Creating positive change (a/k/a how I quit smoking)

SmokingTen years ago I stopped smoking. It was one of the hardest of things I’ve ever done. For three days I suffered every physical symptom and craving possible – anxiety, sweating, insomnia, dry mouth, headache, even constipation. Everyone around me suffered too! Mentally though, I was tough. In my mind, I had already moved on from being a smoker.

I wasn’t “giving up” smoking or even quitting. That thinking underlines an attitude of lack and deprivation. I was getting rid of a bad habit. I was shedding the shackles. I was moving on to something better for me – a healthier, cleaner, free-er way of living.  Because I wasn’t giving up anything, I certainly didn’t need nicotine replacement gums or patches or vapor cigarettes to fill the void left by cigarettes. There was no void.

With every craving that came and went – and they always went – I breathed, ate ice and said “I’m getting rid of a bad habit” then smiled and celebrated inwardly. I have never smoked since and can’t imagine ever smoking again.

Very often we only change when it’s more painful to not change. Even then, the old way is familiar and comfortable. It will whine, entice and manipulate you to try and keep you where you are.

And that’s when it helps to know, not what you’re running from, but what you’re running to.

Turn your back on what you’re leaving behind. Cut the cord on what was. Don’t be nostalgic and glamourize the past. Understand why you’re changing and what you want for your future and then look forward. See the new way of being and you in it, doing it, living it, reaping the rewards. And then just keep moving forward.

That last time

When I was a little girl, my father moved to Germany. Before the Internet and cheap long distance calling, letter writingairmail was our chief way of keeping in touch. How I loved and dreaded seeing those familiar, thin, blue, air-mail envelopes with his spidery handwriting in our mailbox. Dreaded because he wrote increasingly morose or chiding messages as his own unhappiness and alcoholism consumed him. Loved because he was my father and I wanted to love him.

My father died in Germany more than 11 years ago. We never had a service for him and I don’t even know where his grave is.

For months after his death, I would go to my mailbox still hoping for a card or letter from him. As seasons and milestones passed with no message, the finality of his death sank in.

Last night I dreamed that I received a stack of letters from my father. The letters had somehow gone astray and were finally reaching me these many years after his death. My dream self shuffled the letters, hesitant to read what was in them. Then I said aloud:

Sometimes it’s best if you don’t know it’s the last time. It’s best if you don’t know it’s the last time you’ll see someone. Or the last time you’ll go to a favourite place. Or the last time you’ll do something you love. If you knew it was the last time, it would break your heart and you couldn’t enjoy that last time. If I read these letters, I know it will be the last time I ever read a letter from him.

I cannot remember the last letter I received from my father. I am glad I didn’t know then that it would be the last. It would have broken my heart.