Pattern or Presence; Unstick Yourself
A clever way to get a need met. That's what cigarettes were for me, they still are. But the way that addictions work, they don't generally meet the underlying need. It's not just that the method of self-care is well-intentioned but harmful. The method falls short. The need is still there. But now the need is so buried under the cover-up that we may not even be tuned into what that desire in us is.
I started smoking when I was 15. I was depressed, at times suicidal. My sister had killed herself three years before and my parents were understandably on edge about the erratic, sad behavior I was displaying. Therapists could not match me, I was on a slew of toxic medications and I refused to be admitted to the psych ward. So my lifeline became cigarettes, purchased by my parents with my restaurant wages. The cigarettes became my therapist and grieving buddy, while I downloaded the message that my feelings were not to be trusted and what I needed could only be found outside myself. Patterns often keep us from great physical harm but give us a fucked up fairytale spin on reality.
I smoked for 10 years, quit when it felt natural. Didn't look back for 8 years. Then I started undergoing a separation from my then wife. Because she was in love with another woman. And one night, way too soon for me, she spent the night with her lover instead of coming home. And I bought a pack of cigarettes. I believe I said out loud "Well imma do whatever the fuck I want to too." An attempt to block out the intense feelings of rejection, the helplessness and unlovability, because now I had my long-lost grief buddy cigarettes back. And they had the upside of making me feel sexy and mysterious as I headed out into my great unknown summer. That was two years ago. The most transformational, wing spanning, heart expanding years of my life yet. With my little crutch to keep coming back to. Because it sure has been scary and uncertain too.
For these past two years I have been in touch with a guaranteed trigger prior to reaching for a cigarette: Anger, specifically indignation when I feel slighted. My feelings are hurt. And I want to play it cool, indifferent. It is a silent, passive aggressive fuck you. This can be to a person or the Universe in general. It is my stamp of disapproval. My act of resistance to "I don't like this." So in the past few months, when this trigger would arise, I would actively choose not to smoke at those times. Saving cigarettes for times of gratitude and enjoyment. To rewire the parts of my patterning that were using a substance as an escape and further entrenching the stories around separation that I have spent so many years building. You all don't get me, but my cigarette does.
And THAT is it. The underlying root of the need I am trying to fill. That I could only see when I decided to see a pattern and intentionally do the opposite of what I normally would do. Flipping a pattern on it's head seems to have that affect, sudden clear insight as we are brought from pattern to presence. Cigarettes represent the absence of loneliness to me. They are a companion. One who is there whenever I choose her/him to be. Stripped down, they are love. I love cigarettes and they love me. In fact, the only time I have chosen not to smoke at social gatherings is if there may be a possibility of cuddling, where my cigarette smell would be a deterent. In those moments, my nervous system has known how to choose the most direct route to what it is seeking: confirmation that I am loved and okay. Comfort.
So I took it one step further. Love came for me a few months back. I confusedly went with it. I am still reluctantly in it. I have been true to my love and expressing my desires. My partner in this love has been honest in his lack of desire to meet these needs in me at this time. So here I am writhing around for connection and my whole system is saying to just smoke a ton of cigarettes. But my higher self is knowing that I need time in these uncomfortable waters to fumble around and experiment with what Universal love feels like. Yesterday I felt it in a new ecstatic dance group. Today I feel it writing this truth.
My fourth day without cigarettes. Because I knew if I really wanted to upset this "I am not worthy of love" story I had to choose the moment where my patterning was the most triggered. Here was a man I was expressing my devoted love to and he was saying no thank you. And my body was feeling that as rejection and wanting to be defensive and deciding that we would never be anything, not even good friends. So as I started this round of being a smoker with feeling slighted by a great love, I made the conscious choice to associate quitting cigs with my brave choice to speak my love and receive a no without shutting myself off. And sure enough, without cigarettes I am more tender and vulnerable and actively seeking out love-filled activities with new community here at home.
It hurts to not have this need met immediately but at least I am clear on what the need is. And in the two years time where I have been consistently awe-filled at what I am capable of, there is a curiosity there about how I can cleverly provide this love and comfort to myself.
Shortly before she died of lung cancer, my mother's mother said "It is too bad cigarettes are so bad for you because they have been such a joy and a comfort." I agree. Perhaps in a perfect world where cigarettes did not directly make my MS and chronic candida worse, I could just keep this enjoyable creature comfort. But then I wouldn't be unlocking what I really want. I would be skipping this whole beautiful, messy unveiling that I feel in my whole body. That I want love. That I am worthy of love. Yesterday I asked my four-year-old niece what some of her favorite things to do are. She gave me a one-word answer, "Cuddling." As kids we know the truth of what we need and how to own it. Let it be known that I want to be loved. I want to cuddle.
*I learned these strategies for stalking shadows and reversing patterns at Tribal Tantra training. I have since broken from the appropriation and irresponsible, willfully uninformed and outright abusive world of Neo-Tantra, specifically Eugene Hedlund and his school Tribal Tantra. The healing I received at the time still remains true. So does the indoctrinated looking away of power dynamics, gaslighting and and wanting to believe we were all receiving healing when many in the space were also receiving a double-down on their trauma. My complicity in this is not okay. For those who have had "Tantra" sessions with me, know that if you experienced healing, this was the beauty of your body's wisdom and our co-Devotion to the Divine at the same time. I had the skills of presence, listening, and unconditional acceptance (with a dose of tough love) before my training in Neo-Tantra. I was a teacher of breathwork and focus of attention before my training in Neo-Tantra. And these skills were enhanced by my most recent trauma-informed Sexological Bodywork certification with The Sea School of Embodiment. I hope that you do not take any spiritual opening and body acceptance you received with me and apply it to finding a teacher, training or festival in the Neo-Tantra world. There is ancient Tantra to study, and there are also more current, culturally appropriate and inclusive sacred sexual and somatic modalities to choose from. All have their blind spots and areas they need to get better on. I have not encountered any thus far who are so arrogantly unapologetic as the teachers and schools in the western Neo-Tantra world. If you have questions, concerns, or plans of action you would like to scheme on, please reach out under my Going Deeper tab.