Why I Want to Stop Smoking

Hard to believe it’s already June 2021. This past January I had intended to stop smoking cigarettes. I hadn’t realized just what a difficult task that would be unfortunately. I didn’t really have much of a plan either. I did manage to cut back somewhat, and I am proud of that fact. But just like in the past when I took up smoking, the longer it goes on, the more repulsed I become by it. Each time I light a cigarette I am overcome with guilt and shame and anxiety. Strangely what pushes me to light up is also anxiety. There is a momentary relief as I inhale that foul smoke. I reminisce about the reckless abandon I once felt, the freedom, the sheer disregard for everyone and everything, even myself, in favor of the sickening pleasure of the moment. It made me feel tragic, dangerous, poetic. But these feelings are the foolish fantasy of youth, and like youth they cannot remain for long. What was once an act of rebellion has become the very chains that bind me. So today I want to write about the reasons that I want to stop smoking in the hopes it will shake me free from this secret shame.

Health

One of the reasons smoking causes me such intense shame is the hypocrisy of it. I am constantly railing against the hypocrisy of loving animals while simultaneously eating them, but in the end I am just as absurd. How can a vegan, yoga teacher smoke cigarettes? It’s laughable. I claim to care about my body and my health, but how can I while I continue to poison myself all day, every day? I want to treat my body with the love and respect that it deserves. I want to take good care of it so that it can take good care of me for a long time. If this pandemic has taught the world anything, it should be the incredible importance of our lungs and respiratory system. Even my yoga practice is all about the breath. Yet despite this sacred gift of breath I have been given, I choke myself with soot and black smoke. I pollute the very part of me that gives life.

The Animals

Time to state the obvious. Buying and smoking cigarettes isn’t exactly “vegan.” While it may not be a food or an animal product, like certain cosmetics, the cigarette industry is no friend to animals. While I’m not sure if they still do (I’m too afraid to google it) I know that cigarette companies are notorious for their horrific animal testing. Whether or not these practices persist, I cannot continue to support such a heinous industry. Not only that, more personally, I am directly harming my own animals by smoking. This is the main reason that finally got me to stop last time. I may not care enough about myself to stop, but I love my sweet babies even more. I genuinely believe that the world as we know it will come to an end before I have to worry about lung cancer, but my fur children have much shorter life spans. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I caused them to suffer and die from the effects of second hand smoke. I’m so ashamed of this aspect of my smoking that my boyfriend doesn’t even know. I’m afraid it would make him lose all respect for me, and I wouldn’t blame him.

Money

I don’t even want to calculate the amount of money I have wasted on cigarettes. They are expensive enough as it is, but I also buy Marlboro so it’s even worse. I definitely spend at least $30 a week on cigarettes. I am such a cheap person though! I don’t even want to spend $10 a year on multivitamins. Or $60 every other week on therapy! I’m basically teaching my yoga class to pay for cigarettes. The irony is palpable. I should be saving that money or at least spending it on something worthwhile. Maybe when I finally stop, I’ll set that money aside and get myself something nice with it as a reward.

Shame

Even though all of my other reasons are probably more important, the biggest thing pushing me to stop is shame. I’m pretty much a secret smoker. My close friends and family know, but even so, I try not to smoke around them. I always feel so shitty and stupid whenever I do. They must think I’m such a fool. Besides that, I don’t want to make them worry. I used to sneak out at work and smoke once or twice a day. Eventually I got caught and even though they didn’t seem to care, I was utterly humiliated that they knew. Shame is a toxic emotion. It rots away your insides. It erodes any positive image you have of yourself. It isolates and separates. I want to live a life I can be proud of. I can’t bear to live in shame any more.

I’m sure there are probably many more reasons I could think of that make me want to quit, but those are the biggest ones. To be honest, it was hard for me to even write about this. Denial is part of the way I’ve been able to continue for so long. It’s painful to face your own hypocrisy. I have a plan now though and I’m praying it works this time. I’ve ordered some nicotine salt vape juice. I know it’s not ideal, but I figure it’s still a step in the right direction. I’m not going to buy any more cigarettes. Once I finish the packs I have, I’m going to switch back to vaping. I’m hoping this will be the end of my dalliance with tobacco. Wish me luck.

