struggle with and how they can help. My best friend knew I had a smoking problem, but I wasn’t honest with her about how bad it had been, and I hadn’t told her how hard it was to be around it. Why? Because I didn’t want to keep fighting anymore. Smoking is a relatively easy addiction to get hooked on since things like cigarettes and vapes are readily available just about everywhere you go.

Now, one thing I want to make absolutely clear: this is not my friend’s fault. Not an ounce of responsibility for my relapse falls on her shoulders. That is yet again another step in addiction recovery: taking responsibility for your own actions. I could’ve been honest with her about how I couldn’t be near smoking, and I decided to hide it and engage in the behavior again. I could’ve asked her to avoid smoking around me, a request she would’ve been happy to oblige. I didn’t, and that is my fault. I could’ve decided not to go to the gas station every couple days to buy disposable e-cigarettes. I didn’t, and now I’m paying the price for it.

I’ve fully relapsed, and that isn’t dramatic. But what now? Months of no smoking, no vaping, all gone. Was it worth nothing? Did I waste my time simply avoiding a habit that I would eventually get back into? Should I just give up and smoke and vape until my lungs give out, quite literally? The answer to all of those questions is the same: absolutely not! But there is another factor in why I have relapsed. It may sound like an excuse, and maybe subconsciously I use it to justify my behavior, but I know that that doesn’t absolve me of my mistakes.

I live with several mental illnesses, as well as undiagnosed movement disorder tics. The research is relatively clear on this topic: people with movement disorders tend to have higher rates of nicotine addictions. When I heard that, I needed to understand why. I’m a neuroscience major in undergrad, so movement disorders and substances fall comfortably into my realm of interest. Without getting too sciencey, nicotine alleviates movement disorder symptoms, especially in disorders that cause tics and uncontrollable movements like Huntington’s Disease and Tourette’s. I’ve known this for a while, and when I first heard it and confirmed it by reading up on the science, this became my excuse for smoking. “I don’t have an addiction, but it helps with my movements,” I would tell people. It justifies it, right? It’s a fair trade-off, right? Again, the answer is no.

I cannot use my physical disorders as a justification for a dangerous addiction to a highly addictive substance that I have spent great amounts of time and energy beating. The nicotine does in fact help my tics, and after years of struggling with them, and no treatments working, I was willing to try anything to fix them. Nicotine, again, was and is an easy “solution” to that problem. The issue is, it is not a solution, but just another problem. A wolf in sheep’s clothing, a Trojan horse, whatever you want to call it. It isn’t a good thing, not by a long shot.

So, where does this leave me? Fully relapsed into an addiction, with an excuse that sounds valid to the outside perspective, but in fact is shaky and invalid in reality. What am I to do? Give in to all of this? Accept my addiction as reality, as I have to do with my movements? Nope, that isn’t going to happen either.

I hate the idea of having to start my addiction recovery over again, and to be quite frank, it may take some time. The things I have talked about here are not as easy to correct as they may seem. Simply accepting my own responsibility for my actions is not alone a cure for this. Being honest with my support system and those around me will not make the addiction cravings disappear into thin air. It isn’t simple, and anyone who deals with, or has dealt with, an addiction knows this to be true. So, here is where I am at.

I may not like the idea of beginning from scratch, I may think it easier to just continue my habit indefinitely, which in some ways it is. But I have not spent my life doing things because they were easy. I have not battled my way through addiction and movement disorders and mental illnesses, just to get here to give up. I am not going to allow a disposable e-cigarette to be the thing that breaks me. I will not allow it to siphon money and time and energy off me simply because I am not willing to put in the work necessary to beat this.

Now, again, it isn’t that easy. That frame of mind, I believe, is the correct one, and I think the steps I have outlined are good places to start. But this wasn’t easy the first time, and addictions can, at times, for certain people, be harder and harder to overcome with each relapse. For me, that is true. When I beat this addiction months ago, it was not my first time entering recovery, and so this is not my first relapse. I have experience with this sort of thing, which doesn’t make it better, but at least I’m not flying blind.

I will overcome this addiction again, even though it will be difficult. If you find yourself in full relapse, on the verge of relapsing, or are still in recovery, know this: we, as either current or former addicts, do not have an easy life. We do not get to smoke a cigarette without a broader temptation in us coming back to life. We do not get the comfort of going out for a casual drink without wanting another, and then another, then another. We cannot simply go to a casino with friends, play a few hands of Blackjack, and walk away without thinking about going back for one more round. That is the monster that is addiction; it is the “one more” beast. One more cigarette, one more drink, one more bet. And all it needs is one slip up to, potentially, fall back down.

But if we are strong enough to recognize these things, courageous enough to know when we need help and responsible enough to take our lives into our own hands, we can overcome anything. That doesn’t give us superpowers. Beating an addiction once does not mean there won’t be slip-ups or temptations in the future. But just as it may become more difficult to overcome an addiction with each relapse, so too is it true that with each relapse and recovery, we gain something inside us to overcome the difficulty of the next one. Our minds grow stronger with each mistake we make, including with addictions. As impossible as it may seem, people with addictions can achieve anything if we are willing to roll up our sleeves, throw out the beer and cigarettes and poker chips (or whatever addiction it is, there are more than just alcohol, nicotine and gambling), and tell the “one more” beast, “no more.” We need a mindset of “no more” rather than “one more,” because we cannot give our lives over to substances. We are in control of our lives, so let’s take it back from these addictions that would tell us otherwise, and not only survive, but thrive.

Photo by Goh Rhy Yan on Unsplash

Originally published: January 18, 2021
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