Have you ever only started to notice something after it’s pointed out to you? At my last social work job, one of the therapists advised a client with an anxiety disorder to stop smoking. This client was a mess and also coincidentally a chain smoker. The therapist told her that smoking cigarettes increases anxiety despite her insistence that they calmed her down. At this point in my life I was not smoking, but I had in the past. I tried to think back to the way I felt after having a cigarette. I couldn’t particularly remember them making me feel anxious. But it made sense, and I wondered why this client would continue smoking if it did indeed make her feel worse.
Fast forward a few years to the present day, and here I am, smoking again, more anxious than ever. Except this time, I do notice the connection. Even before I’m done with the cigarette, I can feel my anxiety going through the roof. I spend the minutes before I light up looking forward to smoking, then spend the time during and after asking myself why on earth I am doing/just did that to myself. It is perplexing to say the least.
Addiction is a fascinating beast. The way it can make you want something even when it makes you feel bad immediately. Somehow your body still craves it. It’s not just cigarettes of course. I also have this problem with coffee. Although I don’t worry about that one as much. As far as I know coffee won’t give me and those around me cancer. However, the caffeine does make me feel like I’m jumping out of my skin. It doesn’t really give me energy the way it used to. Maybe the first cup or two does a little, but I generally drink at least a pot a day when I’m at work.
The craziest part about these destructive habits is that I am using them as coping mechanisms, as a crutch. I don’t really know how that can be. I’ll feel anxious, so I smoke a cigarette. That only makes me 10x as anxious! I feel anxious because I’ve been drinking coffee all day long. So what do I want to do to treat myself and relax? Have some coffee of course! It never ceases to amaze me what a mystery my own mind is.
Now rather than looking at my client in confusion, I find myself looking at my own reflection instead. Even though I have big plans to stop smoking again next month and probably switch to decaf or tea too, I know it’s easier to make plans than to follow through with them when the time comes. Nothing is preventing me from stopping today, but yet here I sit, looking forward to another cigarette, another delicious cup of coffee.
I don’t know why I sabotage myself in these ways. But I’m sure they aren’t the only ways I do so. Perhaps at the very least I can learn something from this realization. Maybe I can start to recognize other manners of self-sabotage. Maybe a therapist can help me discover the reason I am making things so hard for myself while simultaneously pretending I’m giving myself a treat. For now, I’ll just keep reminding myself where to place my focus. I am not changing these behaviors because they are “bad” or because I am “bad” or “stupid.” I am changing these behaviors because I love myself. I want happiness and tranquility for myself. This is not a punishment or a reprimand. It is a tender act of love. And that feeling of warmth and compassion, that is what I need to truly change for the better.