First off, no, that is obviously not me in the above picture, but I’m apt to believe it may have become a pretty accurate depiction of me had I continued to smoke. Hehe. Pretty sexy huh? So yeah, I was a smoker for a pretty long time. I know, I know…save your judgement. I get it…it’s gross…but I have to say, at the time I sort of liked it. Throughout my years as a smoker, I learned a few things, some more enlightening than others. For one thing, phone conversations are far easier to endure when you have something to preoccupy you (I hate the phone). For another, smoker’s cough is really unattractive, smelling like an ashtray is a great way to discourage people from intimate conversation, and if you want to spend a lot of money on a whole lot of nothing good…smoking is a good way to achieve this goal. However, I digress. As the title suggests, there was one incredibly valuable lesson that I did learn from smoking. Let’s start with a little story, shall we?
When I was 19 my head was pretty much as far up my ass as it could possibly fit. I had gone through a series of really shitty events that left me feeling out of touch, out of place, out of friends and looking for a way out of my current state of being. In other words, I was pretty freaking miserable and totally lost. So, imagine my excitement when my friend mentioned that he was taking a road trip cross country. This was a great idea, barring the fact that he had no car to take aforementioned road trip. Enter Jillian and her ruby red Hyundai Accent…my way out of reality surfaced right before my eyes and we set off barely two weeks later.
Now, aside from the excitement of being on the road blasting Allman Brothers CDs with the windows rolled down, a Hyundai Accent packed to the gills with my life’s belongings, proved to be pretty tight quarters for two pig-headed, opinionated kids with their heads up their asses. Needless to say, within a few weeks, road trip buddy and I were starting to feel a little overwhelmed with our close proximity to one another. We found ourselves smoking more cigarettes than usual, however, being that we were on an extremely limited budget with no source of income and no timeline in place for this marvelous adventure, this wasn’t going over so well on our wallets. Road trip buddy made the executive decision to buy loose tobacco and rolling papers, and save our very convenient, pre-rolled cigarettes for special occasions. Now of course, he, being the initiator of this marvelous idea, was naturally in charge of what and when these special occasions were. How very convenient.
Fast forward another week or so. Ruby red Hyundai rolls into Denver with two clueless kids sitting in the front seat…arguing. To this day I can’t recall what we were arguing about, but I assume it was probably something very important, like where we should eat lunch or whether we should set up our tent or sleep in the car that night. (I mean, the big decisions you have to make when you’ve shirked all of your responsibilities to gallivant across the country are just never ending). Long story short, road trip buddy gets especially aggravated and dips out for a few hours, leaving me sitting in the parked car, more than a little annoyed, in the middle of an unfamiliar town. I reach into the glove box for a cigarette and what do I find? Apparently he has decided that this is some sort of special occasion, because he has taken all of our pre-rolled cigarettes and left me only with a bag of loose leaf tobacco and some rolling papers. Only problem…I can’t roll a freaking cigarette to save my life! Of course I have no trouble at all rolling other things (snow balls guys…I’m talking about snow balls), but my cigarette rolling skills are definitely lacking.
15 minutes pass and turn into 20 and then 30…no sign of my friend or my Marlboro Lights. I try to bum a smoke off of passerby, only to be met with dirty looks (it could have been the dirty, bedraggled, slept-in-a-car-last-night look I was sporting…or maybe I smelled from lack of showering…I guess I’ll never know). I finally grab the papers and the tobacco and try desperately to roll cigarette after cigarette, each of them falling apart in my clammy, nicotine-deprived hands. I mean, wtf, right? 30 minutes turns into an hour and I’m getting more and more pissed. A desperation takes hold as my aggravation mounts. I roll and roll and roll and fail and fail and fail, each failed attempt making me feel like more of a total loser. Finally, when I am just about to give up, one of my pathetic attempts actually ignites enough for me to take a large, glorious inhale into my panicky lungs. A wonderful sensation fills me, but it’s not from the nicotine. It is the feeling of success. Dipshit (I’m sorry if you read this…you know I adore you) has still not returned, but now I’m motivated. I spend the next 2 hours rolling cigarette after cigarette after cigarette, and each one gets looking a little bit more like the real thing. By the time I see his figure walking down the sidewalk, I have a whole bunch of them strewn across the dashboard and a shit-eating grin on my face. However, he doesn’t need to know exactly how well I’ve done, right? So before silently gloating and lighting one up as he opens the car door, naturally I stash a little supply in various hideaways in case this ever happens again. Needless to say, he was more than a little surprised and I didn’t go without a smoke for the rest of our trip.
So, while this may not be the best example (it kept you reading though, right), I learned a very valuable lesson that day. I was at a very low point in my life where I was pretty set to give up on anything and everything that wasn’t working out for me, because, to tell the truth, not much was. I had thrown my hands up in the air in pretty much every area of my life and determined that I just wasn’t good enough or deserving enough or smart enough at anything to succeed. Road trip buddy inadvertently did me a huge favor leaving me in the car that day, yearning for just one drag of a freaking cigarette. He gave me a choice to either accept the situation as it was presented to me or to take charge, persevere through the obstacle, and change the reality of it. So often, we forget to do this. We get so overwhelmed or discouraged by the perceived problem or roadblock in front of us, that we don’t even try to seek an alternate solution within ourselves. We accept that this is our fate and we just have to grit our teeth and bear it, rather than digging deep and remembering that we have the tools and solutions to all of our obstacles within us. In the Yoga tradition, this perseverance is called Tapas. It is the ability to stay the course even if things feel a little daunting or uncomfortable (what a gift it might have been had I chosen to apply that Tapas to quitting right then and there, but that is to ponder another day). It is a choice available to all of us, and when we choose to keep working towards whatever the goal may be, even through the obstacles or the not knowing what the outcome will be, this is where we find the antidote to the obstruction…in my case, the nicotine to my hankering.
Ironically, this perseverance was much needed as well when I decided to quit smoking 10 years ago. Although this story may seem insignificant to some, it has stuck in my memory as a moment where I was able to move through a feeling of powerlessness to emerge triumphant. Learning how to roll a cigarette…a habit that has no value or significance in my life today…who knew how much it would influence me? I have used the memory of this day over and over and over again to remind myself what I am capable of if I just stay the course, even through the uncertainty and discomfort. Something that simple and unimportant.
Dig deep for a moment…if you feel powerless, find that one, tiny thing that you have done that made you feel triumphant…even if it seems small and insignificant. You never know…it could be the one thing that encourages you to find your power and persevere for years to come. You’ve got this!
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2 thoughts on “The Unlikely Life Skill I Learned From Being a Smoker”
I love this Jillian!!!! Love your writing! It’s so honest and moving and YOU!!!!! Sending you lots of love from the west coast!
Glad you liked it Alice. Miss you mucho!!! Xoxo