I don’t understand smoking. Yeah, I know how it works, both mechanically and physically. I’ve done it (I used to waitress in a small town diner, it’s practically a requirement…) But I am one of a few lucky people for whom it doesn’t “work”. I can’t get addicted, and I’m not sure exactly why, but I’m bloody grateful for it. And now I’m allergic, or whatever you’d like to call it when smoking gives you a pounding headache and makes you throw up. Doesn’t help that usually I’m drinking a fair bit while smoking…

I know plenty of smokers, both regular ones and social ones — at least one of whom just IS a smoker. To his DNA. A cigarette is like an extension of his hand; nicotine is a “natural” ingredient in his blood composition. I once saw him “ash” a cheesie. It was hysterical (and kinda sad).

It’s always puzzled me when smokers have expressed how much they enjoy that first, dizzy head rush from a smoke. I always hated that part, and was careful to control the first couple drags so it never hit me too hard. A bit of a control thing. A rush of dizziness and nausea is not being under control to me. What’s that? Repeatedly doing something you don’t need to do that makes you feel sick is dumb? Yeah, no kidding.

I guess part of it is that, unlike my brother, I don’t have an addictive personality. At all. Which is odd, because I’m certainly obsessive often enough. Never really lasts more than about 48 hours, though. (Stupid Bejeweled…)

My lack of fealty to smoking is also odd because when I get into pattern ruts, they be deep. Being fat, unworkable relationships, not dusting… take your pick. 🙂 I have a hard time relating to recommended ways of changing habits. Consistently starting and maintaining small changes, shaking up what you’re used to, and sticking with it sticking with it sticking with it until new patterns take over. Hypnosis, acupuncture, yoga, gum, patches, pills, oral fixation replacements, cold turkey…

Of course, thanks to my high school drama teacher (hi, Nancy!) I have long understood that we only change when we’re ready to. If you’re not in it to win it, so to speak, quitting smoking, losing weight, leaving a dead-end job — it ain’t gonna work out.

The example she used was the body, which, for me, was probably the best example she could have chosen. The idea that being overweight, for example, was about so much more than just not eating right or getting enough exercise. I remember mentally chewing for days on the idea that people can look how they do because they need to. For a woman, for example, to need to be a bit more invisible. To need a barrier between herself and the world. I guess I’m not a smoker because whatever need it fills for other people isn’t one I have. (And I know a few people who are mostly social smokers, but for whom it is also invariably a stress crutch.)

And it’s true. I’ve lost considerable amounts of weight, and it’s the strangest feeling to inhabit an altered space. I don’t mean how cool it is to see that your clothes don’t fit anymore. I mean literally the space in the world that is taken up by your body, how you move, how it feels when things touch you.

In addition to the change in how your body interacts with your world, how you fit inside your own space changes, too. It’s strange to be in it, and nearly impossible to accurately describe, but has been expressed by everyone I know who has experienced it. Sometimes it’s tactile, like rolling over in bed, and there’s no longer much of a fat pad between your hip and the mattress. Makes you think it must be very uncomfortable to be a supermodel…

I wonder if things like quitting smoking are the same. I can’t see how they wouldn’t be. Removing both that very ingrained habit, which is a significant part of how you interact socially, respond to stress, etc., and its effect on your body would cause significant changes. Fortunately, all good ones (though pretty gross for the first little while).

I guess the real barrier to scrabble over is the time between that first decision to change (i.e. quit) and the time until you reap the real, noticeable benefits (hey, I just ran 5K!) We animals don’t do well without positive reinforcement, and it’s really hard to plan for how something is going to change until it changes. (I wonder how many people who quit smoking try to plan in advance how they’ll handle an unexpected stress without lighting up before they actually quit.)

I am also not sure you can pre-plan who you’re going to be in the long run, either. Something like smoking is very defining. You’re part of a tribe, albeit a much less “cool” one than in the past. However, even when you’re shivering in the snow outside your office in February, you’re probably not doing it alone, and it’s still an environment in which you’re privy to all sorts of valuable gossip and the like (though, again, less so than in the past).

After you quit, who do you gossip with? What do you do when you don’t get those little breaks every hour? Sounds trite, but stuff like that is what makes up the day. After you lose weight, how do you react to attracting more attention, to shopping in different stores. To getting used to wearing tighter clothes (since that’s usually what fashion offers up).

So, yeah. I don’t understand smoking. Or the mechanics of change. Of course, I’ve (hopefully) got plenty of years left, which will require plenty of changes, so I’m relying on my pretty decent ability to think, to be self-aware, and, interestingly enough, my insatiable curiosity. I have a feeling that for me, that’s where the “in” is.

Many thanks to always charming and brilliant Havi for the inspiration for this one.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *