Lean Into the Pain or How Avoiding Unhappiness Won’t Make You Happy

Avoiding UnhappinessI was having dinner with a friend of mine and her parents a couple of weeks ago and they were asking for advice on quitting smoking that they could pass along to their son who is a smoker.  The only thing that I could really think of to tell them was to lean into the pain.  A couple of days later I was watching a movie with Funky called Hector and the Search for Happiness (which is completely awesome I highly recommend it) and there was a line about how avoiding unhappiness is not the road to happiness.

The thing is, unhappiness is just a part of life.  Without unhappiness how would we appreciate happiness?  How would we even know what happiness is?

Having a risk averse way of looking at things gets in the way of being happy!  Why would you pursue a route that is hard but ultimately rewarding if avoiding struggle or moments of unhappiness is your main goal?

In fact, I would even go so far as to say that surviving unhappiness is one thing that can make you really happy.  When I look back on my own experiences I see this play out over and over again.  If there was a project I was dreading because it seemed really difficult or I was insecure about my ability to handle it, I would put off dealing with it.  I was a classic procrastinator.  The result of this, was that I went around with this thing hanging over my head and in the back of my mind, worrying me.  Then I would put the thing off so long that some kind of deadline would pass and the situation would get much worse and much more complicated.

When I finally disciplined myself to take care of the dreaded thing right away, no matter how much it sucked, I would be rewarded with a sense of accomplishment and renewed faith in my own abilities.

Here’s another way of saying the same thing.  I was watching a show called The Mentalist and the main character on the show told someone that they would be a lot happier if they didn’t think so much about what they do and don’t like.

I completely agree.  Just by saying, I don’t like being unhappy, you are ensuring that you will be unhappy.  It is a self fulfilling prophesy.

For example: people think, “I don’t want to quit smoking because it’s going to be really hard and I won’t like that.”  Then they finally talk themselves into quitting and they think “yep, I was right this is hard and I don’t like it”, then they start thinking “Is it worth it?  I’m so unhappy and quitting smoking is supposed to make my life better but it’s making it worse because it’s so hard and I’m so unhappy.”  Then they start smoking again and guess what?  They are still unhappy, because they are doing something that they know they shouldn’t be doing and the cycle starts again.  The only way to free themselves from the cycle is to lean into the pain, to just accept it and go through it and pursue their only chance at happiness which lies on the other side of unhappiness.

I’m not saying people should pursue unhappiness for it’s own sake or that they should wallow or obsess over things that make them unhappy.  I’m only saying that sometimes unhappiness is unavoidable and in those situations it might be better to submit of your own free will and truly experience it and then move on, instead of avoiding it and thereby allowing it more control over your life than it deserves.

The Thing about Quitting Smoking is…

landslideThat it’s like the Fleetwood Mac song “Landslide”.

“I’ve been afraid of changing cause I built my life around you, but time makes you bolder even children get older and I’m getting older too.”

This song fits so perfectly with my story because I started smoking at fourteen while still a child and have lived over half my life as a smoker.  I would wake up every day and plan everything around smoke breaks.  I looked forward to them and got pissed when they were delayed. If I was having a shitty day the one thing that could turn it all around, or so I believed was having a sweet, sweet smoke.

But here’s the thing I am getting older and smoking half a pack a day at at thirty makes you feel a lot more of a hag than smoking a whole pack a day did at twenty. Add to that the toll it takes on your face and energy.  I may be getting older but I’m still young, I shouldn’t get winded after playing on the playground with the kiddo for five minutes.  I should’t get constant headaches from not drinking enough water and smoking too much.  I shouldn’t choose to smoke at lunchtime instead of feeding myself and come home hangry from work.  I’ve always considered myself bold and nows the time to put up or shut up.  I know this, it takes a landslide.  The very earth beneath your feet has to move in order to root out something thats been putting down roots for seventeen years.  When you look at it that way you see it can be an opportunity to turn your whole life around.

When you remove the central focus of your life it leaves a vacuum. A void that in the past I filled with depression and despair and I inevitably I went back to smoking, to save myself from what seemed like the more immediate threat.

The key to my success so far this time around is that I’ve filled the void with changes I’ve always wanted to make anyway.  I drink water constantly and suck on vitamin c drops in the car.  I get up early with my hubby to eat breakfast and work out instead of getting a morning smoke in.  On breaks at work I eat veggies, fruit and nuts and suck down even more water.  In my head I worked up to quitting by reminding myself of all the ways smoking was making my life worse and now I meditate on the opposite.

Wouldn’t you know it, everything in my life is actually better because I don’t smoke!  Even more amazing the sky didn’t fall, my personality didn’t collapse, I didn’t turn into a raving bitch and my smoker friends still think I’m fun. Goes to show what crazy lies we tell ourselves when we really don’t want to change.

The Thing About Quitting Smoking is….

Me on the last day of school in 2002, with my bestie Jessica, in the park next to Columbine.

Me on the last day of school in 2002, with my bestie Jessica, in the park next to Columbine.

You’re not just quitting cigarettes. You’re quitting the thing that made you feel better the first time someone broke your heart. The thing that kept you company while you sat on your balcony at 2 am and wrote poetry and listened to music. The thing that helped you bond with your shipmates when you went away from home for the first time and worked on a cruise ship in Alaska after high school. The thing that bonded you to almost every close friend you’ve had since middle school. The thing that you had in common with your mom at an age when most people hate their parents.

It’s not just quitting cigarettes, it’s quitting the person you used to be. It’s acknowledging that those times and versions of yourself are gone and they aren’t ever coming back.

