I quit my nearly 2 pack a day smoking habit 11 years ago. I rarely crave a cigarette these days. But a strong craving hit me the other day while walking in San Francisco on my way to do Street Counseling. My mouth remembered how good the taste of tobacco would be with the sweet drink I was sipping. It occurred to me that I could just buy a pack of cigarettes right then and enjoy one….even save the rest for future cravings.
A moment of failure from the day before had me deeply doubting myself. On high alert, I am waiting for someone to figure out I’m making this all up. As I take each step further into the life I want to be living, a steady anxiousness creeps in. My body shaky, wired, not wanting to feel the failure, not good enough, fraud. It is hard to be alone with feelings like these.
In the moment, I made the connection between not being good enough and not wanting to feel it. It was clear that soothing myself with a cigarette would put me at risk of returning to an addiction that is harmful to my health and comes with all kinds of unwanted consequences. But that held little weight in the face my desire.
I went and bought a pack of organic American Spirits and a lighter and smoked a cigarette.
A moment of relief, followed by guilt, and an impulse to hide my smokey smell from my wife and clients. What would they think of me? Another place to feel alone.
AND, at the same time I was planning when I would allow myself to have another.
A few hours later, cigarette #2 finished, and I felt like shit. My ability to take a deep breath compromised, another layer of guilt, anger towards myself. I gave the pack away to another smoker, still planning how to hide this slip from the people close to me.
Addiction is a powerful thing. The impulse to soothe feelings that are hard to be with on our own, the shame of not being strong enough, the stigma that makes me want to further distance myself and hide. Aloneness is where addiction begins for me, and addiction ultimately drives me further into aloneness.
Reflecting on this, I have a new level of compassion for my 18-22 year old self that wanted to sooth a lot of strong feelings he felt alone with. Compassion too, for my current self, still using substances, devices and habits to find relief from being alone with what’s hard.
AND I’m not so alone these days. Deep gratitude for the people who have been (and still are) there for me, for those who did not leave me alone, who made me feel worthy by just being with me. Thank you for the strength to stand out there on the street, so a few more people can be less alone.
How does addiction go for you?