Posted in Recovery

One of My Very Bad Habits

I was going to title this in the singular–“My Very Bad Habit“–but I can’t, even in jest, pretend there’s only one.  This is the one of which I’m most ashamed, and therefore (perversely) the one I’m writing about.  I spent some thirty-five years turning up my nose at people who indulged in this same habit, which is maybe why I still tend to refer to it euphemistically in reference to myself.  I’ll say “I’m going to step outside,” or even “I’m going to indulge in my Bad Habit,” never… okay, here it comes…  never “I’m going to smoke.”

When I was a kid, I actually had an allergy to cigarette smoke–probably it’s too bad I outgrew it.  Although as I think about it, I have an “allergy” of sorts to alcohol too (I tend to break out in stripes and handcuffs!) and that didn’t stop me drinking…

Thirty-five years as a non-smoker, and then I hit A.A.  There’s just one “Smoking” Meeting in town, and wouldn’t you know, that was the Meeting I loved.  I didn’t fit in there, but that was the meeting where I was sure to laugh my ass off, as well as take something home that I needed to hear that day.  Three, four, five times a day I’d have my ass in a seat at the Little Red House, sitting in a cloud of smoke and Healing.  And after a couple months of breathing everyone else’s smoke, I figured finally I’d find something to smoke that I actually liked, and smoke that.  Vanilla Cheyennes, there we go. Less than two bucks a pack, and I like them.  So easily is a Very Bad Habit born.

I know better.  Of course I do–I have a degree in biology, for crying in a bucket.  And an aunt who died horribly of lung cancer (younger than my husband is now) when she’d never smoked in her life.  And for the short term, talking about right now, those consequences weigh on me much less heavily than they should.  As I flippantly remark sometimes, comparing this Very Bad Habit to my previous VERY Bad Habit of vodka, “At least smoking doesn’t turn me stupid.”

Except that it IS stupid, I know this.  Both my mother and my children would take issue with that remark–and the anxiety I cause them with my smoking is what has already led to my cutting back.  Maybe I’ll even quit–although not today.  In the meantime, it’s an odd dynamic when I’m around either of the generations sandwiching me–when I do “step outside” I do my best to do so unobtrusively, because I know it causes them anxiety.  Maybe it’s silly, this “open secret”–just a little bit ago I waited for my mom to go into an appointment before I lit up, then jumped like a guilty teenager when she came back out for something she’d forgotten.  She laughed at my reaction, and reminded me that she does know I smoke…  Yeah, but I just try (impossibly) to be invisible about it.  Writing about it today being an obvious exception, given that my mom does read here…

So…  Why smoke?  I’m not looking to “justify” the habit in writing about it, but to explore it–today I’m asking the question of myself.

Sometimes a smoke is…  a unit of time.  It’s a pre-set number of moments in which I step away from everything, sit alone, breathe deeply, focus my thinking…  or look around me and stop thinking for a minute.  Very often these are the moments when I’m moved to pray.

Occasionally…  a smoke is an excuse.  Sometimes I need a minute to compose myself, and sometimes it’s better to excuse myself outside for a few moments (even against my usual priority of unobtrusively indulging) than to react on my first response.  When I’m upset to tears by seeing the effects on my children of the “parenting” by their other biological parent, for example–better for me to recuse and regroup than badmouth the bastard dad in their hearing.

Often a smoke is a brainstorming session.  When my fingernails go silent on the computer keys, I go light up.  Almost inevitably, I know what I’ll write next (and have some of it phrased out in my head) by the time I come back inside.

And–aside from the obviously physically addictive properties of smoking–there’s the fact of my own addictive personality.  The “functions” of smoking in my life don’t replace how I used drinking, although there are similarities in the approach.  An Addict has rituals associated with an addiction–might be anything from checking the wallet in the morning to assure yourself there’s sufficient cash for the stop at the liquor store after work, to the pouring of the drink, the activities or times of day when a drink would be in hand…  When we cross-addict to other activities, sometimes our rituals cross over too.  A “ritual moment” now isn’t the pouring of a drink, but the flick of a lighter.  In cold weather I have a callus on the side of my thumb because it takes a few flicks to get the thing going, with the spark wheel chafing my thumb.