That’s the hardest part for me. I’m a sentimental person, I get attached, and when I’m attached I really hate to let go. But that’s growing up isn’t it?

Change is a part of life and it can be a really good part. I’ve always believed that we change whether we like it or not and the wiser course is to make conscious decisions about how and why you change; so that five or ten or twenty years down the line you recognize the person you’ve become and more importantly you like the person you’ve become. So this is me, being the change, and trying to be better. Wish me luck!

How I quit smoking and why it wasn’t as hard as I thought.

Bye Bye Smokey Treats

Bye Bye Smokey Treats

I am quitting smoking, again.  I quit a few years ago for a considerable period of time and then went through a rough patch and started up again.  I was so ashamed of myself that for a long time I was a secret smoker.  By that I mean that only a small handful of people knew I smoked. I had a smoking jacket, hat and gloves to keep anyone from smelling cigarettes on me.  I had breath mints and body spray.  I put off getting rid of my death trap of a car because no one wanted to ride in it, and that kept them from smelling the smoke.  Once I finally got a new car I would leave my windows cracked even when snow or rain was expected, so that my car could air out.  I would come up with a plethora of excuses to sneak off and have a cigarette.  The worst part was that I lied to my boyfriend who is now my husband for years about my smoking habit.  Eventually it felt like my whole life revolved around this one big lie.

Finally I came clean, and not because I got caught but because I couldn’t take it anymore.  If he came home early I would be grumpy because I was planning on having another cigarette.  If he wanted to come with me to visit my parents I was grumpy because I was planning on smoking on the way there.  Also it is really hard to feel good about yourself when your pants are on fire all the time!  It’s not as if I go around lying as a way of life, but he had made it clear that he never wanted to be with a smoker and I didn’t want to lose him.  I planned to just quit at some point without him ever knowing, but eventually I realized that there was no way I would be able to do it without his support.  I needed him to support me and I needed him to know the truth.

He was not pleased, in fact he was hurt and disappointed and felt betrayed.  Eventually he forgave me and even though I had proved myself unworthy of his trust, he believed me when I said that I didn’t want to be a smoker forever. And even more incredibly he gave me space and time to figure out how to quit on my own terms and for my own reasons.

Six months passed and after trying to “cut down” and pretty much failing, I decided I was ready to be done for good and went cold turkey.  My last day as a smoker was April 21st 2015.

I went cold turkey without the aid of any kind of patch or gum or pill, but I did have a plan.  I know the main symptoms and challenges of quitting because I’ve done it before so I came up with ways to deal with each one of these things.

The first and most important step was to work out.  I’ve mentioned in other posts that my husband is kind of a fitness fanatic, so he was more than willing to go with me to the gym five days a week and be my personal trainer.  Working out helped me deal with several quitting smoking pitfalls.  The biggest obstacle of all for me is that when I quit smoking I get sad, really sad, like “is life worth living without cigarettes?” level sad.  You know what helps regulate your mood?  Working out does.  One hurdle overcome, only a few more to go.  A lot of people gain weight when they quit smoking because they start snacking to replace the cigarettes.  You know a good way to not gain weight?  Working out.  And instead of avoiding my husband so I could smoke, I now had an activity that I couldn’t be nearly as successful at without him.

The next thing I used to help replace cigarettes was treating my body better.  I was the type of person that would choose to smoke three cigarettes on my lunch break and skip eating entirely.  I never drank water.  I often skipped breakfast and I never ate lunch.  So I pretty much fasted all day and then was starving and angry when I got home.  I snapped at everybody and had no energy to make healthy food.  All I wanted to eat were things like McDonalds and pizza, chips and cookies.  Apparently, it’s really not good for you to not eat or drink water all day and then load up on thousands of calories in fried food and soda right before you go to bed.  When I quit smoking I pretty much stopped drinking soda and started drinking a lot of water.  Having a sports bottle of water in the car helped me replace the oral aspect of smoking and kept me hydrated.  I also keep vitamin C drops in my car so that if I get a really bad craving I can pop one of those in.  To replace smoking on breaks I started munching on fruits, nuts, and vegetables, which helps me not crave the smokes and insures I’m eating regularly all day.

Lastly I changed my attitude towards smoking.  With all the other changes I was making I realized I didn’t really have time to smoke.  I have a lot on my plate right now.  I have a family to take care of, I work out five days a week, I work forty or more hours a week and I’m starting a business and blogging to boot.  Ironically it was way more stressful to find time to smoke than it was to just quit smoking. And in a way because I lied about it for so long I know what my choices are going forward.  I can start smoking again and undo all my hard work as well as disappointing the person who believed in me and reinforcing in his mind that I am untrustworthy.  I can do all that and lie about it which I’ve learned is the worst thing ever.  Or I can continue in the path I’m on.  Pretty easy choice really.

It’s amazing the way your habits and health are so intertwined that once you make one good change it’s easier to keep making positive changes, until one day you wake up and you are finally acting like the person you want to be!

I don’t underestimate my addiction.  I’ve done that before and ended up a smoker again.  I know that the fight is not over and that every day I will have to choose to not smoke, even when life gets hard and I really want to.  I’ll keep you all appraised of my progress and keep an eye out for my series of posts “The Thing About Quitting Smoking Is….” where I talk about some of the things non-smokers don’t really understand about smoking and the process of quitting.

I know that some, if not all, of what I’ve shared here and will share in this series of posts, does not make me look like a great person, but I wanted to tell people these things because I think it’s important to hear them.  It’s important for smokers because to quit they need to understand that it is possible and they are not alone.  And for non-smokers because if they want to help the people in their life to not smoke or to quit smoking they need to understand why people smoke and why they stop.

So wish me luck and stay tuned!