The Surgeon General doesn’t warn that nicotine causes lowered self-esteem, painful self-doubt, dampened zest for life, loneliness, isolation, shame, anxiety, depression, anger, selfishness, arrogance, self-pity, denial, paranoia, reduced ability to connect with fellow human beings, and lots and lots of fear. Fear? What fear? How about fear of check-ups, fear of stairs, fear of non-smokers, fear of ex-smokers, fear of high school reunions, fear of weight gain, fear of failure, fear of death and dying, and fear of doctors... for starters.
For me, and many others, there is no such thing as one. We can’t stop at one. We may be able to start out smoking one here and there, but eventually that one will lead us right back to 20 or 30 or 40 or more a day, every day. There really is no such thing as a good cigarette. It is a dangerous, expensive, smelly, nicotine delivery system lit on fire. It is messy, ugly and inconvenient. Way before cigarettes or cigars make us sick they take away our quality of life. We burned holes in our clothes and furniture; we had to be outside in terrible weather; we were ashamed of smoking and tried to hide our addiction; we felt guilty about lying to our loved ones about our broken promises to quit; we worried about getting sick; we huffed and puffed when we climbed the stairs or we avoided stairs altogether; we cleared our throats all the time; we cared more about getting our dose of nicotine than anything else.
I was one of those smokers who smoked all the time. A couple of hours without smoking gave me withdrawal symptoms and a lot of anxiety. I revolved my life around smoking and smoke breaks. I was a very chauvinistic smoker. There was a time when I expected to be able to smoke in nonsmokers’ homes. I resented no-smoking laws. I “borrowed” social smokers’ cigarettes because “I needed them more.” I used to carry nicotine gum with me on airplanes so I wouldn’t have to go through withdrawal during the flight. I smoked first thing every morning and last thing every night. I smoked when I had bronchitis. I smoked 12 hours after I had an emergency tonsillectomy. I was addicted. And I was seriously scared that I could never quit. And I really believed (erroneously) that life without smoking would be bad. When I smoked I had no idea that life without it would be better than I could ever imagine. For me, all that negative press in my head about how hard it is to quit and how many people relapse really helped to keep me stuck. I was terrified of quitting. I couldn’t conceive of a life without nicotine. But I also couldn’t honestly conceive of a having much life with it; I did know that I needed to stop the insanity. I wanted to quit before I got seriously ill. But I didn’t know how. Especially on my own.
When I first put down the smokes in April 2002 I put on the patch. Using the patch helped me get to my first NicA meeting without smoking – something I thought (mistakenly) that I needed to do. I was really an emotional, anxious mess. Most of my distress was about fear of failure. I really, really wanted to stay quit, but I was really afraid I would fail. Luckily, I had armed myself with a lot of information, from all the NicA literature available to every book on quitting in Barnes & Noble. Later I kept on reading about recovery in general as much as I could. I carried NicA literature (and chewing gum) with me everywhere for several months. I decided that rather than being my regular know-it-all self, I was going to admit that I knew nothing and, importantly, that I really needed help. I accepted that other people knew more than me and I took to heart what I heard and read. Soon I was starting to feel brave enough to get rid of the nicotine patches. I was ready, with your support, to start my new life free of nicotine. Slowly I started to realize that a cigarette would not magically appear lit in my mouth like it did during my smoking dreams. If I didn’t pick up, I wouldn’t slip. Was it really that simple?
Earlier in my quit I feared that thinking about smoking would lead to smoking. When I had urges or seductive thoughts about smoking I would get very anxious and even beat myself up over it. Noticing this harsh self-treatment led me to be aware that I treated myself harshly in general, and this lead me to try to stop that behavior, and get back into therapy, and so nowadays I am trying to be gentler with myself. I am learning to R-E-L-A-X and learning to be kinder to myself. I’ve finally learned to B-R-E-A-T-H-E. I’m not so scared of failure anymore. But I must admit that I am often guilty of forgetting just how much of an accomplishment this is. Obviously I still have to be reminded that it doesn’t stop being an amazing feat just because I’ve been doing it for so long.
The past 10 years has been quite a learning experience… learning about me, about addiction, about my fellow human beings, struggling to learn how to live today, in the present, one day at a time, learning how to help others without getting too invested in the outcome, learning to value my strengths. Recognizing that I was suffering from depression on and off for years and talking my feelings and experiences through in therapy has really helped me recover. Working the steps, including writing a formal 4th step, helped open my eyes. I am still learning, and I hope the journey never ends. I love being free, one day at a time, from my addiction. I love not having to worry about how many cigarettes I have left, or how long until I can take the next smoke break, or worrying about what it means when other smokers say I smoke a lot, or worrying about getting very sick. I am free from the struggle, one day at a time, and for this I thank my higher power and I also thank you.
I know now that although bad things may happen, smoking doesn’t make anything any easier. If I have a problem and I relapse I now have two problems. Smoking never solved anything. It was not easy at first for me to decide to live life without a constant crutch, to decide to live in “the real world” for the most part. Without my smokescreen it wasn’t as easy to push people or feelings away. I know now that I need to monitor myself regularly and look out for pitfalls; I can’t wallow in self-pity or denial for too long. It is work for me to stay healthy and positive - luckily I enjoy the work. I guess deciding not to wallow all numbed-out in my stinky, overflowing ashtrays is brave. I don’t feel like much of a hero, but to the me who used to smoke I am a hero.
I carry the phone number of a newcomer around with me. If I have a problem, all I need to do is call a newcomer. Our main purpose is to help the newcomer, the nicotine addict that still suffers. It works!
New people sometimes ask me if I still want to smoke. No way! I stick around because I want to give back some of the help I’ve received. I know it will be impossible to give back as much as I’ve received – I’ve received more than I could have ever imagined. I want people, inside and outside this fellowship, who are still struggling to know that it is do-able, that we don’t have to be slaves to nicotine or Big Tobacco anymore, and that we don’t have to try anymore to do it all alone.
The most important thing I’ve learned so far? That being grateful keeps my head straight. And along those lines I want to thank everyone for being active in the fellowship. I have gotten so much out of what you say (and do). Sometimes you forget just how amazing you are, how often you help others with just a few, or a few thousand, words and how hard you worked to stay free. Whether you’ve been around for years or days, whether you’re on day 1 or day 9,001, I thank you for making a difference to me.
A grateful recovering nicfiend
ONE INCREDIBLE RIDE!
Question: What happened when I let my Higher Power take the front seat of my tandem bike on my life journey?
Answer: It has been one incredible ride !!
I am truly a nicotine addict. I started smoking at the age of 13. I needed acceptance from my peers. I was fiercely determined to cough, choke, get dizzy…..do whatever was needed to get my body to finally accept the nicotine and large quantities of chemicals so I could be “cool”. And so I was. I’ve now smoked most of my life, stopping on my own… many, many times. It never lasted long. I tried quitting cold turkey, wearing patches, hypnosis, brand changes, meditation, prayer and a smoke cessation program…..which, by the way, DID last 7 years! I naively thought that was “the end of it” until, during a very stressful time, I picked up a cigarette…and was back to my 1 ½ packs in no time. I was so frustrated! I couldn’t believe I didn’t have enough will power to get rid of this “disgusting habit”. I decided it was hopeless. I could never give it up…instead I continued to smoke, feeling guilt and shame, remaining in denial of my powerlessness over nicotine.
