Quitting the Thing


A year ago today, I quit the Thing. The Thing didn’t quit me until three months later, and spending those months not getting back to the Thing was the most difficult thing I ever did.

Earlier on the day I’d quit, I’d watched a GSLV Mk III rocket soar into the evening sky from the balcony. After that, I ordered a glass of lemonade and some snacks, watched a movie, then lied down for the day. As I waited for sleep to take over, I decided – for no reason at all – that I wouldn’t touch the Thing ever again.

I woke up the next morning feeling like a dose of the Thing but before I could get myself some, I got tired doing something else I had to do and just put it off. From that day until three months later, that’s all I did. I put it off.

Sometimes it was excruciating. Sometimes it made enough sense for me to stay away. Sometimes it floated into my day-dreams and whispered strange voices in my ear, nudging me to take another step closer. I did succumb twice but I couldn’t go all the way on either of those occasions; I felt so guilty that I’d squandered so many days of abstinence.

Maybe today isn’t the anniversary of the Quitting. Then again, I honestly think that’s harsh because the succumbing didn’t matter to me, rather it mattered just enough to deliver pain. It seemed like the pleasure was gone forever. In that moment, it was an important message to receive.

It’s about beating the law of diminishing returns by finding a suitable corner where you can turn around, instead of going on and on, and spit in the demon’s face. It’s about developing the courage to do that, and the courage to believe – even in moments of abject distress – that you don’t need the Thing to feel better, or good.

It’s ultimately a process of remaking yourself. I, for example, had to begin to believe – among other changes I underwent – that I could make good things happen for myself by exercising my own agency instead of having good or bad things done to me. When it worked, as it eventually did, I felt uninhibitedly triumphant.

In this moment, when you’ve consummated your self-faith, the Thing will quit you. Its shadow will shrink, its voice will dwindle, its presence will crumble. This is the best thing about quitting. It’s why I’m writing all this down: to remember that even when you think there’s no reason to believe something will happen, it will happen if it can, if you let it.

You’ve probably read this in well-wishing emails and heard it said in Chuck Lorre sitcoms but it’s one of those things where there’s a big difference between knowing about it and experiencing it.

And once you’ve experienced it, the difference becomes accentuated by the fact that you now have this deep pool of hard-earned confidence to draw from in future, a conviction about the inherent virtue of hardship that feels truer than before. Theory is almost never this gratifying.