The post I want to write today is about quitting smoking. And I’m having issues with that. I keep thinking, “I don’t want this to turn into a quitting smoking blog.” But the truth is that smoking and eating have a lot to do with each other for me. I did them for basically the same reason. Because I don’t like to feel my feelings. So I am going to write this anyway.
There was a good reason why smoking took the edge off of the food cravings when I stopped eating sugar. It numbed the same feelings that sugar did. Actually it numbed some of the same feelings that sugar did. Over the past 3 weeks, which feelings those are has become apparent to me.
Before I get into cigarette feelings, there is something I want to explain. When I stopped eating sugar/eating compulsively, I got this profound level of self-assurance. It did not happen overnight. It was a long and subtle process. But getting control of my food eliminated nearly all of my self-doubt. I have come to understand from looking back on the past 6 1/2 years, that it is the result of a combination of things. The rigorous honesty that I began to practice, first with my food, then with everything else. My commitment to keeping my promises. (Again it started with food and extended into all other areas of my life.) My willingness to be responsible for all of my actions, good, bad or indifferent, which I had to do because not doing so gave me feelings I couldn’t handle without eating cake. And finally the mental clarity that came from not being high anymore. All of these things came together and gave me a new relationship to the truth. Not just my honesty and my own truth, but to the truth in general.
When I was eating compulsively, I was a liar. And I was easy to lie to. You know that saying “You can’t kid a kidder”? I think it’s wrong wrong wrong…It was like my own lies muddled up my brain and muddied my thinking. They kept me from seeing reality. You could tell me something that obviously didn’t make sense, and I would notice, but I would always have to question myself. I always had to question my own thinking. But when I stopped lying, that stopped. Also, I wasn’t high anymore. On either sugar, or the obsession with food. (Yes, for me the obsession was its own kind of high, related to, but not the same as, the sugar high.) I had a clear head, and I was telling the truth. It slowly but surely became clear to me that the truth was obvious. That it was silly to question myself.
The same thing happened with my own bad behavior. When I was being an a**hole, I had a hard time distinguishing bad behavior in others. The kind of actions that now occur to me as red flags, would totally escape my notice. But when I started treating myself and others with respect and honor, disrespect and dishonor became glaringly obvious. Sirens and flashing lights.
Getting control of my eating also had me become a person I liked and respected. So there was no question in my mind anymore that I didn’t deserve to be treated badly. That I deserved honesty, honor, and respect. It wasn’t that I never did anything wrong. It was that I knew when I did something wrong and when I didn’t. And that when I had done something wrong, I was willing to own it and do the right thing. I stopped questioning myself. I stopped thinking myself in circles. I got an incredible confidence in my own judgment.
So back to cigarettes. And what kinds of feelings I used them to numb. They were “Good Girl” feelings. They were feelings about not being good enough. About wanting to be liked. About not wanting to do anything wrong. And not wanting to upset anyone.
Here is the pattern from when I was smoking. I would do something that seemed to me to be totally normal and not particularly worthy of notice. Someone would offer some subtle hint of disapproval. Subtle. Easy to pretend that I was not affected by it. I would tense up. I would not look to see if it had any merit. I would hold it in until I had a chance to smoke it. I would pretend it did not happen and I was not hurt.
The first time I went to the grocery store after I quit smoking, I left the store and immediately wanted to light a cigarette. I realized that I always lit a cigarette as soon as I left the store. I realized that I have been denying the fact that the checkout women at my grocery store are mean to me. The ways they show it are easy enough to ignore. If I can go smoke those feelings as soon as I’m out the door.
So that first time I had to face that those women are sneering and unpleasant with me, I cried. And then it hit me that I have been going to that store for years. And that I get a little panic and a little dread every time I go to check out. And that I have been doing all sorts of things to make myself more accommodating to them. And less annoying to them. Doing things to get through the checkout line faster. And that I have been stressed out about it. For years.
And when I couldn’t smoke it, and I had to face it, I finally thought, Why do I give a sh*t what these women think of me? I am giving their store my money. I’m not there to be liked. I’m there to do business. And I did, indeed, stop giving a sh*t. I stopped dreading. I stopped taking actions to make my shopping easier on them. I stopped stressing about checking out. I got peaceful.
I live in New York City where the streets are filled with people whose job it is to solicit donations for not-for-profits. I used to get really uptight when I would have to pass these people on the street. I would get edgy and stressed out wondering how to get past them without them talking to me. How to not make eye contact. How to look busy. How to look rushed or focused. How to get by unnoticed. And all of a sudden I am so calm when I walk by. I smile. I tell them I am not going to talk to them. I just say no and keep walking. No big deal. Just no.
These are seemingly small or trivial examples of the kind of shift that has gone on for me this past 3 weeks. But the peace and confidence that I’m describing does not occur in my life or my head or my heart as small. Some parts of it make sense. Not smoking has meant I have had to look at things I was able to avoid by smoking them. But other parts of it don’t make rational sense to me right now. The generally being more calm and worrying less. I mean, isn’t that why I smoked? To calm down?
Maybe it’s being more present than I have ever been in my life that has me so self-assured. Maybe it’s that following through on my commitment has given me more self-esteem. Maybe, like when I stopped eating, as time goes by, the how and the why will become clear. But I like this whole happier, saner, more serene life. I am grateful I decided to quit smoking. I wish I could say I would have done it sooner if I had known it would be this emotionally freeing. But I know that’s not how it works. I know it’s everything in its own time.