Smoking and Self-Image

Anne Mitchell Health Guide
  • Do you wish for more out of your life? Have you ever thought about how smoking might be holding you back? Our horizons become limited by this addiction and by the physical and social consequences of feeding that addiction.

    If we find ourselves unable to quit smoking no matter how many times we’ve tried, perhaps we are subconsciously seeking a perverse kind of safety net or a way to avoid disappointment. This kind of logic says, “If I don’t really try, I won’t have to call it failure.”

    Do you find yourself planning and thinking about your next nicotine fix? Think about how many times you’ve let yourself run out of your drug - if you’re like I was, that was pretty much never (unless I was trying to quit - yet again).

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    Do you find yourself obsessing about smoking, especially when you can’t smoke? Do you get irritated with others if they stand in the way of you and your next cigarette? Do you use smoking 
to control your weight? Do you sometimes decide to smoke because “I just deserve it, damnit”? Do you find yourself feeling depressed or even crazy over your inability to stop?

    If you said “yes” to most of these questions, then you are not alone. When your nicotine level drops low, it becomes difficult to concentrate or relax until you can get replenished. Then you feel calm and back to normal. But your normal is not the same as a nonsmoker’s normal.

    You may think cigarettes calm you down but the opposite is actually true. Smokers have been found to experience stress more acutely than nonsmokers, in part because nicotine causes physical stress. Your body is fighting to stay healthy and each cigarette undermines that effort.

    You may have consciously or unconsciously used cigarettes to avoid your feelings. When you first quit, you may feel emotionally raw for a while. This can be expected since you have been clouding your thinking and your mind for so long. You have probably been stuffing your anger away and putting up a rather effective smoke screen to keep others at a distance. And if you haven’t fully experienced your feelings, you probably haven’t gotten to know yourself very well either.

    If, like most people, you started smoking as a teenager, your self-image is probably all tied up with smoking. You have an internal picture of yourself, and it may be hard to imagine that picture without cigarettes.
    You know smoking hurts you, yet you continue to do it. It’s unfortunate that the effects are invisible for so long. That helps in the self-deception. In fact, there’s pretty much only one way for this to turn out if you remain a smoker. Despite hearing about smokers who have lived into their nineties, the fact is that most people are badly harmed by the effects of smoking. What’s at stake here is not how long you might live, but what kind of life you will be left with if you manage to survive and grow old.

    We say things like “I’ll quit on my birthday” or “I’m going to quit someday, just not today - my life is too hectic.” But you have to ask yourself why not today? How many “not todays” are you planning on stringing together? Another year’s worth? Another 10 years’ worth? You may have been the kind of smoker who would never leave home without her cigarettes. Think about how you would feel if you couldn’t go anywhere without your oxygen tank.

  • Smoking harms us spiritually too. You may not be religious or even consider yourself spiritual, but there’s no denying the fact that by smoking we are doing something that is anti-life. The conflict that this creates in us chips away at our feelings of self-worth, diminishing our self-respect. It may even perpetuate our self-destructiveness: “I smoke, therefore I am bad. I am bad, therefore I smoke.”

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    Do you see cigarettes as your friend, helpful through thick and thin? Would you stay friends with someone who was trying to kill you? Perhaps now is the time to say goodbye to this particular friend - for good. You can do it - and what will emerge is a new you full of confidence and health.  Your body will start healing almost immediately and your self-image will heal as well. And soon you will find that you can be an inspiration to others. And that might be the best feeling of all.


    To help you get on the path to a smoke-free life, see Preparing to Quit Smoking.


    Excerpts from Give It Up! Stop Smoking for Life provided with permission from author and publisher.

Published On: June 10, 2009