And then one day I switched seats with my Higher Power. I have to admit, it’s pretty scary being here on the back seat. The illusion of control that I once had has disappeared! So where has He taken me? Oh, we’ve been on many paths. Some have left me kicking, screaming and questioning Him. One of those paths was to Nicotine Anonymous. I remember arguing with God, “Oh no, please don’t stop here ! You don’t want me to admit that I’m an addict, do you? I couldn’t possibly be one of those!” What…..share with total strangers, face to face, that my life is out of control? Have you lost your mind?! So, I did some bargaining with Him. I told my God that I’d attend meetings……as long as it was a phone meeting! That way, I wouldn’t have to deal with my shame, face-to-face, or make a commitment to attend meetings and possibly fail. He patiently listened to my whining and led me to my first phone call. Well, I did it. I said the words, “I’m a nicotine addict”…and I didn’t die! I was, however, still smoking. I finally surrendered and asked my God to give me the courage to be honest with myself and my addiction, and attend a meeting. That first Nicotine Anonymous meeting in the trailer in Huntington was the beginning of real recovery for me. Though I consistently struggled through 1 ½ years doing the “recovery/relapse dance”, God gave me the courage, willingness and tenacity to keep showing up every Wednesday to once again share the shame, embarrassment and frustration around my relapses. As He is far wiser about my human limitation than I am, He surrounded me with two sponsors, a life coach, six smoke cessation meetings and a trailer filled with incredibly kind, patient, loving, supportive people in Nicotine Anonymous! I am now an extremely grateful recovering nicotine addict who has been nicotine free since January 27, 2009! I’ve fastened my seat belt. I’m actually enjoying the view! I’ve stopped kicking & screaming…and I’m learning to shut up and pedal!
THE WILLING SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF
Of course, you can never quit smoking. Your addiction tells you so. “This will not work.” it says to you. It sits on your shoulder like a little imp and chides you, “You’ve tried many ways to quit smoking, and where has it gotten you - frustration, anger, stressed relationships, weight gain. Besides, It would feel so good to light up one more time.” It’s a very powerful influence over a long period of time, and you’ve come to believe that imp.
How can you fight against his message? You’ve gotten by so long on being tough and independent. You’ve built up a suit of armor that keeps you from feeling weak, from relying on others, and yet . . . there’s a whole bunch of people in that room over there who aren’t smoking. They really aren’t smoking! Wow! Somehow they’ve found a way.
When we read a book or go to a movie or a play, we know that the hero or heroine isn’t really being chased by a monster or lost in a passionate embrace; it’s just something contrived for our benefit, but we feel the emotions and experience the drama, anyway because we willingly suspend our disbelief for that moment. We allow ourselves to go with the story, believe it and participate in it. So the next time your addiction says it can’t work, say, “OK, your right, but I’m going to go with these people and their steps anyway, just for now. Just for today, I’m going to believe it and live it and enjoy it, and when In look back, I’ll see one frustrated little imp, crying on the ground, and I’ll have some clean time without nicotine.”“A man in armor is his armor’s slave.” - Robert Browning
TEN YEARS, ONE DAY AT A TIME
I knew instinctively that this quit would be different from the others. Instead of quitting when I had run out of cigarettes ("...I'll just finish this carton or this pack, and then I'll stop...") I found myself at my kitchen sink late on a Sunday night wetting a half a pack of perfectly good cigarettes before tossing them in the garbage. It was a truly surreal, out-of-body experience. Prior to that moment, I would NEVER have wasted one precious cigarette, let alone ten or more! That's when the hope that this could be done really sank in. I'd had a glimmer of that hope the moment I set foot in my first NicA meeting some two or three months earlier. It was there that I heard the same insane thoughts and feelings shared (ALOUD!) that I'd secretly thought and felt on my own for the almost 15 years I'd wanted to quit but couldn't. I attended meetings week after week, torn between wanting desperately to have what these people had (freedom, joy, relief, spiritual connection, good health...) but not really believing that it would be possible for me or that I really wanted to live without cigarettes. I kept going, smoking up to the minute I walked in the door, lighting up almost immediately after the meeting (when I could be reasonably sure that no one would see me.) I took a literature commitment early on which meant I HAD to show up whether I wanted to or not. That was the best thing I could have done. Except when it came to smoking, I was a really good quitter. Had it not been for a sense of responsibility to the group because I had agreed to this service position, I might not have returned.
I hadn't picked a quit date as was recommended. I frankly just couldn't picture my life without smoking. But my birthday was coming. It was only a few days away and I was suddenly struck with the idea (which I credit to my Higher Power) that I could try to give myself a birthday gift: 24 hours without smoking. It seemed almost impossible, but there I stood at my kitchen sink that Sunday night and I knew the chance was there for me to take.
My birthday was on a Monday. Not a good day under the best of circumstances. I rose that morning to face my daily cup of coffee without a cigarette. I managed to shower, dress, put on my make-up, drive my car and get to a job that I hated all without smoking. I passed the two traffic lights where I would normally have lit up, because I would have had enough time to smoke them AND chew some gum before getting to work. When my mother phoned me that morning to wish me a "Happy Birthday" and asked what I was doing that day I BURST into uncontrollable tears that came on and off (mostly on) for the first three days. My loss was enormous. Indescribable.
That Wednesday, I was able to raise my hand that I had 24 hours. People applauded. It was such a high to know how much I was supported, especially by people who knew exactly what I had accomplished. That first chip was one of the most meaningful gifts I've ever received. It is hard to believe that ten years have passed... sometimes waiting ten minutes to smoke another cigarette felt like an eternity. As I consider the changes that have occurred in this past decade, it's pretty astounding. First, I have a connection to a Higher Power today, something that I had felt as a child but became increasingly elusive as I entered adolescence and then adulthood. I came to learn so much about myself...how my fears and other feelings became the foundation of my judgmental and controlling behaviors. I learned about and began to practice humility, forgiveness and acceptance. I began to choose faith instead of fear, enabling me to buy a house on my own, chair World Services, and most recently, accept a new job which is completely different from my prior work experience. I have met so many new friends and expanded my interests. I no longer consider exercise to be getting off the couch and driving to the convenience store for more cigarettes. Instead, I ride my bike to my home group in nice weather and practice yoga. I no longer fantasize about what it's like in other parts of the world or dismiss the idea of traveling as too much money spent on something that won't last. Instead, I've traveled to a variety of places, many completely on my own, not knowing the language. I no longer assume that people don't remember me or that my opinions don't matter. Instead, I express myself and allow myself to be seen and heard. I no longer exaggerate or outright lie. Instead, I am honest and face up to it when I make a mistake. I no longer dwell in what is absent from my life. Instead, I am continuously in awe of all that I have and consciously appreciate with gratitude all the gifts I've been blessed to enjoy. I no longer externalize the blame for my experiences and inhale thousands of chemicals as a way of coping. Instead, I pray, talk to my sponsor and friends, attend meetings and practice these 12 Steps to the best of my ability.
These are just some of the ways my life has been transformed in these past ten years. Stopping smoking was just the beginning. I had no idea that by coming to Nicotine Anonymous I would not only be granted a daily reprieve from the insanity of smoking: the anxiety, shame, fear, but that I'd be handed a blueprint for living with joy, love, compassion, honesty and faith. Thank you Nicotine Anonymous, for these ten years of a renewed life.
(Editor's note: Martha has recently celebrated seventeen years and says it just keeps getting better!)
DAMN THIS BLISS!
(or, What bliss is this?)
