Family-related stress has been both Jordan's reason to smoke and her reason to quit smoking at different times in her life. The 43-year old professional and mother explains how starting smoking again after seven years smoke-free made her feel helpless and hopeless, and how that sense of hopelessness kept her smoking. In her own words, Jordan tells her emotionally-powerful story of quitting smoking and finally regaining a sense of control in her life.
“I’d just turned 14 when I had my first cigarette. We snuck out onto the street late at night – I had no idea why, I just followed along, glad to be included. When one girl produced a stolen packet of cigarettes, I had the first one to fit in, then another to keep up. The third was for a dare. I felt like throwing up. But the next day, I bought a packet.
“Before smoking, I was an awkward kid. My wild imagination and sometimes odd manner didn’t seem to matter much in primary school, but as I got older, things changed. In early high school, I was alone most lunchtimes. I felt wrong, out-of-place, unlovable.”
Smoking as a way of fitting in
“Cigarettes were a simple prop that changed my look from weird to wild. That look gave me a new identity as a rebel who stood out, but didn’t care. I was determined to live large and by my own rules. To change the world. I had my first smoke to fit in; I kept smoking to stand out.
“By 16, I’d found a place in the alternative music scene. It was the early 90s and the scene was full of bright, creative people with big ideas – unafraid to express themselves and driven to make their mark on the world. Booze and smokes were must-have accessories; part and parcel of a new self that felt right, who belonged.”
Trying for a baby
“I met my life partner through music. For a decade we made music and art, travelled the world, enjoyed amazing food and drink – and smokes. Then we tried for a child. And failed.
“We missed that baby we’d never met, so much. We explored IVF as an option, but even then there’d be no guarantees. We decided to give it all we had, so I stopped smoking - for the baby.”
My big quit
“Seventeen years after my first cigarette, my partner and I drove to the outback without any cigarettes and 200 kilometres from the nearest shop that sold cigarettes. For three days, I ate and drank way too much – a misguided attempt to deal with the nicotine cravings. On day four, rather than react to the cravings, I kept myself distracted until they passed. By day 10, the desire to smoke had all but gone. Around day 200, I started IVF treatment. About day 485, I gave birth to a beautiful son. A miracle.”
Things get messy again
“My mental health unravelled when our son was a few months old. I was lucky to have a great midwife and kind family doctor, who helped me find the courage to start therapy for anxiety. It took three years to feel like me again. Although I came very close on a few occasions, I didn’t pick up the smokes. Not then.
“About 7 years had passed since I quit and I was a year into recovery when I started smoking again. Our son was struggling in school and with help slow to arrive, managing freelance work and school became impossible. We decided on homeschooling while we worked out how best to support our child.
“Over the next six months, I attempted an impossible juggle of homeschooling, therapies, and clients. I lost my business, all of our savings, and nearly our marriage. My mother-in-law became ill. Life became an endless cycle of caring for others, with no room left for me. I’d lost myself. Once again, I felt wrong, alone and unlovable. When the opportunity came for a smoke, I took it: one tiny act of rebellion in a life otherwise outside my control.
“After seven years free from nicotine, I was a smoker again.”
The pressure to quit wasn't enough
“The pressure to stop smoking was relentless. To oblige my family, I tried various methods on multiple occasions; a cycle of repeated attempts and failures. Part of me didn’t care. I was hurting, and smoking kept my feelings at bay.
“Two years on, and the worst of the crisis was over. Our son was thriving at school and I had a great new job – but I was still smoking. It was hard to admit I was stuck, when from the outside everything should have been fine. I gave up for seven years before, why not now? I felt like a failure.
“Meanwhile, my anxiety was getting worse and worse, and I was smoking nearly a pack of cigarettes a day. At this point, I knew I had to see my doctor for help.”
Freedom at last
“I started treatment for anxiety again, and tried some new strategies to reduce stress. I started journaling and poems began to flood from my pen. It had been years since I’d allowed myself time for art, and here I was, a writer! It felt so good to express my feelings and myself, instead of hiding behind a smokescreen.
“The first time I quit, it felt like a sacrifice I had to make. This time, I quit for me, for self-acceptance. A radical act of rebellion against that part of me that still felt ‘wrong’.
“I’m a non-smoker, and I’m free.”
Jordan had her last cigarette in December 2017, and has since given up alcohol as well. She says that her smartphone is the next addiction she's working on! Meanwhile, Jordan is starting to enjoy simply being herself again: walking her dog in the bush, making art, going to art shows, and playing nerdy board games with her son. "It's not perfect", she says, "But that's who I am, and I'm okay."
Jordan's smoking was also an attempt to cope with her stress and anxiety. It is important to discuss and address any mental health concerns as early as possible with your doctor. Your doctor is best placed to provide you with further information, guidance and management of symptoms.