For a couple years part of my ritual was the lighter itself–a refillable silver flip-top embellished with a cross and a skull, which my stepson bought for me.  It got confiscated at the Lewiston Idaho airport a few months ago–after having made it through half a dozen other (bigger!) airports on other trips, the folks in Lewiston deemed it dangerous and took it.  I haven’t had the heart to replace it, so today I’m using a disposable pink Bic–which I actually won at our regular smoke shop for answering the posted trivia question: “What is a Gallophobic Englishman afraid of?

Even our smoke-shop is part of the “ritual” aspect of smoking…  Run by a big tattooed Christian biker with a braided beard who goes by Hyster (like the forklift), who hugs and kisses us both–and who pledged, after our alcoholic relapse last year, that he’ll not sell alcohol to either of us.  A selfless promise, given that he knows full well we could buy somewhere else if we were going to buy–but I have faith that he’d hold to it.  (God willing, we won’t make it an issue ever.)  Keoni and I used to kiss in the humidor there, although it’s been under construction with a remodel lately…

I’m actually not sure how much of my habit is a physical addition–it’s true that I get a little tense and cranky if I don’t have at least a few smokes in my day, but I don’t know if it’s physical, or if it’s just because I want to smoke.  I do know that my vanilla Cheyennes don’t pack as much of a “punch” as most–when I bum another kind of smoke from a friend, it usually makes me dizzy–so my crankiness may be merely (or mostly) a matter of childish dissatisfaction over an unsatisfied want.

From a practical standpoint, all the “uses” of my smoking could be substituted as effectively (and more healthfully) with an egg timer…  Although that would lack the act of smoking itself, which I still enjoy.  I don’t feel moved to make the exchange… Today.

I’m thinking back to high school, when a classmate once asked me, in the dark at a night-time extra-curricular event, if I had a light–and then realized who I was and fell all over himself apologizing for even asking.  I’d been amused rather than offended by the question, but yeah, I was that much of a goody-goody. With the advent of FaceBook and the re-connecting of the old high school class, my classmates have pretty universally expressed shock at the fact of my Alcoholism–as if there were a “type” of person who becomes an alcoholic, or a type who doesn’t. And in a strange coming-full-cycle moment,  that same boy who’d been horrified over asking me for a lighter contacted me through FaceBook to ask what a man does when he doesn’t know how to stop drinking.

It’s a lesson all around, I suppose, in making Assumptions.  If I’d had a moment’s opening to speak amidst his profuse apologies before he fled in embarrassment, I could have told him I did own a lighter. (I used it to light the burners in chemistry lab.)  And both of us would have been astonished if we’d had a fast-forward button to reveal to us the conversation we’d be having twenty-some years later, and our respective roles in that conversation.

There was a kid in rehab with us, sweet-faced eighteen-year-old still drugged up on meds from the psych ward and doing what the rest of us called the “Thorazine shuffle”–I remember him grabbing me at the shoulder, staring at me intensely (the most focused I ever saw his eyes) and telling me insistently, “YOU don’t LOOK like an alcoholic!”  It seemed hilarious at the time–what a silly thing to say to a fellow “inmate” of the rehab ward.  He was standing in line at the time to get his cigarette for one of the scheduled smoke breaks.  Eight times a day the nurses doled out one smoke each to all the smokers, and escorted them into the fenced courtyard for their smoke breaks.  In all the weeks I was there, I was the only non-smoker in the bunch–at least until Keoni (my favorite person on the ward, and now my husband) started forfeiting his smoke-breaks in favor of staying and chatting with me.  Eight times a day, we had ten minutes to ourselves while everyone else went outside, and by the time we checked out of rehab, he was a non-smoker as well.

