As told to Akshay Vastrad by Suhas Navaratna—in-house funnyman and stand-up comedian (as opposed to the sit-down variety).
It’s the new year, so you know what that means.
Regardless of whether you think that they don’t really work, or if you already have a long list of them for this year, you almost certainly have your sights set on self-improvement in some form.
In case one of yours is that you’re going to try and quit drinking and smoking, even for a while, here’s what you can expect.
21 Days (Minus a Few)
It’s a common misconception that if you can quit smoking for 21 days, you pretty much stop forever (there’s even a book). And I’d come across a bunch of articles that said the same thing—probably drawing from the book as reference.
I decided to try this cleanse.
I also decided to throw alcohol into the mix as well (or rather, to not) because I’d been having some problems with it.
And I chose 21 days because it’s both 21 DAYS and just 21 days at the same time, ya’ know?
My thinking was that this would be a dry run of sorts. Most people who are addicted to either cigarettes or alcohol will tell you—without a moment’s hesitation—that they can quit whenever they wanted to. I laboured under no such delusions. I knew it would be hard.
I also fully intended to indulge in both vices after I proved to myself that if I really wanted or needed to quit, I could.
I had my first cigarette at the age of 17. It was just one of those things I wanted to try. I hated it. Couldn’t fathom how so many people actually enjoyed the stuff.
But I didn’t really get into it properly until college. Regardless of how much I’d like to deny it, the concept of smoking was made cool by all the movies I’d watched growing up.
That image of the badass with the cigarette hanging from his mouth is seared into our minds as a goal we should be trying to achieve.
Looking back, SO much regret.
In the months leading up to my decision to quit, I'd been smoking and drinking a lot more, because I was in a bad place.
Just life things:
- Stand-up wasn’t going too well for a bit. I wasn’t really getting anywhere with it and the gigs paid peanuts.
- I felt like my education was wasted, because I’d dropped out during the final year of my engineering course to pursue my dream of being funny for a living.
- Obviously my family didn’t take any of this too well, which only made things worse.
It goes without saying that stress has always been a huge part of the equation.
So I was done with the whole affair for a while.
How This Played Out
I went from smoking about a pack a day and drinking every other day to complete cold turkey. 100 to 0.
There are a couple of things I noticed really quickly after I quit.
My comic timing was completely thrown off. I worried about my performance so much that I actually psyched myself into fumbling a bit on stage.
It was also incredibly hard to be around other people who drink or smoke. Initially, there was a bunch of, “pfft, he’s not actually going to do this”. But that’s only natural, considering that they’ve all probably heard the, “I’m quitting” spiel a billion times. When they realised that I was actually committed to this, the support poured in.
Since I’d told everyone at work, and because they were being supportive, it was much easier to stay strong during the day, when I was around them. The nights, when I was alone, were much, much harder.
I’ve learned that people are essential to the process of quitting. They keep you in check and remind you why you’re doing this. Being by myself, isolated from this unofficial support system is what eventually led to my downfall (dramatic, much?).
Here’s the rest of my experience.
I was incredibly pumped about my decision to quit. This exuberance carried me through the first day. I was walking on air.
I could do this.
Days 2 to 4
I woke up on the morning of the second day and immediately went, “Fuck, I’m actually doing this.”
This almost instantly transformed into anger. I was pissed. I was so fuckin’ pissed at everything. How dare people smile?! I basically turned into the grinch, just in time for Christmas.
This only grew worse over the next 3 days. I might’ve had murder on my mind at one point.
It was a bit harder to sleep during this time as well, but that fixed itself fairly soon. Willpower saps energy like nothing else. Once I crashed from exhaustion on the third or fourth night, I settled into a much better routine.
I also realised that I could walk a lot more when, without realising it, I climbed up 3 flights of stairs without having to stop and hack up my lungs.
Things got a lot easier at this point. I began walking on air again, and started to wonder why this was so hard for some people. It had been 4 days and I was still going strong.
People who started with me, to “keep me company” had already fallen off the wagon.
Days 6 to 9
Food tasted SO MUCH BETTER.
This and the need to fill the void usually occupied by smoking resulted in me gaining around 1.5 kilos.
Days 9 to 15
More of the same. Moments of weakness were followed by a reaffirming of my convictions. I’m saying this again because I can’t put enough emphasis on it—people are integral to the process.
Don’t do this alone.
If they’re the kind who would go out of their way to make the whole thing harder for you, distance yourself, please. You don’t have to cut them out of your life. Simply maintain some distance.
Don’t make this harder than it needs to be.
The 16th Day
I was in Hyderabad for a gig. This is when I plopped off the wagon and onto my ass.
Being in another state, the stress that comes with a gig, and relative isolation culminated in one fateful beer that then led to a cigarette.
This, in turn, led to a binge to end all binges.
And that was that.
I ended up lasting only 16 days.
I didn’t quite make it, but I’m wiser for having tried. Next time’s going to stick because, now, I know what to expect.
Hopefully, this helps you get on the sobriety wagon and stay there this new year. I’m going to give it another shot at some point this year. I’ll report back with the results.