The thing I hate most about myself, is that I smoke. For 12 years now I walk around smelling disgusting, depending on these stupid sticks I just can not seem to live without. In a way, I am a terrible smoker, I hate the smell and I can not stand to be in a room containing even the slightest bit of a smokers smell. I even can not stand myself smelling like some, and for every cigarette I dress up in my smoking hoody, protecting my hair and clothes from the smell I’m about to produce.
I hate smoking so much that often I try to quit, and to be honest, when I do, I feel great. I am no longer shamed to get close to people, no longer carrying the disgusting smell around. I feel more fit, more healthy and I no longer have to beat myself up over every cigarette I light. For me, quitting smoking isn’t that hard, I don’t feel the cravings to light another cigarette, I don’t feel the need for a dose of nicotine. I mostly feel good when I don’t smoke, however, after a few weeks I will always light a cigarette again.
I don’t smoke because I’m addicted to nicotine, I don’t smoke because I’m not completely disgusted by it, I smoke for two reasons that make me unable to stop it. Firstly, smoking calms me down. When I smoke, I look for a silent place somewhere outside and once I light my cigarette, I start regulating my breath. In a way, smoking is like meditation for me, I focus on my breathing and I calm down while my cigarette is just a tool that makes it more easy for me to regulate my breathing, 4 seconds in, 4 seconds hold and 4 seconds out.
The first reason I smoke is one I am able to resist when I quit. I just try the same breathing exercise by myself, without my cigarette to help me, and although in the beginning it feels like something is missing, I learn how to calm myself down in the same way. The second reason for my smoking habit however, is the one that always brings me back to smoking, the one that makes cigarettes irresistible for me.
I smoke because if I wouldn’t, I would be too normal, too good even. When I quit smoking for a while, I simply feel too good about myself. I feel relieved and proud, I feel a positivity I am not familiar with, one that scares me right back into smoking. Whenever I quit smoking, I feel like I am a better person than I should be, I miss the shame and guilt I feel with every cigarette that fucks up my longs.
Cigarettes have become my way of punishing myself, my way of showing myself that I’m not ok, not good enough. Smoking is a way for me to show myself multiple times a day that I am not great, that I should be ashamed of myself. Every cigarette brings me the negativity I need to convince myself that I am worthless, and instead of bringing me the nicotine high, cigarettes provide me the dose of self-hate I things I deserve.
Yesterday I was sitting in my garden, smoking a cigarette, when a woman that lives 3 stories above me came out her window. She asked me if I could stop smoking in my garden and instead move to the parking space behind my garden. I told her that me smoking in my garden was the whole point of paying for an apartment with a garden, that I just paid 300 euros for furniture and that I was planning on using it for this reason.
The woman got angry and closed her window with a bang, she was angry with me but what she didn’t know was that my emotions at that point where probably much worse than hers. Firstly, this confrontation, although it just lasted less than 1 minute, had pushed me over my energy limits. I had to talk to a stranger, stand up for myself and put my own needs over hers and this made me feel exhausted. I know she wasn’t allowed to ask me to not smoke in my own garden, on my own chair, but telling her no, telling anyone no, is something I struggle with and this struggle drains all my energy.
But when she closed the window and I remained in my new chair, feelings of guilt started to surface. Was I really allowed to say no, was my stupid need of smoking really more important than her need for fresh air? I started feeling like a selfish asshole, I started to regret buying the chairs, I started to hate myself for the gardening I did just one week before.
The problem was that I understood her question. Whenever I go outside to light up a cigarette, I always close my own windows because I can not stand it when the smell gets inside my house. When my window is open and my other neighbor starts smoking, I feel the same frustration as she did, I never express this but instead close my window for 4 minutes. But is it really normal to do this? Is it allowed to make your neighbors having to close their windows just because you are stupid enough to keep this disgusting habit?
I started crying, feeling overwhelmed with exhaustion, guild and angriness. I wasn’t blaming her, I was blaming myself for the way I am. I felt anger towards myself for not listening to my neighbor, for being selfish, for smoking, for everything. The rest of the day I only smoked once, and for this one cigarette I walked to the park 10 minutes from my house, sat down on the pavement and when I was smoking, I felt embarrassed and worthless.
My neighbors frustration with my cigarettes showed me how much I hate smoking. She increased the hate I feel towards myself with every cigarette I light, she made me feel even more ashamed and more guilty than I already feel. My neighbor confronted me with how much I try to hate myself, she made me see my desire for self-hate and how much I try to do for other people, how much I want to be good.
When I discussed the incident with my boyfriend, he said: “She probably had her period, don’t think about it”. And probably he was right, probably she was frustrated about something and reflected this on me. Probably she doesn’t have the right to tell me what not to do in my own garden, probably my answer was allowed and normal and probably she was the one that was wrong.
The confrontation with my neighbor is a beautiful example of my struggles with self-compassion or self-love. Firstly, the effort it took to stand up for myself shows how hard it is for me to express my own desires, to stand for my own opinion instead of pleasing other people’s wishes. Besides, the fact that I can turn these few seconds of confrontation into more than 1 hour of self-hate and self-blame shows how I lack the ability to be compassionate towards myself. Thirdly, the incident showed how I am unable to put things in perspective, my neighbors frustration was able to completely take over my thoughts, to cover everything in negativity, it became the only thing I could think about, my feelings got exaggerated inside my mind.
The incident shows how much I need to train my self-compassion. Self-compassion contains 3 elements but in this situation I failed in all of them. I choose self-judgement over self-kindness, I choose isolation instead of common humanity and I went for over-identification instead of mindfulness.
I am far away from being compassionate towards myself. However, this incident also brought me hope. A couple of weeks ago I would have apologized to my neighbor, I would have stopped smoking in my garden to please her wishes. Just a few weeks ago I wouldn’t have been able stand up for myself, but yesterday I did. I expressed my own opinion and I did put my own needs, or rights even, first.
I have a long way to go, but now I know that I am improving a lot. This improvement gives me hope that I will get better, that I will learn how to listen to myself and live a happy and balanced life. I will get there, I will be ok and even right now I am doing great. I am improving. Today I thank my neighbor, for giving me the hope I needed to keep working on myself while I’ll keep smoking on that chair, to remind myself of this first big step, multiple times a day.