I love to smoke.
A dozen times a year I find myself thinking about sitting on my patio on Crete looking out at the sea, holding a glass of wine in one hand and a cigarette in another. Sometimes when I’m on my porch with a cup of coffee and it’s raining, I think, “Man. A cigarette would be really good about now.” I can still feel the satisfying fullness of a deep inhale and the relaxed release of every exhale. Even though I quit smoking, these temptations hang onto me, and to some degree, probably will for the rest of my life. But I have done something that has weakened the power smokes have over me–I have let go.
I don’t mean I have let go of cigarettes, but I have let go of their place in my identity. It turns out that removing them from my sense of self was more important than putting the physical pack aside. I noticed that in every attempt at quitting, I found it impossible to imagine never having a cigarette again. To think about never being able to drive and smoke or have a glass of wine with a cigarette made me squirm with anxiety. This was my clue that they had a place within me that went deeper than my cells’ addiction–I saw myself as a smoker.
The last time I quit, with the help of nicotine gum to relieve the physical addiction, I was able to focus more on changing my inner attitude toward my bad habit. I centered my attention on how I identified who I was and who I wanted to be. Having always been adventurous and physical, it was an easy step to more deeply identify with those traits and to point out how smoking ran counter to them. In particular, the deeper I identified with my fitness self, the less attractive smoking became.
This letting go was a gentle process. For the first time, quitting actually made me happier. In the past, trying to quit was a knock down-drag out and that fight kept happiness at bay. Happiness is generated from within, and when there’s a struggle going on–happiness will not enter. Our ego thinks we can drive out bad habits and addictions through a force of will. We have been conditioned to berate and blame, but those leave us exhausted and demoralized. It’s actually better to quietly usher the unwanted out of our lives. By calmly ordering the way we see ourselves, we make the habit seem out of place.
Quitting a habit, be it smoking, eating unhealthy food, or drinking too much, has more in common with surrender than fighting. What do I mean by that? Think about what you do when you’re at a restaurant and there’s a lovely cheesecake or craft beer on the menu and you know you do not need those empty calories. Do you order it, eat it, and then spend the rest of the evening hating your weak, loser self? Or, do you insist you don’t want it? That’s a lie though, isn’t it? Rather than hate yourself or lie, why not accept your craving and quietly set it aside in favor of your personal vision–your desired identity. You may have to do this several times and you may even have to compromise–have a small piece of cake–but remain at peace, treat yourself with mercy and soon or eventually, you will emerge with a new identity–free of your habit.
This letting go is gentle, but it isn’t characterized by passivity. Let go with specific intention and patience. Let go with a willingness to challenge habits of doing and ways of seeing yourself. Let go of what you have known, no matter how comfortable, in favor of your dream that promises a new life, different pleasures, and unknown adventures. Peace be with you.