I’m 53. I am strong and I am fit. Smoking scares me. How I react to that fear is unhealthy.
I grew up in a culture where smoking was the norm, in a time when the reality of second hand smoke wasn’t acknowledged. It wasn’t until 1969 that tobacco companies had to add the smoking is hazardous to your health label. That legislation also included a federal proviso that states couldn’t limit or regulate advertising of tobacco products.
My recurring memory is being stuck in a car with my father and his wife as they smoked, windows rolled up. Picture Winston and Salem meeting Cheech and Chong. (I simulated the memory below; actuality may not meet exaggeration.)
Choosing to keep that memory alive kept me from smoking, from even putting a cigarette in my mouth. It also created and maintained a connection and a trigger.
When someone around me is smoking, it brings me back to the extreme discomfort of my childhood as I struggled to absorb any remaining molecule of oxygen from the thick cloud of toxins engulfing me.
That memory triggers me to recoil. I physically, mentally and emotionally move from where I was and what I was doing/thinking/being to the familiar and habitual place of a smokophobe.
Every time I see someone smoking and react habitually, I cough up energy, butt-loads of energy. I create judgment, energize a filtered history and fashion a glowing future (without them). I contract and mentally and emotionally distance from my surroundings.
I make-up stories crafted from the ingredients of the current situational environment. I create the toxicity. I allow myself to be affected. In actuality, the smoke usually has absolutely no physical effect on me.
If I could reduce my resistance (devalue my addiction to the abhorrence of smoking and smokers) to the point where it and they did not affect or have any effect on me, I would save that energy, be more efficient and retain my vitality.
If I didn’t judge, condemn and reject I would be healthier, more vital and energized. My non-smoking prejudice makes it harder to meet my goals, be happy and remain focused on my intentions.
Here is what I have come to understand. First, I realize I don’t always condemn smoking and smokers. Sometimes I do not even notice or just give smokers a passing glance.
I only react when I am uncomfortably vital.
Vitriol is a vice to vacuum vitality.
I notice smokers when I am feeling overwhelmed because I know it is a familiar and effective way to vent. I react primarily to regain and/or regulate my comfort zone. My reaction isn’t healthy but it is effective. I am happy, moving purposefully toward my intentions, taking in the stimuli and potential of my present and that metabolization fills me—past my point of comfort—and then I start looking for triggers.
I came to realize that it wasn’t about smoking or the smokers. It was about me not being comfortable with being uncomfortable. I equated uncomfortable with unsafe. A vast majority of the time it isn’t .
I am now noticing when I am triggered and purging excess energy. The sooner I can realize I am venting, the sooner I can stop.
It is a practice of awareness. If I stay aware, I stay in control. I may not be comfortable, but I will be vital. As I tolerate healthy discomfort, I will adapt and grow. Someday, I may not need to use my fear of smoking as an ashtray for my excess capacity.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Author: Jeff Sanders
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Brooke Raymond/Flickr, Author’s Own