A preview of the first chapter, detailing how I learned cigarettes had placed a smoke screen over my identity…literally.
It was the end of my regular check-up, and my doctor was being kind. I had always noticed my heartbeat was irregular, especially as an adult. All my life, every doctor who had ever listened to it seemed to think it was normal. In fact, this doctor was the first one who had ever commented on it! She couldn’t outright say that I was in the danger zone. Instead, she handled it delicately saying that although it may not have been extreme when I was younger, it had clearly progressed to the point where it was time to check it out. She hinted that it was not only for my overall health, but that my heartbeat indicated a situation that could unexpectedly prove disastrous…perhaps even fatal.
I thought about my grandfather, who had a pacemaker for the last several years of his life. Why had I not put the pieces together before? Why had I–and all my previous doctors–overlooked this part of my family history? After all, aren’t some heart conditions congenital? Wasn’t it possible, then, that my heart was blaring an alarm with each stumbling, lopsided beat? Furthermore, which came first: my irregular heartbeat, or the debilitating panic attacks that had come without warning for much of my adult life?
My point is, here was a situation where I’d had no answers. I felt a little betrayed by the authority figures in my life who had been just as blind as I was now, even when I was only a child who didn’t know better.
We all get these crossroad moments in our lives. At this time, I was presented with a choice: To either take my chances, continuing on in my preferred ignorance, saying that “Well, no one bothered to mention before, so it’s probably fine” or to listen to my current doctor and to accept that sometimes God gives us a warning–maybe even several– and we can choose to listen to it this time, or to talk about it more in heaven. I picked the latter perspective.
Of course, this meant several changes in my lifestyle were in order. No caffeine (a challenge for a former barista!), purposeful cardio exercise, stress management, and as much avoidance of toxicity as I could possibly muster. This meant no more junk food. But I knew, also, that this had to, had to, had to mean (as much as I hated it), that smoking cigarettes was now and forever completely out of the question.
Oh how I hated this idea. Intellectually, I could cope with the idea of having to lose a bad habit, and with the understanding that there would be an adjustment period to this. It is, after all, simple logical thinking: changing a habit is hard. Duh. I think even kindergarteners know that. I could rationally search tools for help, and hey–nowadays, there’s an app for everything.
Emotionally, this was an entirely different story. I was amazed at the feelings I was experiencing: Shock, betrayal by my body, betrayal by the world for not being a world which just let me smoke when I wanted, indignation, and fear. Fear! Fear of how I would have to live. Fear of who I would be. Anger at being expected to suddenly be an entirely different person, I mean how DARE the world be asking this of me?!
That’s what gave me pause. I was just talking about quitting smoking cigarettes. Why in the world did that suddenly mean I had to be a completely different human being?
“Who would I be without cigarettes?” Was that seriously a question I just asked myself?
Why were my instincts telling me that I would be a different person without cigarettes?
If I truly felt that I was a COMPLETELY different person without cigarettes, what did that say about what cigarettes were doing to my own sense of identity?
That’s when it struck me, how truly insidious addictions are. Cigarettes had slowly, puff by puff and year by year, built a film over my self-awareness, and I hadn’t even noticed it happening. It had become such that I literally could not examine myself without seeing through this film. I did not have any self-awareness that didn’t pass my vision through cigarettes first.
They had invaded and taken over my identity.
I didn’t know what was going to happen. All I knew was that this time, win or lose, I was going to fight back.
(C) 2018 Margaret Nelson. The Ten Minute Quit text, ideas, and developments specific to this project are all owned by me.