It’s 1:30 on a Saturday afternoon, I’m still in my pajamas, and I feel great! This doesn’t happen too often, so I’m taking the proverbial ball and running with it. I have been living in a state of ambivalence since I was “downsized” from my job of 23 years last fall. I have been in conflict, riding the emotional teeter-totter–feeling happy, joyous and free one moment, then distraught, angry and scared the next moment.
From what I’ve heard–although I’m still not sure I believe it–millions of Americans work 40 or more hours a week at jobs they hate. If this is true, perhaps that explains the attitude of many drivers on the Southern State Parkway. The aggression displayed on that ewell0traveled highway on any given day, regardless of the time of day, is incomprehensible–and immeasurable.
I know of two people who say they NEVER drive on parkways, expressways or highways, and I think I know why.
I’ll have to look into this parkway-moratorium someday.
For the past two years-maybe more-that I held my job as copy editor of a computer biz paper at the same publishing company since I was 27 years old, I dragged myself out of bed, after hitting the snooze button two or more times each morning, procrastinating to the extreme before getting dressed and making a veiled attempt at [putting on makeup, and getting behind th wheel of my aging car, repeating the Serenity Prayer over and over. It was all I could do to put on some form of public face and show up at the office–later and later as the months wore on–in a state of shame (for my tardiness), hostility (for the stagnant wages year after year, the growing stress of editing the uneditable and being borderline-abused by illiterate writers and clueless managers, and the sadness that comes with knowing you’re unappreciated and creatively stifled by the dysfunctional corporate system that somehow manages to make you both hate your job and cling to it like the last lifeboat on the Titanic) and fear.
Every day I’d drive to work and pray, usually out loud, asking God to help me get my gratitude back, to grant me favor with my co-workers and supervisors, and lead me to a place where I could either be at peace with my lot in life, or have the courage to break free and finally follow my bliss.
I don’t think it was inconsequential that when I finally completed my Bachelor’s Degree–after taking courses at night and on Saturdays off and on for nine years–that the theme at commencement was “Follow your Bliss.” This was back in the late ‘80s, when “follow your bliss” wasn’t such a stock phrase. The commencement speaker moved me. The theme moved me. It seemed so simple: Search your heart, determine what moves you, and devote your time to that passion.
Here it is 20 years later–OH MY GOD–and I’m still considering doing that: following my bliss. I know what my bliss is. I’ve known what my bliss is since I was about 12. I love words. I love to write words. I love to call them to mind and write them down, put them in motion, give them life outside my brain.
I started by writing poetry–what writer doesn’t? When I was 14, my middle school English teacher told me I had a gift with words, and that I should continue to write. She actually said that. “Don’t ever stop writing. You have a gift.” Damn her!
Therein began my blessed and cursed relationship with my bliss.
Quitting smoking changed many things in my life. I'm no longer spending my hard-earned money on a substance that destroys my health. I'm not running out to the store every day just to pick up a pack. I can sit through a whole movie or dinner without running out into the cold. All of these little changes are part of the big gift of quitting - freedom.
My quit date is the fourth of July - Independence Day. I really have received the gift of independence. I wonder sometimes if in a parallel universe it would ever be okay to smoke. If cigarettes weren't bad for you, if they had vitamins in them, would it be okay? I'm not sure what the answer is. But I have a feeling a drug as powerful as nicotine would still be addicting. And addiction is slavery. I know you can be addicted to things that are good for you - like food. And an addiction like that can be just as destructive as any other.
That's why I quit, really, to break free of the chains of addiction. I see other people who smoke struggle with the same issues - changing their lifestyle to make it easier to smoke. When I was smoking I didn't want to go out anywhere I couldn't smoke. It made me lie and even steal. That's how powerful addiction is.
I'm still fairly new to the program. But I know that Nicotine Anonymous has helped me stay quit. I hope to always be part of this program because I never want to go back to smoking again. I like being free.
Sought thought prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood him, praying only for knowledge of his will for us and the power to carry it out.
The Eleventh Step has always been a challenge for me. It is about finding, believing and trusting in a power greater than myself.
There are so many thoughts that come to mind when I read this step.
I have heard in so many meetings in my long career in Alanon and NicA as well as other 12 step programs that some Catholics in program feel they are recovering Catholics. I am not a recovering Catholic but I was raised Catholic and I didn’t go to Catholic school. I went to church every Sunday and fainted. My parents would usually go looking for me to find me laying on the lawn of the church or sitting on the stairs outside the church. That was my start in the church. I hated going to mass and as soon as I made my confirmation I stopped going to church or practicing any faith.
When I was growing up, if church, faith and the belief in God was discussed, it was done in the middle of the night. This was by my mother and father who were both drunk and discussing religion. My mother was not originally catholic but converted when my parents got married. She didn’t feel she needed to attend mass, she always said she could pray at home and most of the people who attended church were hypocrites anyways. My father didn’t agree and that’s when the fighting began.
I grew up in a violent, alcoholic household where I felt isolated, sad, frightened, and lonely most of the time. Very often I laid in bed praying for someone to help our family, I prayed for strength, and I prayed for help to find one friend, just one friend. No one helped our family, but I did find a friend and sometimes even more than one friend and I found an amazing amount of strength. I hoped like hell as I do now that there is a God and that he listens. I hoped that he didn’t punish me for any wrongs and that he loved me just as they said he did in church. I’m never sure what the answers are. I only know what I hoped the answers were. I hope that God loves us all and he is not a terrorist. He is not responsible for all the wrongs of the world and only responsible for allowing us to make our own mistakes.
I have tried many times and still try to trust and believe that God is up there and trust that he will take care of me. I still keep trying. But I have found a different higher power called G.O.D., Good Orderly Direction. It isn’t something you can curl up with on a cold day or meditate to or with. But good orderly direction has changed my life as well as 12 step programs, the 12 steps and the many unbelievable people who I have been privileged to meet and to become friends with.
For most of my adult life I believed that everyone was a power greater than myself. I knew nothing and I was nothing. Everyone else was far more intelligent than me. I came into Alanon on my knees and stayed on my knees for a very long time. But little by little I started to stand up and stand up for myself. I learned to take back my power and little by little I learned and I am still learning that I am a power all by myself and I am no better and no less than anyone else.
“…through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood him…
God as I understand him/her/it is Good Orderly Direction. Seeking contact with a higher power though prayer and meditation to me is being present in my life and doing the right thing. Being present is feeling your feelings and honoring them. Allowing myself to be me and not apologizing for my feelings. The 12 Steps have taught me many lessons that I needed to learn. I never knew how to live my life. I never understood much about what life was about or how to solve my problems. My higher power gives me answers from other people’s books and other people’s mouths. I now know I’m not responsible for other people, places or things. I came to believe that letting go and letting G.O.D. could give me sanity and emotional freedom. I’ve learned I have character defects, shortcomings, and the ability to acknowledge them. I understand that acknowledging my shortcomings, my character defects, and making amends to those who I may have wronged is not my weakness but my biggest strength. I have come to realize that acknowledging when I am wrong and promptly admitting it is one of the most freeing actions I can take for myself. It keeps me present. It keeps me honest. I do this work in order to rid myself of resentments, & fears. For this is how I carry out the will of my higher power by living the steps and traditions of a 12 step program. ‘I can’t, he can, so let him’. Thanks!