I had a conversation once with the Director of the Rehab Ward–a recovering Addict himself, bless his understanding heart–about the apparent irony of providing smoke breaks to people who were trying to break addictions.  He observed (wisely) that in comparison to the immediately life-threatening problems posed by our collective other addictions–the ones for which we’d all been committed there–smoking was not a priority problem, and trying to mess with it at that point could interfere with the more critical Recovery.  I also remember his reaction the time I was lined up alongside the smokers, waiting for them to get their smokes and clear out so I could ask the nurse for my deodorant…  The Director looked startled to see me in the line, and blurted out, “You’re not a smoker are you?”  I had laughed at the Thorazine Kid’s statement that I didn’t “seem like” an alcoholic, but I embraced the Director’s assumption that I didn’t “seem like” a smoker.  The lesson to me, perhaps, is that Assumptions are dangerous, when I can be so wrong even in my own assumptions about myself.

I’m a Smoker.  For today, anyway.  Not a wise habit, though maybe I’m slowly growing some wisdom in other things.  Or… maybe that’s an assumption I shouldn’t trust.

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Author:

I am... a writer, an explorer, a coffee-drinker, a recovering addict, a barefoot linguist, a book-dragon ("bookworm" doesn't cover it), a raconteur, a sailboat skipper, a research diver, a tattooed scholar, a pirate, a poet, a spiritual adventurer, a photographer, a few kinds-of-crazy, a joyful wife, a mom... a list-maker! :)

37 thoughts on “One of My Very Bad Habits

  1. Everyone has a vice. Some are just more health defying than others. You’ll get there. Look at what you’ve overcome already. I chew the hell out of some chewing gum so I won’t bite my nails. Now I just have a sore jaw and trashed nails…Habits are hard to break.

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  2. Kana,
    I only found your blog because you visited mine at 7evildwarves.wordpress.com. I can only say, that is God working in my life. I too am a recovering drunk (The Captain Morgan’s Meth cocktail was my drug of choice). Today I support Starbuck’s, I write and squeeze in electrical work to pay the bills.

    Your honesty is a powerful message and gives freely what was given to me when I came out of the dark, HOPE. The blessings in your life today are the evidence of the miracles God does for us everyday. From the 24 hr. chip to lifting the obsession to drink and burn my life to ground yet again, He is there. He’ll be there when your ready to ask for his help with your smoking. We are powerless, but He has all power.

    I’m glad I’ve met you. My blog is mostly about having fun, but sometimes I touch on the more serious aspects of my life. Writers block, Manic depressive disorder and of course my addictive behavior. You can check out some of my short stories at http://www.davebenneman.com.

    Dave

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  3. Okay, so I’ve got all of the logical analysis of my tobacco addiction completed. I’ve thought about the pros and cons, the social stigma and of course the health risks. Yet, I continue to line the pockets of the tobacco industry and my lungs with my habit. What am I missing? Or maybe I have “overthunk” it as with my alcoholism and have made the same resolution to stop for no other reason than because others feel that I should. If I could “pull up my bootstraps” or “do it for my wife and kids” or even “stop by using my intellect and will power” one would think (there’s that word again) that putting a halt to an addiction could easily be accomplished through “brain power”. But then again I can’t fix my brain with the brain I’ve got. As with past addictions, that seem to lurk in the shadows waiting for the slightest opportunity to re-emerge, I wait for the “want to”.

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  4. Smoking is society’s only sanctioned “time-out”, it’s your private brief escape from everything to do something pleasurable. It really is almost like a meditation. I quit 14 years ago and I still think of it fondly :) I used the cold turkey method replacing the physical act with Dum Dum lollipops like Kojak! That worked pretty well, only this line didn’t….”I’m going outside for my lollipop, be back in ten minutes!”

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  5. Great post, Kana! A friend once told me I had to read Paula Deen’s autobiography. When I did, she came right out in the front of the book and admitted that she smoked. It was a shocking come-outance to her fans. She is so funny (try the book… I liked it). I also have that habit, which has gone from cigarettes to Cherry Cigarillos. One of these days, I’ll give it up… but not today. :)

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  6. Kana, my friend, you put into words all of the feelings I’ve had in my life about smoking. I started at age 11, and by 13 I was smoking regularly. By the time I was 18, I was a two-pack-a-day Newport smoker, and I loved it. I saw smoking in all of the same roles you’ve described — and as well, smoking was an opportunity for me to prove to the world that I’d likely not live too long, and that I didn’t care. I finally stopped, not due to bypass surgery, or moving into new places, but because my neighbor brought to my attention how really awful my apartment, and I, smelled. By that time, I had so manipulated myself as to think that smoking cigarettes was the natural way to live. And, I confess, if I’m lying on my deathbed, I may well smoke just one more cigarette before I die. I am a smoker who doesn’t smoke, but I wish I still dared to. Please, the next time you light up, think of me, okay? Thanks.

