I smoked my first cigarette in eighth grade in what could have been an episode of an 80s ABC After School TV Special: My carpool buddy Adrian offered me a Marlboro Red and when I refused, she challenged, “What are you, CHICKEN?!”
My 13-year-old self drew up to her full 4’11” height, grabbed a cigarette, and lit up, nearly having a coughing seizure moments later.
Being 13, I didn’t exactly have access to cigarettes, so my smoking didn’t become daily until I grew older and sneakier. By 16, I was in a full-fledged love affair with Camel Wide Lights, feeling tough, cool, and rebellious whenever I smoked. But more than that, cigarettes were a magic wand for emotions: Happy became more satisfying; anger lost some of its sting; sadness was comforted; my mind was stilled.
After my spiritual breakdown at 31, cigarettes made the short list of the behaviors that weren’t working for me anymore. But unlike drinking alcohol, which I quit once in spring 2008 and stay quit to today, quitting smoking has been a beast to battle again and again.
After four attempts in four years, one of which lasted 18 months, today I am 10 weeks quit. What makes this special is it’s the first time I’ve quit smoking not because someone I was dating wanted me to, but because I because I believe I am worth it, because I love myself too much to smoke any longer.
Everybody knows the health reasons to quit. That’s News from the Land of Duh. But my biggest reason to stay quit is not because I worry about COPD or heart disease or because I enjoy saving the $175 per month I spent on cancer sticks.
My number one reason to stay quit is because without my magic wand, I am forced to rely more fully on the universe to meet my needs. I believe that this is the only form of right dependence because it’s the only thing that’s perfect: Spirit will never let me down and can feed the emotional hunger I was attempting to satisfy by lighting up.
Sounds simple, right? “Kick butts by trusting God.” Yeah, not so much. Learning to do this day-to-day is enormously difficult for me, even excruciating at times. I have to commit again and again to the present moment, where I have everything I need, and sit with the difficult emotions to which I’m no longer applying a chemical salve every 90 minutes of my waking days.
And those feelings are so raw without cigarettes. Somewhere around week four, I thought I was losing my mind. But I walked through it, meditated through it, and cried through it. At week six, I got tempted and spent six days buying packs of cigarettes, smoking three, and giving them away. Staying quit just felt like too much emotional work. I was exhausted by the effort.
But you can’t un-know what you know and I just couldn’t keep cheating. My Inner Knower knew cigarettes weren’t and aren’t the answer for me anymore. I choose to place my real reliance on the divine and trust that this compulsion can be relieved.
So I reluctantly recommitted, one moment at a time, one breath at a time, just doing what I knew to do and loving myself fiercely along the way.
I was around a smoker last night and for the first time, cigarettes didn’t smell delicious. In fact, his Marlboro Menthols smelled kind of yukky, a realization in which I rejoice. I felt grateful to be quit, to be more united with my own self and my spirit, with no numbing agents to alter my experience of life. I get to be here now with all of me, the safe and the scary, and I take baby steps without my cigarette crutch. But they are steps nonetheless and I make progress.