Letter from the Past Chair January 3 2009
BIG OLD HEART
We lived inside that big old heart for all those years, and it nurtured us and sheltered us and kept us all from harm. We lived in there and never understood at all, but he did, and he kept us close to him. He never asked for anything – just wanted us to be safe and happy, so we lived and played our childhood games and marveled at our frivolous grown-up thoughts while that big old heart kept beating and watching out for us even when we did wrong, disobeyed him, didn’t show the love and respect we had deep down for him. All those times when we acted like we didn’t care, he did, and he was always watching out. We kept playing, and that big old heart kept beating and taking care of us – holding us close.
Why couldn’t we have been smarter, more understanding? Why didn’t - why couldn’t we have protected him from what he was doing to himself? A man’s bad habits are his own; but a man is not his habits, and this man was love, not smoking or drinking or overeating or working all the time – just love for us. I know it’s good to love the man and hate the diseases that troubled him, sapped his energy, made him wheeze and gasp for every breath, drained him, shriveled that big old heart up and ultimately took him away from us. I know it’s good to love the man all right, but I could hate him when I think of what he did to himself, why he wouldn’t stop and why he had to leave us so soon.
No, we don’t hate him; we just miss him. We miss the shelter of that big old heart and its quiet, constant beating for us, and it didn’t have to be that way, but that doesn’t matter any more. All that seems to matter now is that we weren’t strong enough. We weren’t given the power to pull him away and protect him just as he sheltered us. We would give anything now to have had the strength to say “Stop it. We love you. Stop hurting yourself.” and mean it and make those words work, but we didn’t, and it’s all gone now. That big old heart stopped beating and all the regrets and all the what-ifs in the world won’t change that.
In other chests, in other homes there are big old hearts that beat as his did for us. There are big old men that care and protect and teach and listen and nurture. Somewhere there are others like us who go on playing and laughing, but deep down knowing, that we only have you for so long.
Hey, Big Old Hearts; it’s really up to you. Just like all the strength you show for us, you have to find more strength for yourself now. Don’t think for a minute that there is ever a time when we stop needing you, even after we become the big old hearts that beat for others. We may not be good at showing it; that’s just the way things are, but we never stop needing what you can give us, even when you just smile and listen to us, and we just don’t have the power to stop you from hurting yourself. It has to come from you. You are the one who must decide that you want to spend a little more time here with us. Beat on a little longer. After all, you’ve done so much for us all along. Please do one more thing. Make the decision. Make the call.
Past NYMAI Chair
EXPECT A MIRACLE
I used to always have two plans for my life: the one I feared would come true and the one I fantasized would happen.
The concept of possibilities, options and choices was something outside the realm of my thought process. My need to control my surroundings-the events and the people in my life-lead me to think in very narrow terms, and to the firm belief that I could read people's minds and predict the future. I had to believe that all things were within my control; the alternative was too terrifying. I went back and forth in my mind between fantasy and fear. I heard someone once describe sobriety as the ability to perceive reality. I believe that. I also believe that for most of my life I did not have a realistic perspective on anything-not my life, God, other people, or myself. The slogan Expect A Miracle has a lot of dimensions. To me, it means that I truly don't know what the future holds, which is a good thing. When I take the 2nd and 3rd Steps, I am letting go of my controlling behavior, to the best of my ability, and letting God and this program heal me so I can achieve health and serenity, no matter what is happening in my life or in the lives of the people I love.
I have every reason to believe that many wonderful things are going to happen to me in my life and in the lives of my loved ones. Great experiences and more spiritual awakenings are waiting. I base these beliefs on my experiences in the past 21 years of my recovery in sobriety, the last 15 of which I have also been recovering from nicotine addiction in NicA.
But when I came into program, I had to use “blind faith” and believe in the hope that was shared by those who had come before me. After all, why would they mislead me about the healing and joy that they said could be found through 12-Step recovery? Why would they continue to come to these meetings and use these tools if they had discovered that it was all baloney? So I came to meetings, and I began to believe that I was worth saving, that I didn't deserve to abuse myself with
substances and negative thinking and behaviors, that I was a child of God and deserved to be happy and healthy, that I didn't have to kill myself just to keep my family of origin company, and that I didn't have to spend the rest of my life hating and mistrusting myself and the rest of the world. Despite the gifts of sobriety, smobriety, sanity, serenity, fellowship, family, my career, my daughter, our home, and an aging car that wobbles like a Weeble but doesn't quite fall down, I often become complacent and think I have seen my last miracle. But they continue to happen-almost always when I least expect it and need it most.
18 YEARS OF SMOBRIETY, RECOVERY AND WISDOM
Hi my name is Kathy and I am a grateful recovering nicotine addict. On March 31st I celebrated 18 years of recovery. I still find this hard to believe but I find it even harder to believe that I once
smoked. At one time I would trade just about anything for a cigarette including my health, my sanity and my friends. I started smoking at about nineteen years of age. By the time I stopped, I was smoking two and half packs a day.
I felt and looked horrible. I had heartburn constantly, I was always tired, and I coughed every time I laughed. That in itself should have told me something-that smoking is no fun and it will not add to the quality of your life. Of course this thought is in hindsight and not something I would have considered at the time, not even on my deathbed. But the bottom line is that nicotine use is an addiction, and I was addict. I feared stopping smoking, but feared continuing smoking just as much. I really did feel that it was killing me. If I didn’t stop I would have had serious health problems to contend with. I started stopping smoking on the day of the Great American Smokeout and finally stopped in March. In my effort to stop I came to realize that smoking ten cigarettes a day was harder than not smoking at all. I also understood that nicotine leaves your system pretty quickly but the addiction stays with you forever. And that if I picked up just one cigarette I would not stop.
My addiction suppressed feelings of intense anger, and when I stopped smoking my anger surfaced and my depression deepened. Anger and depression are the main ingredients for failure and self destruction. These are what got me into recovery and my recovery has been a remarkable experience. There is generally a reason why you smoke and there becomes an even bigger reason why you continue to smoke, and that is the inability to deal with feelings. The answer to every feeling I felt was to have a cigarette and not deal with what I was feeling. That is why when I did stop, I needed to learn how to feel my feelings appropriately and not find another substance to replace nicotine. My recovery has taken me to many places that I would not have gone if I didn’t have so much pain and discomfort. I guess the reason I smoked was a lack of self-esteem, shyness, and a history of dysfunction throughout my life. Stopping the use of nicotine started me on this remarkable journey of self- exploration, but nicotine can end it with just one puff of a cigarette. This is what I must tell myself - one day at a time - for the rest of my life.
I have come so far in my recovery that I am truly a totally different person in the way I present myself. The insides are still the same. I always enjoyed laughing, now I can do so without coughing, I usually had compassion but didn’t always know how to express it. I mostly believed that I could succeed if I could only overcome this internal turmoil. I wanted desperately to connect with people but didn’t know how and usually found myself doing the complete opposite. The thought of considering myself as being lovable, friendly, caring person or having anything worthwhile to say took many, many years to unfold and it has only come with a desire to recover.
Some addicts are more wounded than others but all addicts are addicts and it is always better to fight this addiction with other addicts who care. That is what is so wonderful about Nicotine Anonymous and all Twelve-Step programs. I invite to you join me in my continued recovery. Thank you and God bless.
"YOU'LL BE FORTY WHETHER YOU DO IT OR NOT"
Sometimes we say silly things and they help to remind us of good ideas.
I have a friend. Her name is Roberta, and she taught me a great lesson. Roberta went back to school, earned a bachelors degree, a master’s degree in her late 50’s and then was appointed director of the town counseling agency we both worked in.
