Not everyone knows that I spent about 10 years of my life….
….as a smoker.
I had my first cigarette sometime around age 17 thinking this was just a casual funny thing to do when gathered with friends pretending you were a real grown up.
That turned into heading off to college very soon afterwards and noticing the students who smoked and the students who didn’t smoke, and joining in with the crowd who did.
Then I had a boyfriend who smoked. Every day.
The frequency just kept increasing over time, until I had to realize….
….I was a smoker.
Then I learned something about tobacco companies making millions and decided to buy a pouch of tobacco and roll my own (thinking this cut back on my contribution to those Big Corporations).
One day, I was rolling my cigarette in my apartment, all alone. I had been out biking almost all day, sweating and feeling joy in my athletic body.
I paused. I have no idea why.
I thought about what I was doing, looking at my fingers working with the rolling paper. I could no longer say “I’ll stop smoking when I graduate college”. I could no longer say “I’ll stop smoking when I break up with my boyfriend”. I could no longer say “I’ll stop smoking when I live in my own apartment”.
I was 26, I had broken up with the smoking boyfriend, I had graduated college, and now I lived in my own apartment. I kept passing all those points, and I didn’t stop.
This was going to be harder than I imagined.
I suddenly knew….I either keep going like this, thinking I’ll stop when….
….or I stop.
I don’t know why this particular thing struck me this way.
I had other experiences of addiction….primarily eating….
….that despite wanting to change or stop, I just couldn’t or didn’t until I had several important mentors, therapists and teachers help me with my overwhelming feelings.
It really came over me that day. I just have to stop.
So I did…..for about 6 months.
Then, through a series of transitions and events, I left my job and my apartment behind and returned to my parent’s house where I grew up to regroup for awhile and figure out what was next.
Staring out the window of my old childhood bedroom, at age 26, I felt like an abject failure.
I’m doomed, I thought. I’m such a loser. I can’t do anything right.
Now I have to find a job all over again, and my own place to live, and stop moving back in with my parents. Jeez.
The next thought?
I know! Go buy a pack of smokes! Yeah….do that next!
So I listened to that voice, and I left on foot for the corner store, and walked around the neighborhood at odd nighttime hours, smoking (since it wasn’t allowed in my parents’ house and I agreed it shouldn’t be, plus I was ashamed to be seen smoking by my parents).
I didn’t realize back then, it was my thoughts and feelings that were driving my urge to smoke.
I didn’t realize my own self-hate, being addicted to compulsively thinking there was something wrong with me and with the world, was the thing that fueled the fire of doing this activity called smoking.
….I’m unworthy, I can’t, I’m stupid, I’m slow, I’m too whatever.
But here’s the real kicker, as I look back at that time when I re-started smoking.
I’d smoke (or eat, or drink, or over-exercise) in order to not have to actually discover what it would be like to simply be myself.
I didn’t think I could be just me.
Raw, unaltered. Unfiltered (like the cigarettes I used to smoke).
Now, before you think that I “got” something and had a big Ah-Ha magic moment and stopped smoking because of a great lightening bolt of insight….I’ll tell you the end of the smoking story.
As I wandered the neighborhood in growing despair, I would sometimes have the thought “I’d rather be dead.”
Not exactly ready to commit suicide, but very dark and hopeless.
It was so dark and intense….
….I found myself sitting on top of my childhood built-in desk one night at 2 am, looking out at the roof tops of other houses into the night sky, with the window wide open.
God, I need help. I have no idea how to do this. Help.
A few days later, I accepted an invitation from an old friend to attend a party.
Who knows if I would actually go or not….I had no idea.
But I did.
At that party, a man came up to me as I sat under a tree with my lit cigarette and said “Is this your James Dean impression?”
Did he just say what I think he said?
It was the most honest question I had been asked in months, and months.
The banter followed. He sat down near me. We talked for hours. We exchanged phone numbers.
A week later, no call from this man.
But I had been thinking about his bold question and the term “impression”.
I liked this awareness that the smoking was an impression, and not the real me. This is secretly what I knew already.
When I reached him on the phone, here’s what he said: Yeah, well, I agree it was awesome talking last week. But I’m serious about the whole smoking thing. I hate it. Smoke smells terrible to me, it kinda makes my head hurt. If you want to do it, OK….but we won’t be seeing each other.
Smoking, or his company?
I got all the remaining cigarettes I had purchased, and crunched them into pieces and flushed them all down the toilet. The thing is, I had done this before. I knew what it was like to think “I’m DONE!” and then go back later.
But the next day, I learned I got a job I had interviewed for several weeks earlier at The American Lung Association.
You couldn’t smoke if you worked at the American Lung Association. In fact, I would be helping to educate people about quitting.
I never smoked again.
Not everyone gets an obvious set of choices like that. Maybe because I was such a knucklehead, I needed it to be really clear what choice to make.
But you still have one choice….do you want to see what it’s like to stop acting on the addictive pattern you’re in?
Because you can.
You can tell other people, you can get support, you can call for help.
You can question your thoughts about yourself that you aren’t capable of stopping.
You can most of all question your thoughts of pain, suffering and unrest. All the disturbing thoughts you think that you’ve been believing are true, that contribute to your addictive fixations….
….whether you’re focused on smoking, or eating, or drinking, or using drugs, or having a massive weird crush on someone, or using sex or people as objects of addiction, or spending money and buying stuff, or achieving enlightenment.
Finding out what’s out there, beyond stopping, becomes more interesting and curious and draws you to it like a magnet.
“Eventually you’ll want out, at any cost. You will then realize that life is actually trying to help you. Life is surrounding you with people and situations that stimulate growth. You don’t have to decide who’s right or wrong. You don’t have to worry about other people’s issues. You only have to be willing to open your heart in the face of anything and everything….” ~ Michael Singer
Much love, Grace