One of the strangest things that has come from my quit smoking attempt is an addiction to cheese. Ever since going smoke free on Wednesday I haven’t been able to get enough of the stuff. I’ve devoured toasted cheese sandwich after toasted cheese sandwich. I’ve feasted on jacket potatoes slathered with lashings of cheddary awesomeness and snacked on savory biscuits adorned with cubes of tasty cheese. Part of me feels I should be worried about this new obsession. That I am merely substituting one addiction with another. But the other part of me laughs in the face of such thinking. Cheese, after all, is not known to cause cancer. It is known to increase your waist size, but as I’m already a big fat person (okay, not that big or that fat) I’m not too worried about this. I’m just thankful for the fact I’d gone three days without cigarettes…
…and yes, you read that sentence correctly. I had gone three days without cigarettes. For this afternoon, after a brutal night of PTSD nightmares and little to no sleep, after a morning of confusion and melancholy, I turned to the sweet drug nicotine to ease my troubled mind. I know what triggered it. I know what caused the onslaught of memory and flashback. And there is nothing I could have done about it. I’m trying not to see this as a setback. I’m trying to look at it with positive eyes. Yes, I smoked a cigarette. But I only smoked one cigarette. I could easily have smoked two, three or four. I could easily have said to hell with my quit smoking attempt, give me more of that nicotine drenched goodness! But I didn’t. I smoked one, blissful, cigarette and then placed the pack in the trash before returning to my quit smoking endeavor.
You might want to give me a bollocking. You might want to turn me over your knee and give me a sound spanking. But before you take such extreme, flirtatious measures, remember that at least I’m being honest about smoking today. I could easily lie about it. I could easily ignore the fact I smoked today and go on making everyone believe I was still smoke free. But that isn’t me. I’m an honest soul. Sometimes too honest. Every quit smoking attempt is littered with setbacks and relapses. Nicotine is, after all, one of the hardest drugs to give up. It’s grip is vicious, strong and vice like. I do feel bad about smoking today, but I’d like everyone to remember how difficult my life is before scolding me.
I’m not saying that for sympathy or special treatment. I’m saying it because it’s true. My life is difficult. I live alone, I have few friends in close proximity and I battle bipolar affective disorder, complex PTSD and severe social anxiety disorder with little to no help. Just being alone all the time is enough to drive most people to despair, let alone having to deal with complicated mental illnesses at the same time. The smallest, most inconsequential thing can trigger me. I could be watching a movie that features a rape scene and bam I’m back in Adelaide being anally penetrated by a grotesque stranger. I could be walking down the road and smell a scent that sends me hurtling back into my abusive relationship. Or I could read an online article and be sent spiraling into the depths of poverty and homelessness.
Over the years I’ve come to realise just how precarious my life is. So many triggers. So many things to avoid. It amazes me sometimes how I have lived as long as I have. Chewing gum, gin and tonic, Buffy, Fitzroy, cigars, Harry Potter, The Dark Knight; all are things that I have to avoid. All have the power to pull me away from the present and send me tumbling into the abyss of panic, terror and nightmare. Just think, for a moment, how difficult that can be. How many times is Harry Potter mentioned in the media, on blogs? People who read Harry Potter don’t just like it, they obsess over it. Hundreds upon thousands of online hours have been dedicated to writing about this fictional wizard. He regularly appears in the mainstream media, on Buzzfeed, on blogs; and every time he does, my mind is triggered and I stop functioning.
Just the other day I was in the supermarket when a father asked his daughter “Would you like that?” and I was rendered almost non-functioning. For this was the exact assortment of words that my rapist said to me. And that’s not the first time that’s happened. Once, many years ago, I was in a similar situation, heard those exact words, and an ambulance had to be called to assist me as I ended up lying in the fetal position, unable to move. Can you imagine how difficult life can be when a simple four word sentence holds such power over someone’s functioning? It’s exhausting. It’s debilitating. It’s painful. It’s so many bloody synonyms I could be here til Doomsday typing them all out.
But I do the best I can. I get out of bed when it would be all too easy to remain there all day. I walk to the supermarket when all I want to do is remain in the comfort and safety of my own world. And I push myself to perform tasks that, although difficult, aid and assist my life. Just the other day I discovered that there is an event being held in Melbourne on the 21st August. A gathering of like-minded souls, congregating to celebrate their passion in a club like environment. There is going to be hundreds of people there. Hundreds of strangers that have the power to render me panic-stricken and comatose. But I put my hand up to attend. I, Addy Lake, social anxiety extraordinaire, volunteered to attend a function with hundreds of people who could render me unable to function. All because I want to go. All because I yearn to break through the hold my anxiety and PTSD hold over my life.
That’s why I’m not beating myself up for smoking one cigarette. My life is hard, it’s painful and it’s every day. There is very little joy in my life and very little relaxation. I exist in a constant state of hyper-vigilance; endlessly on the lookout for the next thing that could send me cascading into the past. But I keep fighting. I keep pushing myself. And I keep seeking out new and hitherto untried strategies that could break the hold mental illness has on me. And that is something to be proud of. Regardless of the occasional slip-up or setback.