One day she was recommending to me that I should try the master’s program she had attended. My response to her was one of those that you say and realize how silly it is just after you say it. I said, “I don’t know if I should. After all I’m 38 years old, now and I’ll be forty when I finish. That’s too old to go to school.”
Considering what she had accomplished, she could have said almost anything, and I would have accepted it. Instead she just said, “Mike, you’ll be forty whether you do it or not.” Wise and gentle words.
Consider your own situation, now. Are there missed opportunities you believe you can’t have because it seems like the time for them has gone by? Is it really too late, or can you still make the change? Are the people now doing the things you always wanted to do any better than you are, or did they just decide to go for it? What accomplishments lie ahead of you, just waiting for a little courage and some work?
Throughout history there have been people who have accomplished great feats, conquered adversity and achieved lofty goals. With few exceptions, they have been people who believed in their abilities. They learned what they needed to, garnered resources, sought help and advice and pressed on.
There’s yet another meaning of the word “spirit”. It has something to do with getting our spirits up for the game. Work it; you’re worth it!
"I AM GRATEFUL FOR FREEDOM FROM NICOTINE, A VOICE TO SING WITH..." GRATITUDE
On the eve of celebrating 2 1⁄2 years free of nicotine, I am feeling gratitude. I feel gratitude for the miracle that I am not smoking- even through the many challenges I have experienced during the last few months.
It feels surreal. After hitting "bottom" and feeling knives in my chest during a "cold", at the very young age of 33, I ended up at nicotine anonymous and here I am today, enjoying singing, taking deep breaths, and, tears of joy as well as tears of sadness. I am slowly learning that both are ok, that they are natural parts of life. I also have a lot of feeling to do after covering every feeling for 20 years with nicotine. I have even been experiencing the "loss" of what I considered to be my best friend, nicotine, strange as it sounds. I am grateful for that "friend" to no longer be one I spend time with.
Do I sometimes need a reminder to focus on gratitude? Oh, yes. Often I can get caught in a narrow place of wanting more, something different? Then the wisdom of a gratitude list finds me?
I am grateful for my life, entrusted to God's care. And, yes, I often need reminders to trust that my life is in God's care, and receive the love and miracles that inevitably come. I am learning, and I am grateful for that, too. I am grateful for freedom from nicotine, a voice to sing with, fingers that don't smell disgusting, no more shame about knowing I'm doing a stupid thing and feeling inferiority about it. I am grateful for learning that I am worthy of getting my needs met, just like all the other people in God's world. I am grateful for learning how to take healthy breaks and treats, like doing yoga, singing, or sitting outside in the sunshine instead of hiding behind a noxious, life-sucking smokescreen.
I am grateful to all the help I receive from this amazing fellowship- without which I couldn't be smoke-free today. Each person, even each person whom I have not met, is important to me. Just knowing you are out there and share integral parts of my story is a comfort and inspiration, no matter what part of the process you are in. Yes, even those of you who are still smoking. Each of you is like an agent of God in human form, helping me by being an example, sharing words of wisdom, a source of encouragement, or simply showing me I am not alone.
Asking for help has not been easy, yet I clearly see the positive impact it's made on my life, my recovery, my healing, so far. Thank you all for being a part of this journey with me. I am grateful for you.
May we all be free,
New Paltz & Woodstock Group
A SPONSOR CAN LEAD THE WAY
Perhaps one of the most important, yet least-talked-about, tools of recovery is that of sponsorship. When I came to my first recovery program in 1985, my idea of a sponsor was someone who would always be there for me, who would love me unconditionally, who would never criticize me or invalidate my feelings, and who worked her program perfectly. I thought my sponsor should fill the hole in my heart left by the painful relationships of my past. My expectations were unrealistic and unfair to my sponsors as well as to myself. No one could live up to those perfectionist expectations.
Yet I was fortunate to always find people—imperfect and wonderfully human—to sponsor me and inspire me to keep on keeping on, no matter how disillusioned I became with myself, other people...even God.
Every one of us deserves a sponsor. And every newcomer needs a sponsor. I also believe that after we get our feet firmly planted in our own recovery, we owe it to ourselves and others to be a sponsor to someone else when the opportunity presents itself (and, if you are willing, it will!). I was told many years ago that I could not keep the gift of recovery if I did not give it away. Fresh, clear waters need to keep flowing. This truth also brings to mind the scripture: “Freely ye have been given; freely ye shall give.” That is the debt we owe to those nicotine addicts who follow us into the rooms. We are the most valuable resource Nicotine Anonymous offers to the newcomer.
I am still learning what it means to be a sponsor. A sponsor is not a counselor, a doctor or a parent. Rather, I believe a sponsor is there to listen, to emphasize, to teach by example how to use the tools of the program, to teach the sponsee about the principles of the program, and to guide a sponsee through the Twelve Steps.
I have had a number of sponsors in different fellowships over the years. I was taught that I am responsible for soliciting a sponsor; sponsors do not generally drop from the sky—and if one did, she might not be right for me! Taking the initiative in asking someone to be my sponsor is another step toward maturity and taking responsibility for my life.
There is no law that says you can have only one sponsor at a time. I believe in co-sponsorship for two main reasons: First, many recovering addicts lead busy lives, and having more than one sponsor increases your chances of having an intimate dialogue with your sponsor when you need him or her. Second, it is helpful to get more than one perspective on recovery, working the Steps, making conscious contact with God, and all the other important issues sponsees need to discuss with their sponsors.
Some sponsorship relationships blossom into wonderful friendships; others are short-lived. I have been asked to sponsor people whom I have never heard from or seen again! I am only responsible for the effort—to say “yes” whenever possible and to share willingly my experience, strength and hope with a fellow addict. After all, some people are put in our lives only for a short time for a very specific, but still significant, purpose. God is constantly weeding our garden.
Sometimes being in a sponsorship relationship is frustrating or even painful. We bring our wounded hearts and distinctive personalities to the relationship. Sometimes we inadvertently hurt each other or outgrow each other. Some sponsees/sponsors stay in our lives for years; some stop coming to meetings and lose contact; some relapse; and some might need to move on to another person in the fellowship for guidance. I have had all of these experiences. I have been “fired” by sponsees for not meeting their expectations, and I have chosen to let go of one or two for the sake of my own recovery. I have also walked away from a few sponsors for similar reasons. At times, my unrealistic expectations or hyper-sensitivity was at fault. (A Ninth Step opportunity?)
The thing is, the sponsor/sponsee relationship should benefit both parties involved. If it does not meet our recovery needs, we owe it to ourselves to move on. Being direct with our sponsors or sponsees is, of course, the best way to go, but not always the road taken by sensitive addicts with trust issues!
Choosing a sponsor can be confusing, and frightening, especially to a newcomer. Who doesn’t fear rejection or the prospect of choosing the “wrong” sponsor? There is no perfect sponsor, but there are people with whom we are more compatible than others. Sometimes we can tell right away if someone is right for us; more often, though, we have to take our best shot and see if it flies. And we can pray for guidance. God is a wonderful matchmaker.
Have you ever had the profound experience of looking deeply into the eyes of someone who truly loves and depends on you? There is no other occurrence quite like it, and it doesn't matter if it is a lover or a child or a good friend. At a time when that individual has a great need or sorrow or even a desperation, the depth of that gaze and the resignation of his or her spirit creates in you a desire to be the best and the strongest and the wisest and to have all the answers. And sometimes - maybe most of the time - you have to accept the truth that you can't be all that is needed for you to be. It just isn't within you to create that power, and that person must make that journey and experience that pain and sadness and accept it before moving on, so you listen. You just listen and hope that listening will be enough. Sometimes it is.