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  7. I’m so glad you addressed this topic. I’m the other spectrum; I’m prejudiced against smokers. (I can still comment on your blog because I can’t smell your smoke through the computer.) I wasn’t always. In 2000 when I backpacked through Europe, I met and traveled with two guys from California (the only anti-smoking state at the time) and they would always complain about smokers. I would roll my eyes and say something like “really, you’re in Europe. What do you expect and get over it.” Now that Florida has been anti-smoking for 10(?) years (I still remember going to the bar the evening it was enforced -whoa, easy fellas.) I totally understand what those boys were complaining about. It’s gross and I don’t want to be in your smoke. I bite my tongue from saying rude comments like “don’t you know smoking isn’t cool anymore?” or “yeah, that went out in the ’90’s.” I don’t even fully remember what “smelling like the bar” smelled like, but it wasn’t good.

    Two more thoughts…
    1. As a teacher I can smell the kids who live with parents that smoke (it’s a different smell than the kids that smoke) and can’t believe adults would expose their children to toxins intentionally.

    2. I live next door to a rehab facility. It’s unmarked so I don’t know exactly what services they provide, and there is a significant amount of smoking on the back porch (or while walking to the bus stop). What is it about rehab centers/patients and smoking? Is it really necessary to trade one vice for another? And if so, why can’t a healthier addiction (like running) fuel the fire?

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    1. Odd as it may sound, I don’t like the stale smoke smell either. Even if we didn’t have kids, I wouldn’t smoke in the house–but ESPECIALLY because of the kids, we don’t smoke in the house!

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  8. Your transparency is refreshing in this politically correct country. “Run by a big tattooed Christian biker with a braided beard called Heister, who hugs and kisses us both” Any chance he is a member of Bikers for Christ (I am) or any other motorcycle ministry? These guys are very precious, tats and pony tails – any giant hearts. Blessings and healing, Kana.
    Below is one of my YouTube videos you might enjoy.

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  9. My ridiculous justification as my children shout “if you smoke you will die mummy” at me as I perch outside on the doorstep is that it is my only major vice left . I love smoking in the same way I loved drinking but hope that one day I will wake up and have the desire to do it removed from me. That day has not been today! I agree, I think we recovery bods slowly replace our primary drug of choice with things on our addiction continuum that are less immediately dangerous. I smoke less now than when I put down the alcohol, but as I reduce my nicotine intake then my food issues kind of creep up on me. Cheese, carbs and chocolate (I’m drooling thinking about them). One day at a time, loved this post x

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  10. Wow. Quitting smoking was the hardest thing I have ever done (several times). Bless you on your journey. I know that it’s like any other addiction…you have to be ready to kick it. At least you know you are strong enough to do it when you make the decision.

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  11. Having followed your blog I find it very inspirational and creative. I am honored to be awarding you this prestigious online Kreativ Blogger Award. Please receive this award as an acknowledgement of the great work you are doing on your blog. Please check my blog post appreciating your writing.Congratulations

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  12. I loved the post—I always love your honesty! I had to laugh out loud at your comment regarding “checking the wallet in the morning to assure yourself there’s sufficient cash for the stop at the liquor store after work.” I must have done that ten million times when I used to drink—I had forgotten all about it until now!

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  13. Truly Amazing – It is amazing how you express yourself and I feel like I could dump my life story on you and you would totally get it. I know -weird maybe but between similarities and insight…Wonderful post. All kinds of coolness – I’d say except for the smoking but for two things – who am I to judge? I do not and uh….yea i smoke too. :-) Peace

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  14. Interesting, the way you describe it. I admit that I didn’t finish reading this post. I got lost in thought when I read that a smoke is a unit in time, an excuse, a moment to think. I truly believe, as much as we say otherwise, that we find it hard to DO NOTHING. It’s hard to just sit down and think sometimes. Sometimes, it’s hard to just take a minute. And do nothing with it.

