How I Quit Smoking

stub of cigarette

I smoked my first cigarette when I was 12 or 13 years old. I've been a social smoker ever since--usually when I'm REALLY stressed or bored or I smoke with people who smoke at parties, mostly. This happens less than once a month and one or two or five smokes in 48 hours won't kill me. Or maybe it will, who knows.

A few times in my life I've gone through a period of a few months where I bought several packs in a row and became reliant on the cigarette for comfort. Like last summer, when I left a relationship of almost five years with someone I knew for ten years. It took a lot of time, courage and strength to actually pick up and leave. Initially, I left to sort things out from a distance but the other person wasn't willing or able to do that. I found myself in a precarious limbo between living situations as I struggled to manage my own mental health, my coaching business, my graduate school program and everyday things like cooking and my laundry.

I was eating really well, of course, and exercising daily and sleeping well (thank goodness). The sun was out, the weather was great and I kept doing what I knew was important to stay strong and healthy.

But there were parts of me that felt very angry and sad, confused, disoriented and horribly abandoned. The years of details of what I had just come from played over in my mind and I battled very complex feelings from minute to minute, as I tried to keep my ship afloat.

The day I bought a pack of cigarettes, I told myself it would be one pack and then I would be done. I smoked one a day or maybe two and soon the pack was gone. On autopilot, I bought another and then another, rationalizing that I had no other vices and was doing so many healthy things, I was allowed this "one bad thing."

I can count on one hand how many times I've used drugs. I drink less than once a week. I eat greens a few times a day and even in the height of summer, I eat ice cream maybe once a week. I cultivate healthy relationships. I do work I LOVE. I go to therapy once a week and seek out personal development classes, forums, books and events. I run.

I pick things up and put them down, literally and metaphorically. Was I not allowed one damn vice?

I was allowed. That was the decision I made. I had just worked up the courage to make a major change in my life, a change for the better but by no means easy or fun, and I deserved a break. But every time I lit another cigarette, I was still with the grief. I still felt the guilt of undervaluing myself. I felt the frustration of being disrespected. I felt the abandonment and rejection of someone I trusted for many years. I felt the longing to be loved.

The substance or the act of smoking didn't make these difficult feelings go away. I'm too self-aware and mindful to be distracted that easily. My Buddhist practice has penetrated too deeply and I know I can't check out of life because it feels difficult sometimes. Duh, it's life. I also know the truth about cigarettes and I know what they do--I can't be ignorant about something so toxic.

Probably more profound than any of these was this realization: I loved myself and my new body too much to continue. I had spent a lot of time, energy and resources to evolve into the person I am, inside and out, and I couldn't pretend that cigarettes weren't undoing all the positive stuff I was doing. I couldn't pretend that the vice was going to help me.

Hurting myself by acting out was only prolonging the time it would take to heal.

I tossed however much was left of the last pack and haven't had one since. While I can't say I won't have one or two from time to time, it will be a long time before I do and I doubt I'll ever do again what I did this past summer. There's just no need for it now---my life feels so good. I'm healing. And I don't need or want to check out or hide or avoid or take a break from feeling anything but the complexity of human feelings that happen as part of life--beecause I have a lot left to live!



Image courtesy of this site.

Hiding Hinders Healing: What Helped Lift My Depression



I was sitting down to write a paper for grad school about How We Determine Our Worth and I saw the news about Robin Williams. He allegedly committed suicide after years of battling depression.

I've long considered writing about my own experience with depression but since it felt more situational and wasn't a clinical diagnosis, I felt it wouldn't be as valuable.

And then I realized that was dumb.

My depression was real. I felt it so deeply I wanted to commit suicide multiple times and I expressed those feelings to friends. I wasn't kidding or joking or trying to get attention. I felt helpless and hopeless beyond belief and beyond comfort many, many times.

My depression was legitimate to me, with or without some clinician signing off on a diagnosis or prescription.

