Art & Happiness After Quitting Smoking?
November 10, 2011 11:47 AM   Subscribe

How do I resume creative projects that I once enjoyed--when doing so triggers me to smoke cigarettes?

Any endeavor that I enjoy tends to trigger me to smoke cigarettes. I quit smoking ten months ago. My cravings for nicotine have diminished significantly and I finally feel safe in the fact that I won't start smoking again. What I want is to be able to work on various creative projects again. I used to write every day and work on drawings and occasionally made clothing. I currently take photos nearly every day--but it's very different now. It's just awkward to work on art or write anymore (I thought this would quickly pass). I still feel stunted. Cut off. Unable to enjoy what I'm doing as I'm doing it. Also, I feel overwhelmed and will have to stop because I don't know what to do with all the--? (I don't know what to put here: Joy? Emotions? Satisfaction?) of making things. There is also this brain fog (originally it was things like trouble reading/writing, expressing myself, diminished vocabulary, forgetfulness, feeling glazed over) that made perfect sense when I was going through withdrawal. But when it comes to art/writing, I haven't gotten past the brain fog at all. I also feel cut off from whatever it was that used to inspire me (I have no idea what that was!). As well, whenever I enjoy something I feel triggered to smoke just as I once did while under stress. It occurred to me that I feel essentially cut off from happiness right now. Though I assume this is temporary, the idea that I'm not able to work on artwork without feeling awkward, blocked, stunted, etc, is frustrating.

I should mention that I never actually smoked cigarettes while working on art projects or while writing in the past. It's not the act of smoking (or lack of it) that is causing this.

My question:

How did you get back to being able to enjoy things after quitting an addictive substance? How did you resume writing/creating? How long did it take to feel like yourself again? Were there specific steps that you took to facilitate getting past cravings/triggers in terms of writing/art? Or was there something you stumbled upon that helped you? Any personal experience or wisdom is greatly appreciated--thank you!

PS: In case anyone asks, I am seeing a therapist.
posted by marimeko to Health & Fitness (7 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
First, and mainly: this sounds exactly like depression. It may be something you and your therapist want to look into more closely.

Second: I'm going through something similar. I've taken on tea lattes as a displacement habit to occupy my mouth and hands between little bursts of activity. To help anchor me, I put on some music I love (via giant headphones), focus on enjoying my tea, and do a little bit of creative work. The more mindful I am during this time, the better I feel about it. It's very much about making the entire experience as blatantly pleasurable as possible.
posted by moira at 12:22 PM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Been there. Do not focus on the false-but-feels-real association between your creative activities and smoking (which is what your question seems to be doing). That's the cigarettes talking, trying to pull you back. Just like they may call for you after a nice meal. Or with coffee. Or after sex.

It's a false connection. Just stick with it and focus on the task at hand. They really will lose their pull, and you will see that they really contributed nothing whatsoever to your art/writing. It was a trick. 10 months is nothing. They are very powerful, the cigs. Keep going.
posted by quarterframer at 12:24 PM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, and making a specific goal might help with feeling directionless and blocked.
posted by moira at 12:25 PM on November 10, 2011

One thing I started doing is going to a coffee shop to write. I can't smoke there, or drink alcohol, so that pattern is interrupted. In fact, anything that disrupts the pattern of having a smoke and a gin and tonic has helped me greatly. I also draw at the coffee shop. They don't like people to paint there, so I have to take that home.

I'm an addict, so I had my 12-step meetings to lean on, but I imagine therapy will serve some of that function for you. Just keep it up. It's taken me years to break out of the old habits that got me into trouble in the first place, and the support I find in meetings has helped me in uncountable ways. Perhaps you could join a writing group? I know people who really like that.

I also go to the lake near my house and sit at a picnic table and draw. It's quiet and beautiful, and fires are restricted so I don't have the urge to light up.

I know what you mean about the emotions of making things. I often feel like I'm participating in a worldwide experience of creating time itself. It's very hard to describe! Like making a thing is manifesting something larger... I'm not making sense. Sorry.

But, that brain fog? It takes a long time to dissipate and you'll wonder if it will ever feel right again. I had to soldier through that and one day, I noticed that I didn't feel the fog anymore. It was miraculous. I was just going about my business and the fog had lifted.
posted by S'Tella Fabula at 12:27 PM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

(Please excuse any English mistakes, since it’s not my native tongue)
This hit home. I’m a smoker, a really addicted one. In fact, just writing down this fact made me light up. I also am a restless, somewhat creative person, and when I get excited about a project, whether it’s painting or writing, I smoke less than usual; however, strangely, the smoking itself seems more satisfactory, somehow adding to the ritual and pleasure of expressive achievement.

I have tried to quit several times –twice when I found out I was pregnant I immediately stopped, without even having a last one for goodbyes, yet only to resume after little more than a year, both times. I also quit two other times, once when I was returning late from an evening out and was desperately looking for a kiosk in our small Greek town to buy cigarettes for next day’s morning coffee- I suddenly felt that this, this isn’t freedom, this isn’t me choosing to smoke, this is a foreign craving taking over. Another time I quit because my kids bugged me into it (they still do).

Why did I relapse every time? I suspect I somehow wrongly associated smoking with being grown-up and free, a relic from my teenage years. And then there was this weird consequence of quitting: after getting over the two-week nicotine withdrawal and the uneasy months after that, the sleeplessness and the awkwardly free hands, a sadness remained. It sounds like a ridiculous excuse, but I could not write any more, the act seemed joyless and the result devoid of any inspiration.

Reason tells me that I probably didn’t wait long enough and that, given time, my now altered brain chemistry would adapt to the new situation and creativity would break through again. I feel that soon I will try to give it up again – I’m getting fed up with being an addict and since I am in my forties now and have been a smoker for nearly twenty years, I sense that I am pushing my luck.

I have a plan for when I’ll gather enough momentum to quit again: I’ll think about how I was when I was 15, before I tried my first cigarette, and remind myself of a time when incredible fun could be had, things could be created and new experiences enjoyed without the obligatory nicotine. I wish you (and me) all the best.
posted by helion at 1:21 PM on November 10, 2011

I kinda lean towards Moira's answer.

I know I'm getting depressed when I start thinking about cigarettes. You're not missing nicotine, your system has been free of nicotine for a long time. When I have these feelings I feel like I'm missing a sort of Time Out. Cigarette breaks served as permission to set my stress aside for a moment. "I'm not dealing with or thinking about this any more until I have a cigarette!"

With no cigarettes you have to find new ways to distract yourself, or risk slipping back into an old, destructive one with a massive gravitational pull. So far exercise and cooking work in my case.

Oh, and weed works. Aaaand is fantastic for creative endeavors.
posted by TheRedArmy at 1:25 PM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks to everyone! Your advice has helped a lot! It's good to hear that this is a common problem :)

helion--Good luck to you. One thing that helped me was reading through all of addiction questions/threads on AskMe--thank you!
posted by marimeko at 7:03 PM on November 13, 2011

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