I see the vape go to their lips from across the room. I grit my teeth and turn away, the craving suddenly ripping through me. “You don’t need it,” I think to myself. There’s more than one vape in the dim room, however, and a little alcohol does a lot to break down one’s resolve. I ask the boy next to me what flavor his disposable is. He asks if I have one, presumably to perform a trade of sorts. I admit to him that I quit, that I was two months vape-free. “Seriously? Wow, man.” His words are slurred, but his eyes are wide and focused on me, “That is so impressive. I’m proud of you. It’s not easy to go against the crowd like that.” Though my urge to break is nearly overpowering, his words are reassuring. A mixture of pride and guilt meld together in the pit of my stomach, pooling in the back of my throat. How can one feel so strongly about something but still yearn for the opposite?

I don’t remember if I broke that night or not. It doesn’t really matter.

When I tell people that I’ve quit vaping, they’re usually impressed. I appreciate their congratulations, but the voice in my head telling me that I still want nicotine makes me feel like a fraud. I would feel proud of myself, but then feel silly for turning to someone and asking if I could hit their vape. In March, when I should have been over 3 months nic-free, I was caught in a cycle of going back on my promise to myself, just taking a few hits every few days. I realized after several weeks that I had fallen back into my old routine, my old habit resurfacing. I decided I could no longer allow myself to have cheat days. I knew I was strong enough now to stay away completely, so I had to fully commit to the quit. I remember resetting my timer after over 150 days. I had been lying to myself, and I was done doing that. Now, every time I break my streak, I reset the timer. It’s only fair.

Nights out with friends are fun but draining; it’s hard to be around accessible nicotine and stay away from it.

I still felt alone in quitting. The people who thought it was impressive that I quit were still vaping; they weren’t on my team in this endeavor. The lack of solidarity made it hard to be true to my promise to stay away from nicotine. Luckily, I have a secret weapon. She cheers me on and keeps me on track. She’s not in my same situation because she was never addicted to nicotine. She saw me when I was still vaping but trying to quit, and she was with me when I was fiending like crazy at a party. Someone who will physically hold you and tell the person whose vape you’ve just asked for “NO” for you is something special. Her pride means more than that of those who still vape, because she won’t dangle nicotine in front of my face. We get to stay away from nicotine together.

Sometimes I resent people who vape or smoke. It feels like I’m being teased, as they get their little rush of chemical joy while I sit fiddling with a hair tie or chewing violently on a piece of gum. I almost feel angry, seeing others with the same vice that was once mine. I allow myself to be angry, if only to keep me from asking for a spare cigarette. The solidarity between myself and those who subscribe to bad habits is demolished, because I went through the suffering that is quitting and they haven’t. I tell myself it won’t always be this way, that I’ll be able to be around it someday and not feel rage and jealousy rush to my cheeks. In her article “Neurobiology of Nicotine Dependence,” Athina Markou states, “Nicotine dependence is more prevalent than dependence on any other substance of abuse (Anthony et al. 1994).” While dependence on nicotine is a prevalent issue, nicotine itself is not the killer when it comes to cigarettes. Vaping bypasses the tobacco and delivers nicotine in chemical juice form to millions of individuals, avoiding the danger. One of those individuals used to be me. Sometimes I ask myself, why did you even quit, really? If it’s not really dangerous, what’s the big deal? If it’s so hard to stay away, then why stay away? It’s just a habit, in reality.

We all have habits.

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Sophie Rounds is a rising junior at Loyola University Chicago, double majoring in creative writing and Spanish. She loves to read and wishes she were a better cook. When she is not reading or writing, she enjoys singing in several choirs at her university and thrifting with her friends.

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