Confessions of a Closet Smoker

Smoking in secret is a behavior that creates pain and loneliness for the smoker. It makes us feel guilty, weak, and stuck. 

Karen's story will resonate with anyone who has struggled to hide their smoking.

Thank you for sharing your story Kay, and congratulations on taking your life back.

My name is Karen, but my friends call me Kay. I started smoking when I was 14. I am now 31. I realize now that my reasons for smoking at that age have twisted themselves into reasons why I was still smoking 16 years later.

It is as if my entire life was deliberately built around cigarettes. Perhaps it was.
I quit smoking on June 12. Today is my fifth smoke-free day. I feel like I am waking up out of some kind of fog. I decided to introduce myself to your quit smoking support group while I'm still foggy, so I don't talk myself out of being brutally honest with you.

Hiding Behind Smoking, in One Way or Another

I don't want to hide any longer. I want to take the power of my addiction away by telling you the truth about me. If you like me after reading this, that is wonderful. If you don't, I don't blame you! But I need to be honest about the monster I have become.

I have done a lot of rotten things during my relationship with nicotine, things that are shameful, things I can't take back. I am slowly coming to realize all the lies I told myself, and believed, just to be able to smoke. There are so many things that are coming into focus regarding my affair with smoking.

Most disheartening is that it seems like "Marriage vs. Capri 120's" could be the defining title for my life in the last five years. My husband is a nonsmoker and when we met, I had quit for a little over one year after smoking for years. He believed I was a nonsmoker when we got together. I did too.

I can't even remember why I started smoking again. But the point is, I did. And I did it with gusto.

In the beginning of our relationship, my husband tolerated my 1-2 cigarettes per day, while I tolerated his drinking habit. It was almost an unspoken code between us; I don't talk about your habit and you don't talk about mine. When I began smoking again, I decided I could control it and would only smoke when I drank alcohol. Since I rarely drank, this was a perfect plan.

Well, not exactly. I noticed that, slowly, as time went on, I was pouring more and more drinks at home - one weak drink for me that I would sip on all night and one or more strong drinks for him. As time passed, I was frequently getting my husband sloshed and giving myself permission to smoke almost an entire pack in the 2 hours it took my husband to pass out.

If that isn't nicotine addiction, I don't know what is.

The Power of the Smokescreen

I never saw it the way I just described it until the last few weeks. I was so blind to my manipulations and scheming. If you had told me what I was doing, I would have thought you were crazy! I have always been the "too nice" person, the kind of person that you could trust, a friend. And that's what I thought I was.

But as the smoke is clearing from my mind, it is hitting me like a ton of bricks. This became a revelation of who I have become, the kind of wife and mother I have been. Utterly selfish and devoted to my addiction.

I despised myself for so many years but dared not let it linger on my mind for too long...otherwise, I would have had to do something about it.

Nicotine Took Control, Bit by Bit

My addiction grew worse and became harder and harder to control. For the last few years, I spent all the energy I had planning my smoking around my husband. I thought since I love him so much I shouldn't subject him to it and therefore, secrecy was a necessity - out of love, of course.

Now I realize that my addict-self is selfish and is motivated only by cigarettes. It's all about finding a way to feed the addiction. I thought smoking away from my hubby was a sacrifice I was making (see how nice I am? ha ha), but now I see it for what it really was - a way to prevent him from having an opinion about it.

When smoking cessation commercials came on TV, I became the most talkative person in the room, desperately trying to prevent someone from commenting on how bad smoking is. Desperately hoping my son wouldn't blurt out his knowledge of my smoking. I just couldn't stand to be hypocritical and agree with the commercial, and then sneak a smoke. It was better to never let the subject come up at all.

The Heavy Burden of Smoking in Secret

My husband and I both work from home, so we are together all day. I would deliberately get up before him in the morning and go to bed after him in the evening just so I could smoke. I was obnoxiously crabby if he got up in the morning before I could sneak a cigarette and shower before he woke up.

I would sneak outside in blistering heat and torrential rains, more times than I could possibly count, in order to cater to my addiction. I have faked headaches so I could stay home from outings that would hinder my ability to smoke at least every hour. I have pooh-poohed travel ideas because I knew we would be together too much for me to smoke successfully and keep it hidden.

I am always running to the store for everyone for any reason, in order to sneak to the gas station and buy cigarettes, and then smoke in peace for a few minutes. I have avoided great friends for years and years because I didn't want my smoking habit to be discovered.

I would feel relieved when my husband and son would go on an outing without me (at my insistence), just so I could smoke "in peace". They thought I wanted Alone Time, but what I really wanted was to be alone with my cigarette.