I've been able to find my way out from under the weight of the depressive bouts on each and every occasion over the years without prescription medications. I seem to be on a good upswing because the bouts have become much fewer and farther between, lately. I figured that it may be helpful to someone to read what helped my depression so I've decided to push past the thoughts about the depression other people feel and experience and write about mine.

I talked about it. Perhaps one of the toughest parts about depression is speaking about it. There may be fear or shame there because it may carry a stigma implying individual weakness. "Just pick yourself up and move on," people might say. I felt that fear and shame but I still spoke about it. I said it to my therapist. I said it to my friends. I said it to myself. "I feel depressed," I'd say. "I am depressed."

I felt it. Much like talking about it, simply feeling it helped. I allowed myself to be or feel depressed and didn't make excuses or feel like a failure because I was experiencing depression. I knew it was something people feel and I was now feeling it. It sucked and I often wished it would pass more quickly, but I never beat myself up for feeling it and that may have helped me not sink further down. On one occasion this past year, I backed myself into a closet and cried loudly until the tears stopped. I felt a little concerned while it was happening and wondered if calling 911 made sense but on the other side of it, about 30 minutes later, I felt a tremendous weight lifted.

I assessed my current situation and determined that it might be making me feel depressed. It might not be you. It might be your job, your relationship or something else that is not a good or right fit. In more than a few instances, changing my situation profoundly helped my depression.

I ate foods that seemed to improve my mood and (tried to) avoid ones that made it worse. When I ate sugar, my depression came on like gangbusters. What was mildly annoying or bothersome or frustrating one day would become utterly and profoundly hopeless within hours of ingesting too much sugar. I felt painted into a corner by paint that would never, ever dry. "This will be like this forever!" I'd say. And then, I would drink a lot of water and eat more vegetables (especially dark, leafy greens) and the sugar would pass through my bloodstream. The same situation that had me paralyzed hours earlier would feel slightly less horrible. And then, mildly horrible. And then, not so bad at all. I tried to remember this the next time I was tempted to eat a lot of sugar in one sitting but it didn't (doesn't) always work.

I made sure I got sleep, even when it was erratic. Experiencing insomnia brought on by anxiety or depression is hell. I've been through it a few times in the past few years and each time I become incredibly angry. We need sleep to function, it isn't something we can skip on and expect to really thrive. I hated that I wasn't sleeping, especially when I tried everything I could think of to remedy the insomnia. Essential oils. Baths. Not eating or drinking after 8pm. Cool temperature in the room. Blankets. No lights on. Earplugs. God, everything. But I persevered and eventually the circadian rhythms righted themselves and it dissipated. The most helpful thing may have been my tenacity with a regular bedtime, no matter how long I stayed asleep or how many times I woke up during the night.

I wrote about it. I wrote about my depression and didn't publish the blog posts. I got the words out with a pen in a paper journal. I sometimes resorted to drawing angry or sad faces with a crayon.

I listened to music that inspired me in some way. Sometimes it was African lullabies, sometimes it was Disney songs. Sometimes it was cathartic singer-songwriter stuff, in moderation of course. Listening to the suffering of others sometimes helped me gain much-needed perspective on my own situation. Often it helped me feel connected to someone, that person who wrote that song, even if that person was a total stranger who didn't even know I existed. They knew what I was feeling, though, and I felt less wrong or bad or hopeless that I would ever feel anything but those things.

I reminded myself that it might be depression. During especially difficult moments, the kind when I wasn't sure I needed to keep hanging out here on Earth, I remembered that it wasn't total and complete reality that would linger forever. It might be depression, instead, and it might pass.

I remembered my accomplishments. When I felt like I'd done all I could with my life and wanted to pass Go and collect my $200, I reminded myself of what I had accomplished. I considered all I've overcome. I reflected on the lessons I've learned and wondered what else was left for me to experience. "If my life has been this rich," I'd think, "what if there's even more ahead?"

I reached out for help from people I knew would listen. When I was depressed, hanging out or speaking with someone who didn't understand it or have compassion for it made it much worse. Calling someone who didn't judge or condemn it, and even understood it, helped me much more. Even though I don't experience ongoing depression and mine seems to come and go, I still relate to the fundamental quality of it. I remember it. While I hope that all people can find and experience relief from it, I can still hold the space for them as they find that relief. Not everyone can do this. They can't sit with their own feelings and probably can't hold the space for you. I don't spend too much time around these people, anymore.

