As you know, I’ve been doing quite a bit of personal demolition lately. While this process is messy and definitely constitutes a disturbance in the Force, I’m also discovering old layers of personal experience and artifacts of the woman I was, the person I became who was in turn supplanted by someone else. It may unnerve some to hear me talk about my Self as distinct personalities or individuals. But that’s the truth, as I know it.
I am a different person than I was when I began smoking. And the creature currently in a state of becoming is not the one who stood at the windows of the Albuquerque Sunport two and a half years ago, saying goodbye to a world both loved and loathed. Today, now, serves as my psychological datum–we put a spike here to mark the highest point of elevation in the excavation, and it becomes the central reference for everything that comes afterward. Levels and layers of understanding are defined based on the datum.
High Points and Reflective Potential
Today, I’m feeling pretty positive about my choice to quit smoking. No doubt, as I continue along this path, I’ll writhe with agony and curse the day I chose to do this, but that’s not Now. Because I feel strong, I’m going to take a moment to reflect on my habit, an addiction that goes beyond the chemical level to embrace behavioral, occupational, and cultural features.
I’m 34 and I’ve been smoking for two decades, less a few months. That’s right, I was between the tender ages of 14 and 15 when I picked up the dirty habit. Anyone want to hazard a guess at my reasons? Well, the obvious one was a need to adopt a persona, a shield–chain-smoking, coffee-drinking, surly and abstracted. Who were my major literary influnces at this age? I’ll offer a hint–it wasn’t Emily Dickinson, to whom all my English teachers mistakenly compared me.
Balzac, Burroughs (any and all), Bukowski, Camus, Sartre, Sand, Sarton, Sontag. The alphabetization is unintentional, but that’s how the list of my influences begins. But although my desire to emulate these brilliant writers and philosophers began at an elemental and somewhat crude level, taking on their habits as opposed to taking their philosophies to heart, they continue to be an influence.
I have to admit, I also took up smoking as a burr in my father’s saddle blanket. Both of his parents smoked heavily. As a child, cross-country travel took the form of a hotbox–he and his older brother trapped in the backseat of the family car with all the windows tightly sealed as his parents chainsmoked. The fact that my smoking habit is deeply marked by consideration for non-smokers does not change the fact that I began smoking in order to anger my father, a man with whom my relationship was, and still is, a tempest in a teapot on the best of days.
The Spur of Change
You may well wonder why I’ve chosen to begin the process of quitting this habit of long standing, now. First, I should say that I have always known there would come a time when it was better to quit than to continue smoking cigarettes. I am one of those individuals who, while I may be chemically addicted to nicotine, actively enjoys the act of smoking with all its inimitable sensory details. It’s bound to almost all my favorite non-active activities. I have a strict rule that I do not smoke and walk. That is the one aspect of my life that has remained sacrosanct in all this time.
When I write, when I read, when I drink coffee, when I rest from work in the garden…all these are moments I have chosen to link to my habit. And breaking myself of that will perhaps be the most difficult part of quitting smoking–the association. That being said, I do believe it’s worth it. As I noted above, I’ve been doing a great deal of personal remodeling–with a psychological sledgehammer. Nothing is spared, no matter how precious or ferociously my psyche protects it. Sometimes, you have to excavate with paintbrushes and dental picks. Other times call for a backhoe. The name of my backhoe lately is Choice.
“The fact that I’m unhappy with the consequences of choices I didn’t realize I was making is something I’ll have to cope with in whatever way I can. I very much doubt there’s a simple way to fix this. In fact, I’m almost certain it’ll be painful, messy, and complicated. Like rebreaking 200 bones that healed wrong and setting them properly.”
~From a recent conversation with a friend about how I am lonely and I realize it’s all my own fault.
My recent digging activities have resulted in some interesting psychological reactions and realizations on my part. Ordinarily, I’m rather stable and accepting of my solitary relationship status. But as soon as I started digging into the foundations of assumptions I’d made about myself, here comes my Self like a toddler with a bone to pick. I remember reading something from Albert Camus many years ago about how the person who cannot or will not do something will always find a philosophy to rationalize their choice.
In the course of my demolition and excavation, I am discovering that many of my firmly held beliefs about myself are nothing more than tawdry philosophies designed to excuse me from the effort to change my actions or thought processes. That makes me incredibly uncomfortable, and if I could sidle slowly away from myself, I would. But I can’t, so I’m choosing to press forward with this project.
What Does Loneliness and a Crusty Existential Philosopher Have to Do With Smoking?
For me, that’s a pretty straightforward answer. I’m involved in recreating my entire self. All of me. My cell structure and basic personality will remain the same, but I am interested in a complete renewal of ideas and ways of being. I want to gut my mind and leave only the support pillars in place. Anywhere I can remove a philosophy, habit or attitude that does not serve my growth, I will. And ultimately, beyond being a physically unhealthy habit, smoking is one of these. It has to go.
I started smoking because I needed to build an image of myself–for the benefit of others, yes, but also for myself. I was at an age where we begin to define our adult personas and differentiate ourselves from being “the children of our parents.” Smoking appealed to me, largely because it always had. I’d always been curious about it. So, to adopt the habit was originally an act of agency. I chose it. But it was also an act of rebellion against a person I nearly hated.
You see, I blame my father for much of what is wrong with me. Or at least, I did until very recently. I’d like to take a moment to differentiate assigning blame and assigning responsibility. Upon some very hard reflection, I decided that I could no longer blame my father for warping me. True, I’ll always assign responsibility to him for beginning that process, but I can no longer let it rest with him. I am an adult woman. I bear responsibility for my actions and thoughts, and ultimately, for who I am. To blame him is to give away my agency.
So, on a very metaphorical, psychological, and intangible level, smoking is unhealthy. It has to go now, because the reasons I began the habit no longer serve me, and to continue the habit for its own virtue is unacceptable. I can’t keep doing it just because I’ve grown to like it. That’s tantamount to staying with an abusive partner because I’ve taught myself how to enjoy being manipulated or physically abused.
Here, I end this little entry. It’s not earthshattering or probably even very interesting to most. But it was important for me to say it, and to put it out there to be witnessed. I am making the conscious choice to begin my quitting process. A note I should probably make–I haven’t quit yet. I’m still an active smoker. But the most important step has been taken. I’ve decided that I want to quit. For me. This isn’t due to social pressure or the desires of friends, lovers, or family. This is my task, my choice.
In the past, I’ve tried to quit for the wrong reasons, tried to use cessation aids or the cold turkey method. The results were actually rather disastrous. I ended up smoking more than I had before I’d tried to quit. So, I’m taking the process slowly, easing back, and challenging myself to go longer periods between cigarettes. I cannot treat this task as the simple one of stopping a single behavior. Because it’s a habit of such long standing with so many ties to various parts of my life, I must make it a part of the demolition and excavation goals–I must restructure my life to exclude it.