But after my cigarette was stubbed out, I would want to be with them again. And they weren't there. Well, then at least I could smoke another one...then another one...then another one...

"What time are you going to get home? In 15 minutes?" ... I could smoke three more before they get home...

My smoking has created a huge gap that my husband isn't even aware of. He tells people we don't smoke. Either I am very good at hiding this or he really doesn't want to know, because it has to be obvious, doesn't it? Five days ago I didn't think so.

Today I'm not so sure. What he doesn't know is that I hid from him. He doesn't know I looked through the windows of my house to see where he was before going in. If I could see him through the window, I would use another door to come in because I wouldn't want him to approach me and smell cigarettes.

So, before I'd go in the house, I'd go to the garden (if I wasn't already there) and pick rosemary, basil, or any pungent herb. I would rub them on my fingers and chew on one. Then, when the coast was clear, I'd come into the house and make a beeline for the bathroom for a frantic session of tooth brushing, mouthwash, and hand/face scrubbing.

I would use lotion last and rub a small amount in my hair. Only then would I feel somewhat safe. I would finally feel like I could sit down next to my husband or son for awhile and be alright.

But then, inevitably, I would want another cigarette.

The Never-Ending Cycle of Nicotine Addiction

And thus the circle goes around and around. For the last 16 years, I have been living like someone I don't even recognize. And it was just getting worse and worse. Every time I smoked, I would feel enormous guilt.

I am just beginning to realize what life with me must have been like for my family -- constantly distracted, spending most of my time scurrying around, making sure they are settled, catering to their every whim because if they are involved in something else, I could go outside, thinking that surely they wouldn't look for me if their every need was met?

My husband and I decided over a month ago that he would leave for a few weeks to start building our dream home out of state, near his parents (who smoke). I thought I really lucked out. Most every thought that centered around moving next year involved a scene with me and his parents outside on the deck smoking together. Him being gone for a few weeks where I could smoke without "risk" sounded great...

My son and I will be arriving in July to spend the rest of summer there and then we will all return back home.

Since I have had so much time alone, I have had a lot to think about. I reflected on the insanity that has become my daily life. I no longer even have a life, really. I live in a self-imposed prison. I'm both prisoner and jailer because I'm the only one who holds the key to let me out.

Suddenly, it became clear to me and I made the biggest decision in my life. I decided to quit smoking.

I decided to quit the madness and chaos. I decided to look my addiction in the face and say NO MORE! I don't want our son to smoke. I want to be close to my family. I don't want to burden my family with the cost and pain of a debilitating smoking-related disease (like my father).

I want to be able to hang out with my non-smoking friends, I want to look forward to traveling and spending time with my husband. I don't want to schedule my time around smoking. I want to be free of the hold smoking has over me.

I Picked a Day to Quit

A friend suggested making a quit date. I did. I began obsessing over my quit date. I asked everyone I could think of for advice. I called 1-800-no-butts. It was after-hours and I listened to every available bit of information they could provide on their answering machine.

I read the articles about smoking cessation at This site inspired me. I finally felt like I could do it. I decided to do it. I asked my mother for help. I asked my sister for help. I asked my son for help.

Meanwhile, my husband knows nothing about my smoking, much less me quitting it. He does not know how I cry myself to sleep for being such a horrible wife. He doesn't know how I wish I could take back every moment that I smoked, just to spend that time with him because I miss him so much. He doesn't know that I am a selfish, manipulative person, or how sorry I am that I didn't realize who I had become or what this addiction was doing to us.

I am going to just be brave and reach out to you through my story because I am so tired. I am tired of keeping secrets, I am tired of pushing people away, I am tired of being ashamed, and I am tired of being sorry. I am tired of hiding and being someone I'm not.

This is the fifth day since I quit. I will not smoke today. I will not be the person I hate.
I have a fiery determination and indefinite patience to remain free from smoking. I will rise above the smoke. I am starting to feel good about myself again.
The nicotine withdrawal of the last 5 days has been physically tough: Nausea, sweats, headaches, and a feeling of emptiness.

But there is truth. That is what I have and that is what keeps me going.
Thanks for letting me share my terrible secrets with you. It helps so much for me to look at myself honestly. I've haven't done that for a long time. Thanks for being there and letting me reach out.

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Shields M, Garner RE, Wilkins K. Dynamics of smoking cessation and health-related quality of life among Canadians. Health Rep. 2013;24(2):3-11.

  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health. National Cancer Institute. Managing Withdrawal.

By Terry Martin
Terry Martin quit smoking after 26 years and is now an advocate for those seeking freedom from nicotine addiction.