I think at times like those that I want to tell that person to hang on and find the courage to take the steps that are needed and stay the course. Do; just do. Think and feel when you have to. Scream and cry and wail at the pain and injustice, but stay. It will be worth it to keep on.
You, my friend, are about to quit smoking or maybe you are already in the early stages. You who were assaulted as a child by very deliberate forces - and yes, I'm choosing my words “assaulted as a child” by usiness people who had every intention of injecting an addiction into you in order to make a continuous profit and governmental agents whose only moral imperative was to stay in office - you are about to stand up!
Take a deep breath, shake off the doubts and the fears and begin the journey. Just put one foot in front of the other and go. Don't try to do it once and forever. Take it one day at a time or one hour at a time or one minute, but do. The knowing and thinking and feeling are all essential parts of that journey, but the answer is in the doing. Just do and stay and you will win, but I can't walk that journey with you. I can be there at the beginning and I can see you along the way from time to time, but there will be times when you will be alone with your addiction and your Higher Power. There must be times when the task is yours alone. Accept those times; they are the ones that help you to find the strength. I can only promise to be there from time to time as you journey. I am after all on my own path that sometimes intersects with yours.
But I can promise you this: It will be worth it. There are pleasures in recovery that are, in fact, beyond your wildest dreams. There are rewards beyond the anguish you feel today, and there is a sense of belonging like a bonding or a communion that will more than replace the fleeting satisfaction you receive from feeding a craving.
I'll be happy to see you throughout the months and years when our pathways do intersect. I will look to see that knowing expression as it grows within you; just as you will look for it in me, and as I now share those looks with others I know and meet from time to time. There may still be times of need and sadness and even desperation; life gives us those. But in you, I will see the look that says, “I know.”
I ONCE HAD A FRIEND...
I once had a friend who I thought was the only really close friend I would ever have. I depended on this friend to calm me when I was nervous, relax me when I was excited, pick me up when I was sad and the list goes on and on. This friend expected me to spend most my money on it. If I was sick and I had my friend over it would make me feel sicker. I thought the world of my friend but no one else felt the same way. Most of my other friends despised this friend. It appeared to them that all I did was give and give and give. I never received anything positive in return. And as it turned out in the end the more I was around my friend, the more I became sickly, rundown, pale, breathless and coughed all the time. But in spite of all this I was still very loyal to this friend. But one moment during one hour of one day I thought to myself - this friend is killing me. This friendship I thought we had was all one sided. I was a fool. What could I be possibly getting out of this friendship? All I did was give and got nothing in return. I finally realized this friend called nicotine/cigarettes was really no friend at all. I then found Nicotine Anonymous.
NicA helped me to stay free from this powerful addiction, it gave me the tools to work my program and my life so I would not need to pick up and use my drug. NicA has given me hope, a positive outlook on life and a better way to live my life. This program has offered me serenity and peace, something I have searched for all my life. I can go to a meeting on any day of the week come out of the meeting feeling better than when I went in to it.
I now look back at my days as a nicotine addict and I ask myself why would I allow myself to believe cigarettes could be my friend? Why would I want a friend that just took from me all the time and seldom if never gave anything positive back in return?
What kind of relationship can succeed in this situation? And I then ask myself how can I just go to meetings, receive all the benefits of what NicA offers, week after week after week and then say NO to service? Am I a one sided friend? Do I take all that I can get from NicA and not give anything back? Is the phrase 'You have to give it away to keep it' mean that in order to have a friend, you have to be a friend? I have thought about that phase very often. I have tried to understand exactly what it was suppose to mean. I think I finally realized what it means. In order for me to be a part of this fellowship and continue to have a fellowship such as NicA I have to be an active member in the relationship. I can't just take and never give anything back. Just like my friend, cigarettes, I cannot continue to take and not give anything back. I ask you - are you benefiting from Nicotine Anonymous? Are you being a friend to Nicotine Anonymous? If so, I thank you.
JUST FOR TODAY
just for today i do not have to pick up nicotine
just for today i can take a deep breath and be grateful i am alive and
just for today i can make a phone call or read some literature when i
am having an overwhelming moment
just for today i can get to a meeting and see the miracles happening just for today
thank you, Higher Power and Nic A for 1431 "todays" free of nicotine with hopefully more to come!
-Judi D. Trafalger- Manhattan and Wednesday and Sunday phone meetings
To Be Opened December 2105
Hello and greetings from the twenty-first century. My name is Michael and I’m a nicotine addict. This is 12th step work. It is my hope that you’ll know what the previous sentence means, but just in case you don’t, I’ll explain.
During the 20th century, some terrific people came up with a way to help folks with a terrible problem. The problem is a biological, psychological, social and spiritual disease called addiction. I suspect you know about addiction since it is not likely to be cured by medical or chemical means, though medical science has certainly tried.
It has been around for a very long time, as long as there have been people. Thousands live with it and are free of most of the difficult symptoms, but there is no cure. So, unless human kind has evolved to a much higher level of existence, you probably still have addiction in your century.
My particular addiction was to nicotine, the chemical found in tobacco. Do you still have tobacco? Said to say it, but I believe you probably do. It is a very powerful, cunning, insidious and patient drug addiction, and there is great financial profit in promoting and selling it. Some even believe its financial profits made it possible for the American colonies to survive and evolve into our country. People can be addicted to all kinds of things: alcohol, other chemicals, processes like gambling, etc. You may even have other, newer stuff in your time.
As with much that is wonderful and helpful, the program that I follow to be free of my symptoms was born in pain and difficulty. Persons named Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith who suffered from their addiction to alcohol started a spiritual (I hope you still have an understanding of “spiritual.”) support group called Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935. They and other members of their group wrote a suggested plan for recovery in 1938 and called it the “12 Steps”, but you can look that up in history books. (Do you still have history books?) The steps are included in this package for you to read. Recovery means so much, but for now, think of as a way to live with addiction but without your drug or addictive process. Addicts may always be addicts, but if they abstain from their drug or process, they are said to be “recovering” or “in recovery”.
Throughout the ensuing years, other types of support groups grew out of the Alcoholics Anonymous movement and use the steps with the permission of AA. For example there was Narcotics Anonymous started by Jimmy K. (most of don’t use last names because anonymity is one of our spiritual foundations) and Nicotine Anonymous founded on the east coast by Oscar and Joann C. I am “A Friend of Joann’s” and I hope to someday have a bumper sticker that says so. (Do you still have bumpers? Do you still have cars?) I wonder if there will be other types of 12-Step groups in the 22nd century.
As I said, this is 12th Step Work; the 12th Step is as follows:
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to nicotine addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
One of the slogans that pertains to this step is this “You can’t keep it unless you give it away.” It may sound paradoxical, but what it means is that we reinforce our own recovery by helping others. Helping others in order that we may see and feel our own value is a spiritual notion. How do people work (do) the 12th step? There are many ways. Some involve more of a commitment than others but all are important, and the greatest commitments can have the greatest impact on our own recovery.
One way to work the step is by getting involved in service to the group. As a wise 12-stepper once said to me, there is always a meeting before the meeting and another meeting after the meeting. What she meant was that people arrive to help set up and then to help pack up. During those times, members, old and new, talk, network and share ideas. Newer members can ask questions of more experienced and seek sponsors (see below).
A great way for an experienced member to do the 12th Step is to be a sponsor. A sponsor is someone who takes a newer member (sponsee) under his or her wing and teaches that member the ways of the fellowship and the Steps.
