Why it sucks to be a smoker (coming from a smoker)
Everyone has their smoking story; mine goes something like this.
I’ve had an on-and-off relationship with cigarettes since I was 16. I didn’t really smoke in high school, sometimes at parties and in groups, y’know because all the cool kids were doing it. It was completely ridiculous, and I wouldn’t even call it peer pressure. More like self-pressure, to try and fit in. But I never liked the way it looked (in real-life; in the movies it’s sexy), smelt, tasted, or the way it made me feel. I was actually a smart teenager to stay away from tobacco; I mostly smoked the green stuff.
And then I was on my own, living abroad in Belgium for two years. Everyone in Europe smokes, and over there, somehow it’s hot. I didn’t at first, but everyone in the cafes, bars and restaurants were smoking- it was so reeky! Everywhere I went out, I would come back smelling of stale cigarettes. I stunk anyways and the smoke burnt my eyes. Oddly, you notice it less when you do it. So I figured, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. I was 20. In retrospect, again, I was trying to fit in and be “cool”.
When I moved home to Winnipeg, I was living back in my parents basement; it felt like a time-warp. My old room, my old stuff, my old habits- and cigarettes weren’t a part of that. It was easy to stay clean then. I was also in pretty serious relationship with a dude; we were both non-smoking- for 5 years I didn’t buy cigarettes.
I’ve blamed the split for my current smoking problem more than a few times. But deep down I know that’s not it. Things were new and different; I was by myself more than I’d ever been. I felt very free- but also very alone. This is going to sound stupid, but I remembered having fun as a smoker when I was traveling, and I was able to quit easily before. I guess I decided it would be a good distraction, y’know it’s an excellent way to kill time. It feels like you’re Doing Something instead of just sitting there. Because we have to always be busy, that’s the easiest way to avoid ourselves.
There’s so much that I hate about smoking. If only it looked as sexy as they made it seem in the old movies. It really stinks, and in many ways. Sometimes I’ll get whiff of my hair and it smells like an ashtray. It yellows the teeth, gives you bad breath, and stains your fingers. And that’s just a few esthetics. Sometimes I’ll get a bellyache and I feel tight in the chest- this is the stuff that scares me, because I don’t really know what it’s doing to my insides. I do my best to hide my unholy habit from my students and new friends, because I don’t want them to think less of me. But really I’m the one who thinks less of me. I hate that I’m consciously engaging in something that makes me feel sick regularly. And when I light up, I never feel satisfied, but grossed out.
When I buy cigarettes, I’m supporting everything I hate- babylonian companies, evil multinationals who are running the world. And even if I pack in my butts, they end up in a landfill somewhere.
But the most addictive thing about it- and here’s where they get us- is the meditative qualities you get while having a cigarette. You get to take a time-out for 5 minutes to sit with your thoughts and practice conscious breathing (except when you’re smoking, you’re inhaling rat poison and carcinogens). But it’s something people don’t generally do, and it feels really good (not the carcinogens!) and can be very relaxing. That’s what I’m addicted to most- sitting on my back balcony, staring into nothing and breathing.
So why don’t I make this time for myself sans cigarette? When the pressure builds, I should be able to step out and just breathe. It’s like that though- we all know this stuff. Deep down the truth is there, but we don’t want to do the work because it’s really hard. And we don’t always like what’s right or what’s good for us. So we choose to stay distracted, or make excuses like “I’m not ready” or “the timing is all wrong”.
The best advice I got was from my meditation instructor- she told me to smoke every single cigarette in a very conscious way. So if it’s appealing, if it’s charming the entire time, it’s not bad. But with each inhale, examine how it tastes, smells, and makes you feel. Don’t worry about “wasting” smokes, as soon as it grosses you out, just put it out. I can’t say I’m practicing this every time I light up, but when I do I rarely finish even half a cigarette. If you get super sensitive to yourself while you engage, you’ll find you really don’t like it. Even if you’re one of those die-hard smokers who pretends to love it (been there…), you’ll find you really don’t.
In a recent interview on the Conan O’Brian show, stand-up comedian Louis C.K. talks about why he hates smartphones. The one thing I really connected to in the interview, was when he talks about this “forever empty” that’s inside all of us. He calls sadness poetic, and by avoiding our true feelings we’re never fully happy or fully sad, so we’re not building any empathy as a society. That’s what it is to be a human being. So I wonder, what’s wrong with just sitting there, anyways?