How many of you feel that smoking is The ‘Unbeatable’ habit?
Quitting a habit is a continuous process of effort and awareness, as is everything else. But before even attempting to quit, one must understand what does this habit actually serve in one’s life?
A habit is formed to ease the functions of our nervous system, or the Ego. Most often habits are forms of addiction. Addiction according to Gabor Mate in his recent book “The Myth of Normal” is defined as follows;
“Addiction is a complex psychological, emotional, physiological, neurobiological, social, and spiritual process. It manifests through any behavior in which a person finds temporary relief or pleasure and therefore craves, but that in the long term causes them or others negative consequence and yet the person refuses or is unable to give it up”Gabor Mate, The Myth of Normal
Intuitively we all know whether some habits are good or bad for us, but actively, it takes a system of constant effort of awareness to do something about them. Intuitively I knew that this habit isn’t serving me anymore. The complexity of altering the processes within and dig out all the reasons against smoking has begun, But to act on it, is to understand where this pleasure shifted into addiction.. Now imagine how often we press down our intuition just to play out a habit that we are so comfortable with, even tho it no longer has a positive purpose in our daily existence. But it is easier to carry out a learned behavior, rather than unlearn and re-adapt.
I took multiple tries to quit this habit. When that last attempt came around, I had by now developed a deep conversation regarding this particular habit with my subconscious and rewired a part of my brain around the “the need” to smoke.
Smoking before it even begins to alter the neurochemistry in your body, is mostly a social identity. Back in the 80’s even movies proposed the “benefits” of smoking in terms of having a successful social life. Most kids begin this aweful habit because of the need for social acceptance. In this rush to be cool in my teens, I have made a pact with myself when starting out, that I will quit when I am older.
Unfortunately, it isn’t that easy, Smoking to be cool as a teenager, turns into an addiction to cope as a young adult. Before I knew it I was easily going thru two packs a day, and living in constant space of smoke. My vocal chords started changing, a semi permanent cough was ever so present, my skin was perpetually dry, and a very unpleasant case of morning mucus collected.
This was my normal.
On an emotional note, smoking aided the process of repressing feelings of guilt, or any confrontational interactions, whether at the workplace or among friends..
The frequent phrase of “I am not doing this/talking about this right now” followed by walking out from an unrpocessed discussion to hide behind the all too familiar cigarette smoke, and allow the numbing effects of nicotine to take over..
After a perpetual physical feeling of compromised breathing, where even a short flight of stairs took my breath away when I was only 24 years old led to a subconscious concern about this “normal” daily life.
The First Attempt
“I will quit when I am 25”, the teenager version of myself used to say.
On my 25th Birthday, I stood by the pool of the jungle cabanas stay in Costa Rica after a long night of drinking and smoking. Stating loudly to the new friends I had met, the promise of my younger self as I crumbled the package of smokes and tossed it in the pool for dramatic effect.
Drunkedly stumbling over myself and stating that from today on I am no longer a smoker.
This lasted a total of 2 days. I decided not to suffer through the rest of my vacation and continue a habit I no longer felt be part of me, just because expectations, and the ever so involving cigarettes’ best friend, alcohol.
I wasn’t ready. The conversation about how this habit is no longer serving my divine path and purpose hasn’t quite begun yet.
So, I continued with the awareness to balance this bad habit with “healthier” cigarettes, and perhaps downsizing to a pack a day at least.
What happens here is a sense of guilt and shame that overwhelms the subconscious due to dishonesty with oneself. I could reason with the concept of how this habit is physically harming me, but could not reason with the identity and social image that I had developed around being seen as a smoker by the immediate society.
Outsmarting The Ego
Flash forward 3 years later, a move to New York City opened a great incentive to quit a habit due to the obnoxious cigarette cost. 12USD a box!! Outrageous!!
The most productive way to quit, as Alan Watts explains in one of his philosophical talks on self and the universe, is by outsmarting the ego. That is to say, to not let the ego know your plans, because then it finds ways to convince you against them.
