I smoked my first cigarette when I was 12 or 13 years old. I've been a social smoker ever since--usually when I'm REALLY stressed or bored or I smoke with people who smoke at parties, mostly. This happens less than once a month and one or two or five smokes in 48 hours won't kill me. Or maybe it will, who knows.
A few times in my life I've gone through a period of a few months where I bought several packs in a row and became reliant on the cigarette for comfort. Like last summer, when I left a relationship of almost five years with someone I knew for ten years. It took a lot of time, courage and strength to actually pick up and leave. Initially, I left to sort things out from a distance but the other person wasn't willing or able to do that. I found myself in a precarious limbo between living situations as I struggled to manage my own mental health, my coaching business, my graduate school program and everyday things like cooking and my laundry.
I was eating really well, of course, and exercising daily and sleeping well (thank goodness). The sun was out, the weather was great and I kept doing what I knew was important to stay strong and healthy.
But there were parts of me that felt very angry and sad, confused, disoriented and horribly abandoned. The years of details of what I had just come from played over in my mind and I battled very complex feelings from minute to minute, as I tried to keep my ship afloat.
The day I bought a pack of cigarettes, I told myself it would be one pack and then I would be done. I smoked one a day or maybe two and soon the pack was gone. On autopilot, I bought another and then another, rationalizing that I had no other vices and was doing so many healthy things, I was allowed this "one bad thing."
I can count on one hand how many times I've used drugs. I drink less than once a week. I eat greens a few times a day and even in the height of summer, I eat ice cream maybe once a week. I cultivate healthy relationships. I do work I LOVE. I go to therapy once a week and seek out personal development classes, forums, books and events. I run.
I pick things up and put them down, literally and metaphorically. Was I not allowed one damn vice?
I was allowed. That was the decision I made. I had just worked up the courage to make a major change in my life, a change for the better but by no means easy or fun, and I deserved a break. But every time I lit another cigarette, I was still with the grief. I still felt the guilt of undervaluing myself. I felt the frustration of being disrespected. I felt the abandonment and rejection of someone I trusted for many years. I felt the longing to be loved.
The substance or the act of smoking didn't make these difficult feelings go away. I'm too self-aware and mindful to be distracted that easily. My Buddhist practice has penetrated too deeply and I know I can't check out of life because it feels difficult sometimes. Duh, it's life. I also know the truth about cigarettes and I know what they do--I can't be ignorant about something so toxic.
Probably more profound than any of these was this realization: I loved myself and my new body too much to continue. I had spent a lot of time, energy and resources to evolve into the person I am, inside and out, and I couldn't pretend that cigarettes weren't undoing all the positive stuff I was doing. I couldn't pretend that the vice was going to help me.
Hurting myself by acting out was only prolonging the time it would take to heal.
I tossed however much was left of the last pack and haven't had one since. While I can't say I won't have one or two from time to time, it will be a long time before I do and I doubt I'll ever do again what I did this past summer. There's just no need for it now---my life feels so good. I'm healing. And I don't need or want to check out or hide or avoid or take a break from feeling anything but the complexity of human feelings that happen as part of life--beecause I have a lot left to live!
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