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  15. Great post, Kana. I can’t say I know what you’re going through, but I completely understand the need for “time” and silence, prayer, thought…
    You’ll get through it. One day at a time. :)

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  16. Yeah, I’m struggling to give up too… And you’er right about the things not being physically addictive, There are times I can forget to smoke, other times when I realy need it. It’s nothing to do with chemicals, it’s about space and stilness. Life can be so in your face it’s hard to make time to be contemplative.

    For what it’s worth, I find running fills that function soooooo much better. It’s just so damn hard in a busy working day to pop out for a quick couple of K….

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  17. I am one of those totally disgusting people who apparently will only ever have one addiction: really good special blend organic whole coffee beans ground by myself for that first cup in the morning! You can imagine why my children and many friends gift me with very expensive, collector’s item and one of a kind signed by famous folk coffee mugs! Yes, I will excuse myself from long meetings to go suck up on the java, yes I will. How refreshing you always are, Kana, with your tell-it-all on yourself posts. I realize that is part of your AA discipline, but I cannot imagine your fellow AAers writing it as entertainingly and crystallinely as you do! Having worked where total hush-hush is a primary requirement several times over the decades, I just do not have that liberty, except when talking down into my coffee mug at the end of a very remote mountain trail!

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  18. I could see myself in your writing there especially when I was smoking. I smoked for 28 years. I have been off them for 13 years now actually as of today! How funny that I was reading your article on the anniversary of 13 years without smoking. You know peer pressure kind of got me to start smoking, but peer pressure got me to quit smoking, too. I started getting jealous of all my friends who were quitting smoking and staying stopped. I thought “How come they can do it and I can’t?” My jealousy was put to good use, I made a stop smoking appt. at the clinic, smoked so much before the appt. that I wound up in the ER with the Dr. saying to me in front of the kids “Do you know you are killing yourself right in front of these children? Well, one more cigarette was snuck after that with my 7 year old looking on and I stomped it out and that was that. I did get help through the clinic to quit smoking and haven’t smoked since. I said to myself “You don’t know how to quit smoking, so just listen to all they say” and then I became a non-smoker.

    I could relate to you wanting that break. I still take that break by walking around the neighborhood, by sitting alone for a little break away from everyone and everything. I turned actually to “walking” as a good substitute, too. I also when first quitting, cut up straws to the size of a cigarette and just puffed on that, breathing in air, exhaling air. Sometimes that is all we need – a breath of fresh air.

    Anyway, I know you will quit when you are ready to quit. Just know that when you are ready, lots of people will be around to support you. Feel free to write me anytime, too and I would be happy to be one of those supportive persons. You are such a good writer and when you quit smoking, I can imagine your writing will even get better because we will see more of the “real you”! Take care. Sincerely, Connie

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  19. My mother smokes, and I have always appreciate the fact that she goes outside to do so–even before she knew that second hand smoke is actually worst, acording to studies. For me, that’s like she’s saying, “I love you and I care about you”.

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  20. I do hope you break the habit eventually, for your health and your families sanity ; ) I so understand the need to get away from things when kids, work, or life are getting to be to much. I can also see how smoking would provide a break for that, even if it’s not the best of choices * hugs *. What I learned to do was go out for a walk or sit alone on the front porch and just think things through. If you can’t just leave the kids behind but you need to walk you could try walking around the outside of the house several times or pacing on the porch. Or my other solution is to sit and write about how I feel, but I think you have that one down already LOL : D

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  21. You beautifully articulated dealing with a nasty habit. You can (and will!) kick that habit! You’ve just gotta take small steps to work your way towards bigger ones. Take it one day at a time.

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  22. Good blog Kana – I miss smoking! I gave it up over ten years ago. I sometimes hover around smokers to do a bit of passive smoking. I get tempted at times but I know there is no such thing as me having ONE cigarette. If I had one, I would soon be up to 40 a day – all or nothing ;-(

    Never mind – there is still chocolate :-)

    Lorraine

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