A Non-Smoker’s Guide to Nicotine Withdrawal

Ever wonder why people have such a tough time when they quit smoking cigarettes? Here are some of the things I learned about nicotine withdrawal symptoms, and also some reasons why you might consider being a little more merciful toward the cigarette smokers in your life.

First of all, if you’re wondering who I am and how/why I’m qualified to talk about this topic, my introductory information for this project can be found with my disclaimer information here.

 

Why This Conversation Matters:

Any good plan to quit also includes a good understanding about what is going to happen during those withdrawal symptoms. There is a ton of great information out there, just an internet search away, all about what the body goes through during nicotine withdrawal. I really recommend anyone preparing to quit smoking to research the heck out of this topic. Having information beforehand helps you create a plan. Plans provide comfort and meaningful action when stuff hits the fan, which is exactly what withdrawals feel like during the first few days or weeks.

Here’s how it was for me:

 

 

A Non-Smoker’s Guide to What Nicotine Withdrawals Feel Like:
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW to Understand Yourself and Your Loved Ones

ONE: They are extremely disorienting. I didn’t exactly feel dizzy, but there were times during those first few days when I felt like I didn’t have an awareness of the space around me the way I usually did. It was alarming until I realized that it was just a withdrawal.

 

 

TWO: The entire body feels awkward. I suddenly didn’t feel comfortable sitting, or standing. I suddenly had no idea what to do with my hands. I didn’t know where in the room I wanted to be. Breathing changed from feeling involuntary to being awkward and uneven. I’ve heard withdrawals from drugs is painful to the body. Nicotine withdrawal is painful in the body. It’s a psychological pain, and a spiritual pain as well.

 

 

THREE: They make a person feel vulnerable. Because at that moment I was not secure in my body or the space around my body, my stress response was triggered. I could have jumped at the slightest sound. Any insensitive comments in this moment would have hit me a million times harder than normal. I had no secure barrier to let me instinctively know where I stopped and the rest of the world began. It felt incredibly exposed.

Vulnerability was increased by the fact that my brain was aware of the holds of addiction dying. Nicotine tricked my brain into feeling as though this was a natural, authentic part of my body that needed replenishing and care, just like hunger or thirst. Feeling it die and slip away caused upset, grief, and fear of the future.

 

 

FOUR: They make you feel obvious. I’m sure there were moments when it would have been hard to tell what was wrong with me. I’m sure there were times when I seemed normal. I have to take this on faith, however, because it sure didn’t feel this way to me at the time. Withdrawal symptoms left me feeling as though everyone could see what I was going through. I felt that I might as well have been shouting “I WANT NICOTINE” at the top of my lungs–that’s how conspicuous and obvious I felt. It felt a little shameful, and pretty embarrassing, which compounded the pressure I was already under. I had wished at that moment that someone could have reassured me that I didn’t look like a monster even if I felt like one inside.

 

 

FIVE: They make you feel like a toddler who needs a time-out. Not only was I irritable from the fight-or-flight reflex, I had no clear action to take to work through it because my whole body felt awkward and immovable. Now add to the mix that withdrawals also happen while we SLEEP! For me, this resulted in some truly bizarre dreams which prevented really deep, recuperative sleep. There were two days in my memory when I was so overwhelmed by this potion of symptoms, the only thing I could do was sit and cry about it, and that’s exactly what I did. I cried like a toddler might cry after falling down. Praise God: This really did help.

 

 

These are nicotine withdrawals. They are not “quit symptoms.” Just take a moment to think about that. They don’t magically happen only when you decide to leave cigarettes forever. This process starts the moment we put out a cigarette, whether we are a non-smoker or not. Think about how you have been battling these withdrawal symptoms while also miraculously functioning in your life. It is nothing short of championship, the way we can work through this and also be effective in our jobs, be loving family members, be generous caretakers, and have the mental strength to actually dream about better lives for ourselves. Seriously. We all deserve a pat on the back.

 

Before I quit smoking cigarettes, I realized this about withdrawals:

If this withdrawal process has begun every time I put out a cigarette, then it is very likely that the only way to be free of them forever is never to smoke. Lighting up again certainly relieved them, but smoking only ever reset the clock back to the beginning of my withdrawal symptoms.
As much as I hated to face the facts on this, the only way OUT of them was THROUGH.

 

This is also how I learned that there is no such thing as smoking one cigarette. The “social smoker” concept is a complete and total myth. I guarantee anyone who calls themselves a “social smoker” may be kidding themselves by saying they only smoke around other people. Just watch them, and you’ll see people who find more and more excuses to be around people who smoke so that they can smoke. The end game there is getting to smoke a cigarette. Soon they’ll be back to smoking cigarettes alone, just like you and I did. It can happen to any of us. For some of us, that’s exactly how it happened!

 

None of us are immune. That’s why I feel it’s so important to hold ourselves accountable AND to encourage each other. We all know what it’s like to battle these nicotine withdrawals. I believe that somewhere inside of us all, we know that these withdrawals can be survived, too. It is possible to come out on the other side of them. Freedom is real. It can happen.

 

We don’t have to do this alone.

 

 

 

 

(C) 2018 Margaret Nelson. The Ten Minute Quit text, ideas, and developments specific to this project, including this post, are all owned by me.

6 Comments

  • Anne Glenn says:

    Oh man this is so good. Love the way you formatted everything and how you talked about it being like a toddler in time out . Thank you for sharing your story – you handled it all so gracefully I never knew you went through all of that

    • Margaret Nelson says:

      Thanks Anne, that really means a lot to me! I feel like there is such a societal stigma against cigarette smoking (which is valid), people forget to encourage the folks who actually do the work to successfully quit! I’m hoping that this might help someone else feel encouraged and validated. Health is hard work!

  • Deanna says:

    “The only way out is through.” I’ve never heard that applied to withdrawals before, but it’s the absolute truth! So proud of you and everyone out there who’s kicked an addiction. It’s brave and inspirational and so worth it

    • Margaret Nelson says:

      Thanks, Deanna!! I think it’s a similar perspective to when people advise to take things “one day at a time,” because that’s our only option for forward momentum. Thank you for continuing this discussion!

  • Anna says:

    Love this! I totally can relate to the toddler feelings. Overwhelming emotions that you can’t process! Like the perspective of the withdrawals starting every time you put it out. “Freedom is real!” Yes Yes!

    • Margaret Nelson says:

      Thanks so much, Anna! “Overwhelming” is just such a great word to describe it. It’s tough too, because there is just no way to talk about what is going on while it’s happening. Thanks for the feedback, it feels so great to have more people relate to this!

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