Other ways to be of service are to chair the meeting; be a guest speaker; become a speaker seeker, that is someone who arranges for speakers at meetings; join and participate at intergroup; (Intergroup is a meeting of representatives from local meetings who get together to adopt policies and promote special events, etc.); start a meeting at a location that doesn’t have one (big commitment!); add your name to a phone list where recovering people can call for help during difficult times and spread literature all around like Johnny Appleseed. (Do you know about him in your time?)
Being an understanding and supportive - not critical or scolding - listener for another addict is yet another way, understanding that the major difference between “him” and me is just that he is still active. Going out of our way to be there for the addict who still suffers is also a big help Being a power of example reinforces our quit and works the step as well. We also work this step by incorporating each the 12 Steps in our daily lives to the best of our ability. You don’t have to become perfect; no one has yet.
Why am I writing this time capsule letter? Because I just don’t know what the future will bring and I hope that 12-Step programs will be there in your time. If not, you now have some hope of starting one, and the most important thing is that there will always be a door open to the addict who still suffers a place to go when all seems hopeless, a place where he or she can find none of the criticism and condemnation for the disease but the same comfort, hope, support, love and acceptance I found when I walked through doors into my first meeting.
I am looking to the future as a time of hope. I’d like to envision it as a time when people genuinely love one another without petty jealousies, when the strong don’t victimize the weak, when supporting another individual during a time of struggle is as strong a compulsion for all of humanity as some of our addictions are in the 21st century, when we treat all others with compassion and understand regardless of their conditions, behaviors or beliefs, where love and understanding are as common as the grains of sand on the beaches. Do you have love and understanding in your century? From the view of humanity that I’ve been given by my program, I feel sure that you do.
Michael B. 2005
Hi, my name is Kathy K and I have been free from nicotine for over 19 years. Asking for help and finding the help I need has always had it challenges. But sometimes out of the blue when I least expect it, a little hero comes into my life.
My line of work requires that I go out to different job locations and do inspections. On this one day I had an inspection in New Hyde Park, behind a shopping center. I had put off doing this job for about a month because it was out of the way and I had been very busy. But on this day, it was one of my last stops. The whole day I was trying to decide whether to go there and do the inspection or get someone else to do the inspection. But I finally decided to go myself. During the inspection I heard what sounded like a bird or some kind of animal chirping. I stopped and looked around several times and saw nothing. I finally walked about 10' away and looked down in front of a parked car. When I looked down I found laying on the pavement a little black kitten, no more than a day old. I picked him up and got him to safety, found a box and padding to put in it and put him in the box. I immediately named him a name that I had been saving for my next male cat, Handsome. He certainly was 'handsome' and very cute. I took him back to work with me. When I arrived at work, me and some of my coworkers helped to get food into this little kitten. After work I took him to my vet for a little direction and checkup. They recommended a woman, Vicki, who could feed and take care of him as he needed, which was feeding, burping and simulating him to go to the bathroom about every three hours around the clock for about five weeks. When I first found Handsome he weighted 4 ounces and now, two weeks later, he now weighs 15 ounces. What a miracle!
What had become very apparent to me was this little kitten, who like all new kittens, could not see, he could not hear and could not walk. He was just laying there on the pavement. But he could scream for help. And scream he did. He got the help he needed and he didn't give up until he did.
So when I think of things I believe I can't do for myself, I think of Handsome. I think of this little kitten fighting for his life and fighting for someone to give him the help he needs. Handsome certainly put things in perspective for me. I have to fight for what I need and if that is a meeting instead of a cigarette then that is what I need to do. Certainly, if a 4 oz kitten can do it, so can I. Thank you Handsome!
P.S. Handsome is now 4 yrs old and living with me.
Until a few weeks ago, I didn't understand what people meant when they said that being nicotine free gave them a choice to use or not use. Funny as it sounds, I always thought that abstaining from nicotine took away my freedom to use, and during my first quit, I looked at smokers with jealousy that they “could” smoke. Why couldn't I? During a recent meeting, I heard someone describe it in a way that made sense to me. I can smoke anytime I want to. I am of age (not that being underage ever stopped me), and it is perfectly legal for me to walk into any store, buy a pack of cigarettes, and smoke them all one after another if I choose to. No one can stop me. But just for today, I choose not to. This thought revolutionized my thinking. When looked at through this frame of mind, it is easier to say no to all my self-destructive behaviors. Every time I say to myself, “that really looks good, but I choose not to today” I get a little boost. “Wow - I can do positive things with my free will, too, instead of just using it as license to destroy myself.” Every time I make this choice it gives me back a little bit of self-respect. I am so grateful for this insight!
“Made a list of all people we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.”
In making my Eighth Step list, I had to restrict my focus to my own past behavior and attitudes exclusively. It would avail me nothing to judge and assign blame to others involved in my past conflicts. There is no recovery on the path of self-righteousness and justification. Nor would it help me to allow fear of guilt and self-condemnation to keep me from making my Eighth Step list.
Acknowledgment of harm done to others and myself through my nicotine addiction could not hurt me. As one of my sponsors used to say: The cake has already been baked. To the contrary, denial of my inappropriate or unloving behavior toward others—which I would blame on circumstance or other people—had kept me in a dark, lonely place. The Eighth Step gave me the opportunity to break free from guilt and remorse and truly begin to live each day as a new beginning.
I was told in early recovery that health begins when we start calling things by their right names and seeing things as they really are. I had always glossed over the destruction in my past and all the times I had hurt or offended someone, whether a family member, a close friend or a stranger in a public place. To the outside world, I proclaimed my innocence, but deep inside I hated myself for my self-centeredness and the way I kept people at bay with my anger. I know now that I used my anger to protect myself from getting close to other people and running the risk of being hurt.
The act of making a list of the people I had harmed was the beginning of a miraculous transformation for me. In compiling my Eighth Step list, I referred to the Fourth Step writings I had done previously. The memories attached to some of the people on my list made me wince with embarrassment. Then there were those people about whom I still carried a grudge—those to whom I thought I could NEVER make amends. I took comfort in the idea that this step simply called for me to make a list of the people I had harmed and become willing to make amends to them. Apparently I was not the only recovering addict who needed to become willing and didn’t have it all wrapped up! The very act of making an Eighth Step list brought me one step closer to the willingness I needed.
IF THIS IS THURSDAY, I MUST BE MICHAEL
If this is Thursday, I must be Michael. I should explain that last sentence. After all, shouldn’t we be whoever we are all the time? How could we not be?
About 18 years ago I was a smoker. I was not a fan of pain and discomfort. I was also not very disciplined, and I was having a very difficult quit. One day this newly clean smoker, Michael, was acting like a bear just out of hibernation, and my (then) wife began to chastise me for my bearish manner and behavior. She read me the riot act in what seemed like several languages and finished her last sentence by saying “. . . because you’re not William to do what’s necessary.” That’s right, she accidentally said “William” instead of “willing”. To defend myself, I became ready to accuse her of having had a boyfriend named William, but I knew that wasn’t the case. Instead, I had a different idea. I decided that I would deliberately split my own personality and refer to myself as William when I was acting like a bear or a fool or just a jerk. It became a household joke and helped to ease some tension on several occasions. I would be Michael when I was good, and William when I was bad. Fortunately, this was all pretend. My wife and I still had a firm grasp of reality.