So I utilized this phenomenon in my next attempt to quit. It began with a wild night. New York City has a colorful night life fueled with diverse events that cater to your senses for pleasure and curiosity for social experiences. This was that night… where too many exciting events led to an explosive amount of chain smoking and drinking.
The morning after was surely painful. I felt as though an entire ashtray was stuck inside my throat, nevermind the impending headache and depleted hydration from the body.
The idea of having my morning routine of coffee with a cigarette was appalling. I could not even look at the pack let alone lighting one. Not even coffee was desirable right now.
So, I made an executive decision to honor the body by affirming; “Today, I am not going to smoke, maybe tomorrow.”
Suprisingly, the entire day went smoothly and cigarette free. I felt great. So great that the next day I woke up with the similar thought… “today I am not going to smoke, maybe tomorrow”… and so this self talk went on for 3 months.
3 Months later, I landed at Belgrade Airport. In 2010, smoking all over the airport was still allowed. Suddenly the realization and expectations of social image associated with smoking took a hold, and having to fight against this identity in Eastern Europe, was far too greater of an effort than simply falling back into the old habit.
So I did, bought my cheap pack of smokes and lit up with the rest of the airport folk right in the open, spinning a pack on its edge while sipping on a small cappuccino.
There it was, that shame and guilt overtaking yet again. This time, not for disappointing the social construct of widely accepted smoking, but disappointing the innate wisdom within and going against my very nature.
Eastern European Ways
Macedonia, my birth place, is a country where the awareness and effects of smoking has not quite reached the mass population. You see doctors quickly sucking on these tobacco sticks on their short break, before examining a patient. The tainted tobacco smell oozing out of their body as they enter the examination room, but only noticeable to those who are not smokers, and who are sensitive to the distinct stench, like I am today. Unfortunately in this country, the non smokers are rare, as the entire social construct revolves around smoking.
Back then I folded. Before I knew it I was at a pack and a half a day. The casual summertime setting of never ending cafe chats and bottomless drinks invites for that inevitable chain smoking habit. A life very much embraced in Eastern Europe, even most of Europe still. The old proverb that takes you out of your authencity to follow social normal goes, “why fight them when you can join them” 🙂
The guilt overtaking deeper, and the only solace I felt is that “it is just this trip”… that I will quit again when I go back home to NYC.
In a way I was not ready to let go of the identity and image I still held on to as a smoker. I could not seem to visualize how to be around old friends without the quintessential image of the filter pressed between my lips, and the smoke dancing across the room. As if this right here, was what made me “accepted” and “belonging” to a social culture. After all, Hollywood and the French has insitlled such an artistic and attractive image behind the habit of smoking .
The need to Belong vs the need to Be True
Most of our habits are learned behaviors that conform to a manmade social construct. That is, we are not encouraged to express our individuality, but conform to the norms of society that depresses our potential. A habit such as smoking, began as a way to rebel against society, but soon enough became the trademark of accepted social behavior.
As the human mind awakens and becomes closer to its natural self, it realizes that bodymind is an ongoing connected process. To quit a habit is to also understand what else comes with the habit. Our lives are a series of habits interlinked with eachother, like an old school film reel is composed of many individual images.
In an attempt to quit a habit such as smoking, what else are you willing to give up? What else links this one habit with others that weaves your daily life?
The next few years, I found myself smoking less and less. First my night social life became less prominent. I found myself craving nature filled activites on my days off instead of stagnant smoke of bars and restaurants. Gradually my life became busier and more stressful, and time for smoking infrequent. The last few months before the official last cigarette ended with an average of 5 cigarettes per day, a big change than a pack a day smoker.
The day I officially quit smoking was monumental. It was a moment of realizing my divine path and purpose. In order to manifest this path and follow through with the purpose, I could no longer identify as a smoker. But before this awareness came in, a series of events took place that forced me into this decision.
