I have quit smoking many, many times. Obviously, none of those times stuck. I have quit for periods stretching from one day to thirty, and each time I asked myself why I was bothering to go through all the physical and emotional stress.
You would think that all the nasty and occasionally deadly side effects of smoking would offer up enough reasons to quit, but that is not enough for an addict's brain. An addict's brain takes a look at the prospect of various types of cancer in the distant future, weighs it against feeling better right now, and convinces that addict to mock death and light up.
Over the last several weeks, I have tried to quit a handful of times, each time lasting less than three full days, and it was disheartening. I tried to scare myself away from smoking by picturing my own slow death due to emphysema. I chastised myself for my lack of self-discipline. I lay awake nights terrified at what I was doing to my body and yet lit up a cigarette the next afternoon. I was beginning to lose confidence in my ability to change my life until it occurred to me that I needed something more than the spectre of ill health to break through that wall, because fear of death just wasn't cutting it.
It was then, for the first time and quite out of the blue, that I realized that smoking was larger than just a physical addiction and social habit. It was a giant, obnoxious sign of my refusal to allow the fullness of love to move through my life.
I want to write about this and not sound like a big freaking hippie, but it's hard not to, because I'm talking about this life force that runs through everything, and even I am beginning to think I can smell the patchouli wafting off the screen. This is what occurred to me, though, in a flash of insight, and I couldn't just ignore it, because it struck me that it was an idea that had the potential to save my life. Seriously. I wasn't even smoking any ganja at the time.
When I looked at my addiction in this light, I saw how I used smoking to build little walls around my heart. I smoked to busy my hands when I was nervous, to distract myself when I was heavy with negative emotions, and both to excuse myself from social situations that made me anxious and to include myself in social situations that made me anxious, depending on what the conditions required. I smoked as a distraction from honest communication with myself and others. It became glaringly clear that I used smoking to close myself off, and suddenly I had more than the spectre of ill health to push me to quit.
I had love.
Again, seriously, I'm not on the ganja.
This love I am referring to is not romantic love. I have that with the Palinode. I am referring to that force of love, that vein of energy, that runs through life and can be discovered if we are open to experience it. Every time I lit up a cigarette and further poisoned myself, I was denying the fullness of that love's reach. Every time I inhaled, I shut that part of myself down to those around me. I denied that fullness to my creativity, which has a life in its own right.
I cannot know myself and create to my potential if I constantly distract myself away from deeper emotions. I cannot give freely to others when I make a habit of closing off my heart. I cannot give freely to myself.
This decision to quit smoking cigarettes means that I am allowing myself to feel anxious and weird, because there is more for me in anxiety and weirdness than there is in busy hands and a veil of smoke. This whole business makes me feel like I've just put my heart right out there on my sleeve. It is terrifying, but it is that good kind of fear, the kind that you feel just before new things start to happen, NEW THINGS LIKE SOUNDING LIKE A RAVING HIPPIE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT.
Maybe I have every right to be afraid. Jay-sus.
But it's true. I do not want to reach the end of my life having corralled every uncomfortable emotion behind a cigarette to keep the world at bay. Arm's reach is not close enough for love to find it's way in with all the joy and creativity it can bring with it. Arm's reach is no longer close enough for me.