Back in those days, Michael was William most of the time. I hope this makes sense to you. You see, so much of my recovery felt so confusing and angering, that I found myself being frustrated, hurt and (most especially) vulnerable, even when I wasn’t acting badly. It was only on Thursday nights that I felt like Michael because my Nicotine Anonymous meetings were at the Islip Public Library on Thursday nights. When Michael was at a meeting, he felt free enough and safe enough to be Michael. It was there that there were people who could identify with him. If Michael shared something about his recovery that seemed crazy to the rest of the world, there were people who said, “Yes” “Me too.” and “I know what you mean.” and they meant it. I learned that there were other Nicotine Anonymous meetings, too where I could be myself. Eventually, I could be Michael during the entire day before an evening meeting; just the anticipation of sitting with recovering people freed me to be myself.
Maybe this will help to explain it: A very long time ago, there was a philosopher named Epictetus. He was a “stoic”, which means to most of us that he was very disciplined and (unlike Michael) hardened to pain and discomfort. What he actually meant by stoicism was something quite different. He believed that we human beings don’t react to what exists around us; rather, we react to what we believe is around us. We live by our perceptions, not by our reality. He also wrote that we could choose what to believe and then react to that. It may sound complicated, but it’s not really. If someone convinces you (or you convince yourself) that you can’t do something, then you can’t. I had behaved as if I had been addicted to nicotine because I was. I lived as if I had no Higher Power because that’s what I believed. Eventually, and because of Nicotine Anonymous, my perceptions and then my reality changed. On the way to making those changes, I unknowingly passed through several phases. William was one of them and it helped.
I can’t really say that William eventually went away. It is more likely that William has been incorporated into a new Michael during the past 18 years. You see, there had always been “William parts” of Michael that had been masked by that ever-present smoke screen. But there is no-longer a separation of the two. Now there is a Michael who is mostly himself all the time, but I am also part William and most importantly part HP. If this Michael were forced to choose the single most important benefit he has derived from Nicotine Anonymous membership, it is that Nicotine Anonymous has helped to bring him closer to his Higher Power.
Michael B., Islip/Lindenhurst
KATHY K.: 20 YEARS NICOTINE FREE
This past March I celebrated 20 years nicotine free. When I first got free from nicotine I could not believe I was able to do so. As the years have past, it is becoming even harder to believe that I ever smoked. Memories fade, the pain of the addiction is not so clear in my mind any longer. The idea that I had to plan my outings based on my addiction and how I was going to feed it is no longer a thought. In fact, I barely think about how that was so much a part of my life. I do remember the fear I had when I considered the idea of stopping smoking and the thought process in my mind, which was really the addiction, kept saying - keep smoking and I did.
As the years go by, and my freedom from nicotine becomes a distance past, the concept that I was addict and I still am an addict can become blurred. When I came into this program the idea of using nicotine, smoking and addiction in the same sentence seemed to be ridiculous. Smoking was just a bad habit and I did it for enjoyment or because of any number of reasons, but never because I was an addict.
Somewhere in those twenty years I became very aware that nicotine and/or smoking is an addiction. I have witnessed in those twenty years people who have come to meetings needing lung transplants and still smoking, people coming to meetings with oxygen tanks and still smoking. I have observed conversations between loved ones begging the smoker to please try to stop smoking. I have lived thought the final days of a very good friend dying from lung cancer because he couldn’t stop smoking. Yes Kathy, it is an addiction.
In those twenty years I have also witnessed so many people/addicts gaining freedom from nicotine. I continue to see them meeting after meeting, month after month and year after year growing in their recovery. I know because I have enjoyed that recovery as well. The biggest benefit from not using nicotine is the knowledge that I gave up my addiction.
The most surprising part of stopping my addiction was that I had so much more work to do. It seems the more work I do; the more work I need to do. Stopping smoking was by far the best thing I could ever do for myself and continuing my recovery is the best thing I can do for the rest my life. Smoking ends with the last cigarette, addiction lasts a lifetime. As for me, I need to remember this in order to stay free from nicotine.
LOST LOVES AND MISSED OPPORTUNITIES
I know something of this Michael who writes about me. One day when he was younger, he was standing in a parking lot . It was night and he was talking to a girl. She was special. To use a baseball metaphor,
she was a 5-tool player; she had everything. She was beautiful and intelligent, and beyond her intelligence was a wisdom that came from having to cope with all the pain and fear that life can dish out. She was friendly and she liked him, and she had a terrific sense of humor as well. He couldn’t tell you the color of her eyes; he only saw the light. Her spirit and her higher power shone through like a beam emanating from her eyes, or at least that’s how Michael saw her. Michael said something funny; he can be good at that, sometimes, and that’s when it happened. She threw her head back and laughed out loud.
It was as if lightening had hit. The entire parking lot lit up. He stood awestruck and immobile while she laughed. For that moment he could hear nothing but her laugh, see nothing but her face glowing like a beacon, and he new instantly that he was hopelessly, desperately and forever in love. You know what he did then: he lit up a cigarette and walked away.
Did Michael choose the glow of the burning cigarette over that girl who was a fire that consumed his chest that night? I’ll let you decide that on your own. I am Michael’s inner child or alter ego; you can choose what to call me. He calls me William because of a joke he had with his ex. Don’t be so shocked; you have one of me, too, living deep inside you, and we see you when you lose loves and miss opportunities. In fact, we’re usually responsible. We are that other face of addiction that says to you, “I’m afraid. Please don’t try to do that. I feel safer when you don’t try to accomplish anything. Besides, you don’t deserve that happiness, anyway. “
You may see addiction as the image of a heroin addict hiding in an ally, looking dirty and unkempt. We are that part of addiction that says to you, “You can have one more. You don’t want to give this up.
You enjoy smoking. You can always quit tomorrow. Right now, you deserve a reward; have just one more cigarette, piece of pie, drink or shot.”
We say to you, “Life hurts too much to be experienced without that veil of smoke, drink or food. Better cover it up. Better yet, don’t even live it. Just light up that cigarette and walk away.” Our influence infects everything you do because we are so practiced at playing on your fears - our fears.
What we won’t tell you is this, “Life gets shorter. There are no tomorrows. If you want it, you’d better get it now because all you ever really have is this moment in time.”
Whenever Michael thinks about that girl in the parking lot, I offer him something. He won’t take cigarettes anymore. Sometimes I can give him a drink or a piece of cake, but even that gets harder. So we feel.
We feel because we can’t smoke or do anything else. Michael may be OK with that, but I’m not. He likes to feel all those things that I try to make him avoid. He has this thing he calls “program” that carries him through every day. But watch out, Michael. I’m still here and I’m not going away. You need me as much as I need you. Just make one slip. Miss a few meetings. Forget your program for a while. That’s all we need, and we can get back to enjoying a smoke and a slab of chocolate cake. You know it’s what you want. As for that girl: well, you know you didn’t deserve her anyway. Now didn’t it feel good to light up?
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR: THIS TO SHALL PASS . . .
One of the great truths I contemplate is that nothing is forever. By that, I mean that apart from God, nothing we encounter in our lives will remain unchanged forever. Nothing even stays the same for a moment; all things are made of particles in motion; all beings are flowing streams of feeling and thought. Realizing this is a double-edged sword. On one hand, I can take comfort in the fact that my problems will not last - in all likelihood, one day, my ship will come in. But at the same time, I must not become attached to the happiness I feel in times of good fortune. This, too, is impermanent, and will surely pass away.
My life is like waves on a beach, ebbing and flowing in an ever-changing cycle of ups and downs.
Colleen S., North Bellmore