I recently finished a seven-week Freedom from Smoking® series. This 8 session workshop designed by the American Lung Association helps people who are ready to quit smoking to become mindful of their smoking habits, create a plan to quit, implement the plan, and then fine tune their abstinence for the first 3 weeks. The American Lung Association reports that 50% of participants quit by the end of the 7 weeks and 27% remain smoke free a year later. This group was small, in fact I only had one participant, but we had a 100% success rate. My one brave participant gave up smoking and opened herself up to a more profound transformation than just healthier lungs.
Watching her on her journey was inspiring. She bravely modeled what it means to get honest about our choices and how to implement a plan to make change. She didn’t put a smile on what was not always a pleasant trip. In a culture addicted to comfort and instant gratification, these worthwhile journeys of the soul can get aborted before we get to the good stuff.
I have most often been forced into major life changes – meaning my prayers were answered despite myself. In my life this has often meant heart break after a partner I was deeply committed to decided someone else was a better match. Each time, I took these rejections intensely personally, feeling to my core unlovable and like a failure. Each time, the process of exploring the discomfort was miserable…. And an enormous gift in the end.
When our safety mechanisms are taken from us, we are forced to find other ways to deal with life’s challenges. Whether that is an addiction like smoking or a relationship, or a job, the absence of the thing which has helped us to cope, the loss offers us a chance to intentionally create a new skill set which is more sustainable, healthier, and more in line with who we want to be. That is a gift, but often one which is difficult to come by. I didn’t learn the whole thing the first time I had my heart broken, so I went on to repeat my choice in partners a few times, before I really learned what it means to be a partner in my relationships. For many people, quitting an addiction long terms requires many attempts. Each attempt offers lessons, each relapse is an insight into where we still need help to cope with life.
This program starts with a few weeks of being mindful about when and why you smoke. What are you feeling? What are you doing? Was it habitual to light that specific cigarette or did you make an intentional choice. There is no pressure to quit, it’s just a period of watching yourself mindfully. How often do we take time to notice that? How often do we take time to pick a particular behavior and follow the impulse back to our motivation? What would we uncover if we did?
Nicotine is a drug that affects our nervous system. Removing it from the system creates a physical and emotional response which brings up many feelings. Taking a few weeks to practice being observant helps to address this part of giving up an addiction. Making intentional choices about how to address the feelings helps us to build the skill of response rather than reaction. In many areas of our lives, this can be useful and profound.
Deciding to make a change in your life – whether that is quitting a job, giving up an addiction, or moving – is an invitation to re-invent your life with intention. It’s a chance to replace something which has become habitual with an intentionally chosen new thing. It’s an opportunity to explore the emotional response to removing the thing that is holding this particular pattern in place. It takes courage. It’s worth doing.