If you feel depressed or experience ongoing depression, I encourage you to try some of what helped me, in addition to whatever you're doing that helps you wake up and put your feet on the floor each day.

Cured vs Healed

This is a guest post by Victoria Ellis. She's a student at Lesley University and is interning with me this semester. She's writing a guest blog post for my newsletter each week.   

To me ‘healing’ and ‘curing’ are two separate verbs. One can be healed and not cured and cured but not healed. They are two separate meanings. To be cured is to rid yourself of the symptoms of your ailment, while to be healed is to make yourself whole. Curing pays attention to the bodies needs and healing begins with the soul to combat illnesses. One of these terms is not better than the other; it is very important for someone to cure AND heal his or herself.

An example of a time where I was healed, but not cured what when I shattered my kneecap playing soccer. Surgery fixed my kneecap and one year of physical rehabilitation strengthened me to move again so technically I was cured. I could run, jump, dive, sit, stand, and most importantly play soccer again.

It had been exactly one year since my injury when I laced up my cleats and stepped onto the field again. After the first practice, I was so excited that I was able to keep up and play soccer for 90 minutes with my team. This excitement however did not numb the throbbing sensation in my knee. This excitement paired with my fatigue and pain caused me to cry. At that moment, I honestly could not tell you why I was crying. There was not one reason why I was crying, there was many. I was happy, scared, nervous, shocked, tired, and in pain. It was evident to me that I was in fact cured from my knee injury, but I was not healed.

I neglected to check in with my mind to see how it was coping with my injury. I frequently checked into my body though. Surgery and physical rehabilitation both pertain to the physiological needs and do not take the mind into account. It was preseason soccer for the college team I play on and we had rigorous practices daily. Sure enough, this reaction I had after my first time getting on the field, happened for the next week. Playing soccer after my injury, released many feelings I had inside about me and about soccer (the reason why I was hurt in the first place). This reaction slowly faded the more times I played soccer. By week two I was able to finish a soccer session without crying. Six months later, I can say that I am cured AND healed from my knee injury. The feelings that I released allowed me to become whole again. Shattering my kneecap made me a stronger person. When I play soccer I am not fearful that it will happen again, I think about how much stronger I am now.

This personal experience allowed me to completely understand that I must pay attention to my mind, body, and soul during what ever comes my way. It is important that we are whole in order to properly function and be healthy. Whole meaning that our mind, body, and soul are in harmony. I focused solely on my physical health (my knee) and did not realize all the feelings that I had regarding this injury.

Knowing and understanding the difference between curing and healing will help you know all the approaches to take to be whole again. Just because the pain is gone, it does not mean the suffering is. But what happens if the pain does not go away? What if I am sick with a terminal illness? Remember: heal means to become whole again. Healing for some people does not necessarily mean beating their illness.

My mother died five years ago from cancer. First she tried eastern medicines, ‘poison’ as she referred to it as. It did not take her long to stray from eastern medicines towards western methods. She tried every different method to try and beat her cancer. After much research and determination she realized that she has cancer, the cancer does not have her. This simple statement changed her whole outlook on being sick. She realized that she could overtake cancer just as easily as it could take over her. Even though she was very sick, at that moment she was healed. Unfortunately my mother was never cured from cancer, but she was healed on the inside. Being healed on the inside is very important to a person on his or her deathbed. According to my definitions of cured and healed, my mom was healed from cancer. This allowed her last few months on earth to be magical. Sometimes we cannot be cured, this is when healing yourself is the only option. It is important that everyone explores different dimensions of their body and mind to find out how to release feelings to try and cure AND heal us. I would not think that playing soccer would allow me to release more feelings than any therapy session I have ever been in. Now I know that soccer can act as a therapy for me in certain situations. Soccer got me into the mess, but also got me out.