7 Ways Quitting Smoking Paralleled My Experience Of Coming Out
Hometowns are interesting, complicated, multifaceted places.
The funny thing about hometowns is they are at the foundation of everything you’ll ever do for the rest of your life.
They may not be where you end up, but they will always be where you began.
Your hometown is where you first scored that goal and had your first kiss.
It’s where your heart broke for the first time.
It's where you first rear-ended a truck right after getting your license.
You can love it or you can hate it, but regardless, how you perceive the rest of the world will be molded by your hometown perspective.
This is something I know all too well.
My hometown has a population close to that of a large extended family.
It's the kind of town where people have fights over whether or not a Busch Light is better than Bud Light, and on Saturdays, the college football stadium becomes the third largest town in the state.
It’s the type of town that either holds your heart or holds you down, and those who escape don’t ever come back.
I learned everything here.
Some of what I learned was good (like my taste in music or how to change brake pads and oil), and some of what I learned was not so good (like how a woman’s first priority is the home, while the man’s is his job).
I also learned women shouldn’t like other women and men shouldn’t like other men.
Growing up, I always felt restricted.
It could’ve been the side effects of my Marlboro Reds that were finally catching up to me, or it could’ve been the suffocating conservatism that followed me like a bad it habit, making it hard to breathe.
But I knew something had to change, starting with me.
Not too long ago, you would have never heard those words come from my mouth, let alone allow it to be broadcasted on the Internet for the entire world to see.
After all, in my high school, there were only a handful of teenagers who identified anywhere on the LGBTQ+ spectrum.
One had been kicked out of homecoming for wearing a dress, another was constantly pestered about being a man or a woman and the others were ousted, marginalized and stereotyped by whispers in the hall and Sharpie-stained messages written on bathroom stalls.
For fear of the truth and becoming the joke of the school, I closed that part of me off.
I locked my sexuality in the closet, hoping that it would never be discovered.
My hometown made me deeply fear my sexuality. I was afraid of who I was.
So, just as I learned to pick up the cigarettes to deal with life, I also learned how to live in the closet.
For over a decade, there were two relationships that kept me so passionately dedicated, not committing to them anymore scared the hell out of me: smoking and pretending to be straight.
It wasn’t until I said goodbye to the cowboy killers that I gained the confidence to say goodbye to the closet.
Once you realize they will always offer the same comfort and reinforce the same fear, goodbye comes absolutely necessary.
These are the seven realizations I had to accept before I was able to leave cigarettes and life in the closet behind for good:
1. They only ease your anxiety temporarily.
A shot of Jim Beam to calm your nerves at 9 am is not socially acceptable (unless it’s game day), and it also isn't acceptable while driving to have “the talk” with your soon-to-be ex-lover.
Cue the cigarettes.
These little sticks offer a temporary relief to a painful world, yet a couple minutes of numbness is never enough to satiate the craving.
We need more.
We become accustomed to constant, short, scheduled breaks just to get us through the day.
It doesn’t matter if you’re not afraid of the dark or possess no fear of abandonment, the closet is a scary place.
However, the only thing scarier than being in the closet is the idea of not being in the closet.
When we hide ourselves far away from the rest of the world, we are only temporarily relieved of the anxiety our everyday life provides.
Then after not too long, we realize we are in the closet.
And when you’re in the closet, you’re alone.
2. You’ve been fooled by their illusion.
I first picked up a cigarette because I thought it made me look more mature.
I thought it transformed me into this effortlessly cool being.
Yet, when I look at old photographs with a Marlboro between my 16-year-old fingers, I don’t think I look mature or cool.
In fact, to be perfectly frank, I look like a dumbass.
The "cool factor" was just an illusion I had conceived in my head, one I had allowed to fool me for far too long.
When I hid in the closet, I thought its darkness would protect me from any back lash that would come from the exposure of my secret.
I truly believed the closet was a safe place.
Although the closet is a very real thing, the safety of the closet is not real at all.
The whole idea that the closet protects you is a lie.
Safety is not belittling yourself to fit societies expectations, and safety is not keeping parts of you hidden in dark places that nobody knows exists.
Safety is being proud of who you are and unashamed to be yourself.
Safety is trusting in those who love you to love you, regardless.
The closet is not protecting you. It's suppressing you.
3. They’re both bad habits.
I was good at smoking, and I was good at hiding. Why?
It only takes nailing the routine to be good at either.
It was easy, and soon enough, it became second nature to be going through life waiting for the next smoke break.
As easy as it is to fall into a routine with your daily smokes, it’s easy to fall into a routine when being questioned about your love life, whether existent or not.
Everyone asks the same repetitive questions, so you have your answers perfectly planned:
No, I’m not seeing anyone at the moment. I’m going with the flow. I like being single. I get to work on myself. I have been seeing somebody, but I’m not too serious about it.
These habits do nothing for you besides prolong the damage to your being.
The longer you continue, the worse the side effects become.
4. Nobody forced it upon me.
The hardest part of quitting both the cigarettes and the closet was realizing nobody made me pick up either one.
Sure, I had been heavily influenced by the people I had surrounded myself with, but they didn’t push me into the gas station to exchange my $5 for a pack of smokes.
They didn’t put the cigarette in my hand and light it for me. I did that.
And nobody put me in the closet. Not a single soul told me it would be better to keep this secret to myself.
I was scared of what my hometown’s reaction would be and frightened by what people might think of me, so I locked that part of myself away.
No one did that to me. I did that to me.
When I realized it wasn’t forced and it was my own doing, I realized I had the power to put down the cigarettes and to come out of the closet.
The choice was mine.
5. They’ll forever have open arms for you.
I stopped going to bars when I first quit smoking because although my friends knew never to let me steal a puff from their Marlboro 27s, strangers did not.
Bars are filled with smokers.
Smokers are friendly and giving, so needless to say, the temptation was a little too real.
And every time I walk into a gas station, I have to talk myself out of buying a pack.
It’s a continuous cycle that never ends, just like coming out.
Coming out doesn’t happen one time, and then it’s over. It's a process that is repeated over and over again.
Whether you find yourself at a new job or meeting someone new, there is always a choice to make: Will you be honest with this stranger, or will you hide that piece of yourself out of fear of being rejected?
It doesn’t matter if you have been out and proud for years, or if it’s been so long since the last time you can’t remember your last drag.
Both haven’t forgotten who you are, and both are more than willing to take you back.
6. You’ll smile more.
When you finally walk out of the closet or put out the cigarettes for good, your life is going to change.
When you’re no longer self-conscious about your teeth yellowing or the stench of smoker’s breath, and when you’re no longer confining yourself to a mold that doesn’t fit your truest being, you’re going to find genuine happiness.
This happiness has been restrained for far too long, and after years of being diluted, it will finally be given the chance to shine.
You’re going to smile more out of sheer happiness.
7. You can finally breathe again.
The first drag seemed harmless.
The first time hiding a piece of yourself didn’t feel damaging.
But as the ashes filled the tray and the lies continued to pile on top of each other, even years down the road, the weight sitting on your chest became your version of normal.
When you finally say goodbye, you realize that weight is gone and you can function again.
You'll be able to run a mile (or seven) without wheezing, and you can talk about your relationship without hesitation.
That is a powerful relief, and nothing can ever compare to it.