First off, high levels of work stress led to a crazy decision to travel to 3 European countries in just 5 days. After 6 flights, 3 trains 2 buses and a taxi, I found my way back to work caughing wheezing, snifflng, with blocked sinuses, swollen eye and a high fever. I was so stressed yet at this moment I felt utterly numb, and delusional. Smoking? I couldn’t do it even if you paid me. My boss sent me home obviously and demanded I do not return until I am fully healed.
There it was. That delirum fueled lightbulb moment!
My purpose IS to heal. That is to seek alternative ways to reach a complete union of body mind and soul. As I journeyed into my own healing, I felt the need to share the process. One of the most important realizations of this moment is the frequent unconscious ways we self harm. Either with words, or actions. Smoking as a habit is a perpetual self harming, in order to protect or balance that part of our nervous system that needed regulating at the very moment when smoking took over the role of a “calming practice”.
Living in Authenticity
Today, I am 7+ years free of nicotine and the habit of smoking is removed completely out of my system.
It was a challenging and long road that made headway not because of the awareness that a habit is bad for you but also of removing all temptation that revolved around smoking. Such temptations are the good ol’ companions of cigarettes, coffee and alcohol. Unfortunately certain friends I no longer could be around, and certain hobbies I could no longer practice, such as painting. In a way, I changed the entire trajectory of my life.
Today, I cannot even handle the slightest bit of cigarette smoke in the air. It immediately causes sensitivity in my nasal pathways and triggers a mild headache. They say what is worse than a non smoker, is a former smoker, and I hold true to this statement.
Habits are what shapes the way we view ourselves through societal conditioning. Most habits are formed to cope with the resistance of social expectations, soon enough shape the very thing we tried to resist in the first place.
Conscious habits allow us to step back in connection with ourselves, and check in with our tendecies on a daily basis and whether they benefits us.
Smoking and drinking go hand in hand. The Path of healing I was called to follow led me to understand that some addictive habits of pleasure such as drinking and smoking, late nights, and partying, are no longer my life path. Because of this, certain social interactions had to change as well.
How Can I help you Today?
More awareness I brought to this habit I am letting go, more it shined the light to who I am as a being on this Earth. Who do I live for? What am I here on this Earth to do? These questions unraveled a domino effect of seeking ways to self improve, heal within and be available to shed a light for others on their path.
The calling I followed led me to Yoga and Ayurveda.
As a yoga therapist and practitioner of Ayurveda today, I have come to learn just how much everything in this lifetime is connected, and intricately interrelated with the whole of existence.
My decision to quit smoking is not just a single event, but a small moment in time that carried a series of unfoldings leading up to this very moment of sharing my story with you. Our habits shape because of learned behavior, and as Gabor Mate explains in his book the Myth Of Normal, regarding why we form addictive habits has to do with developmental trauma.
“The last place you want to be is in your body. And so, you begin to live in your head, you begin to live up here without any ability to protect your body, to know your body…. some people’s disconnection from their bodies manifests as not knowing when to stop eating or drinking—the “enough” signal doesn’t get through.”Gabor Mate, The Myth of Normal
The need to feel less, and disconnect from the body led to abusing the temporary pleasures and without them enter a tormented mindset. Suffering is when the mind and body are in disharmony with the present moment and nature. Indulging in such pleasures is a way to escape this disharmony rather than face it. This indulgence shapes our addictions and copying mechanisms that no longer serve our highest potential.
What if you did the work to understand WHY your habits have shaped your current trajectory?
How many have tried to quit smoking unsuccessfully? Alcoholics? Drug Addicts ? Often falling back into this poor habit eventually?
The fundamental concept of ridding of addiction is to understand what purpose is the addiction serving and whether you are ready to no longer identify with said purpose!
Ayurveda is my Path, but through my path I might just help you find yours, and help you let go of addictive habits that harm you more than they serve you on a daily basis.
Feel free to reach out directly at heal@unearththis,com to create YOUR Path of healing and wholistic living.