Health Risks and Diseases of Smoking

Meditation on Death

Due to my morbid obsession with death and dying this past week, I started looking for some books to read in order to better cope with these grim ruminations. After a little searching, I came across a book that seems perfect for me. It’s called Being with Dying: Cultivating Compassion and Fearlessness in the Face of Death by Joan Halifax. I haven’t gotten past the first few chapters yet, but it has already been a great comfort to me.

This book approaches the subject of death from a Buddhist perspective. It highlights the different ways that western and eastern cultures deal with death. It calls attention to the way the fear of death dominates western culture. We do our best to hide it away out of sight. We live most of our lives without ever thinking about the fact that we are all going to die some day. Avoidance seems to be a primary part our lives, especially in America.

The best part about this book is that it is written as a resource for everyone, in any stage of life. It can benefit teenagers, the elderly, caregivers, medical professionals, healthy people, and people that are terminally ill. This book reminds us that death is a natural part of life. It is something that has the potential to bring us all together. It is ultimately the great equalizer. It is a phase of life, a culmination of everything we have experienced here, a right of passage, a necessary darkness we will all pass through one day.

One of the ways I believe this book will help me is by preparing me to be there for my loved ones when they die. I still feel tremendously guilty about how little I was around my grandmother as she was slowly dying from cancer a few years ago. For the most part, I wouldn’t allow myself to think about it. I saw her when we went to my parent’s house on holidays. It was painful just to look at her, to be in that room with her. Even though it was actually the room I grew up in, my childhood bedroom. What a sad, beautiful mixture of things that have gone on within the walls of that room.

When I sat by her bedside those last few times I saw her, I felt paralyzed, petrified. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to hold her. I wanted to cry. I wanted to ask her so many questions. But instead I sat silently at her side, waiting for any opportunity to leave. I still wonder how she must have felt in her final days. Was she afraid? Did she resent us for not being there for her? Did she find peace? Did she have regrets? Were there things she wanted to tell us, but didn’t? Did we leave her feeling alone? Unloved? What is normal, what is acceptable to say or do around a death bed? Is anything? Does it even matter?

I think our society’s fear and avoidance of death leaves a lot of people to regret their incompetence when dealing with the passing of a loved one. When you avoid something all your life, how can you possibly be expected to handle it when it is in front of you? When it can no longer be avoided? When my other grandmother passes, when my parents pass, I want to be ready. I want to be everything I wished I could have been for my dad’s mom. I want to be brave enough and comfortable enough to discuss these difficult topics with them. I want to be prepared to give them everything that they need, even if they are unable to ask for it when the time comes.

Being with Dying provides exercises to help us work through our aversion and fear of death. The first meditation it suggests is to contemplate both the best and the worst case scenarios for your own death, in as much detail as possible. I want to have my grandmother and my mom do these exercises with me at some point. I want to know everything that I can do to make their deaths peaceful and comfortable and meaningful. However, even the thought of writing such a thing down seems terrifying to me. At the same time, that terror is quite fascinating. To confront this reality, the certainty of death, why is it so very painful? Why does my mind want to avoid even the thought of it at any cost? Do people in other cultures feel the same way? Or are they able to embrace this inevitability with grace and humble surrender?

I think my greatest fear surrounding death, is simply not knowing. It is the ultimate loss of control, a nosedive into a vast unknown. Perhaps it is less daunting if you believe in an afterlife of some kind. But it seems impossible that anyone could have total conviction as they are facing down their own end. There must always be some doubt, some uncertainty. It is not only not knowing what happens after we die, but not knowing when or how we will die that is frightening. I suppose a lot of people are also deeply afraid of death being painful. As someone who hasn’t experienced hardly any physical pain yet in my life, I find this hard to imagine well enough to be afraid of. Besides it always seems like pain can be escaped, even if that escape is death itself. However, that not knowing, that final surrender, will always be there.

I am looking forward to reading more of this book. I am hopeful that it will give me the tools I need to prepare myself for this stage of life, this end of life. Not only for myself but for those around me as well. Even if you think I’m nuts for believing the science that says soon the oceans will be dead along with all of us, I would still recommend this book. Regardless of when you imagine death will touch your life, the fact remains that it will, no matter who you are. It’s much easier to avert our eyes as long as possible, but if you are ready to face that fear head on and take the steps you need to in order to be prepared, Living with Dying seems like a great place to start.

Please make the wonderful effort to show up for your life, every moment, this moment – because it is perfect, just as it is.

Being with Dying
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