What assistance can we find in the fight against habit? Try the opposite!”
Epictetus, Discourses, 1.27.4
Many of you know that I’m an addict. For more than half my life I’ve been addicted to tobacco (cigarettes, specifically), and for the majority of that time I’d beat myself up about smoking. I’d tell myself how much of a failure I was after smoking, and proceed to emotionally torture myself every time I’d try to quit and fail. Patches, gum, hypnosis, you name it and I’ve tried it. I knew smoking was bad for me but I couldn’t get out of the habit. Why?
Because of my habituated adherence to the overculture’s relationship with tobacco.
Society says tobacco is bad, and that people who smoke fall into several undesirable societal categories: less educated, more mental health challenges, etc, etc, etc… in other words, if smoking is bad, and I can’t quit, then I must be bad, too. Thus, the spiral continued to drag me downward into depression.
Today, I no longer smoke (thanks Kaiser Permanente & Colorado Quitline). Sure, the mood altering drugs and nicotine patches helped, but looking back at things, it was the changing of my relationship with tobacco-narrative that finally made the difference.
While at university, I was given a book by a professor of mine who had much success with that text in her own journey of tobacco cessation. This book was about being gentle with yourself around addiction, thereby changing my narrative around tobacco, and ultimately, my relationship with it. I didn’t beat myself up when I’d fall off the wagon. I’d be kind to myself, reminding myself that it took decades to become addicted, and the road to freedom would take a long time to travel. This approach was the opposite of my previous approaches because I wasn’t adding to my negative emotions and self-sabotaging mind. I was doing the opposite, as per Epictetus’ guidance.
In short, I was trying a different approach. And yes, it took time (about 10 years) to rebuild my tobacco story, to give myself a break, and to try something different.
So, where in your life can you try different approaches? With family? Friends? Work? Interpersonal connections? What about with the internal dialogue with which we torture ourselves (a.k.a. “Brain weasels”)?
Let’s get on that different road, and travel to liberation.
(See y’all tomorrow)