We are all guilty of finding pleasure in the wrong things. It’s what humans do. For much of my life it’s been cigarettes and alcohol. Seems pretty standard. But it’s only standard because so many people share the same vices – proving just how addictive these things are. It shows how easily it makes us feel so guilty for seeking pleasure in it, but also how easily it makes the feeling of guilt so tinged with pleasure.
Just think, if my guilty pleasure was going to the gym too much.
Until recently, I didn’t realize that my third vice was getting caught up with the wrong man. Of course I knew I had consistently made bad decisions with him but I didn’t put two and two together and see the way that I felt about him was the same way I felt about any other vice I had. Particularly with smoking.
As a smoker for six years, I know I didn’t just get here. It all began with what appeared to be completely under my control, which ended up turning into an all out addiction – smoking as much as two packs a day at times – that dictated my life. I couldn’t have a meal without having cigarette breaks; I couldn’t wake up, go to bed, get to work, take breaks, get off work, go to the toilet, feel elated, feel depressed, feel livid without having a cigarette. Every human emotion and activity had to be accompanied by this disgusting habit. God forbid I should go on a 12-hour flight just to land at an airport that didn’t have a smoking lounge.
This process is very much like getting involved with the wrong guy. It never starts out as being out of your control. It feels as manipulable as the first few cigarettes you took from that friend just to fit in and look cool. Like smoking, it’s a slippery slope that everyone feels impervious to in the beginning. “I’m not like everyone else. I know what I’m doing”. Yeah, until you don’t. Until you’ve plummeted all the way down and hit rock bottom into your submission to a harmful indulgence – when you don’t care that you don’t know what hit you and become a fiend for that very hit all the same. Going back up; back to your former unaffected self now requires triple the strength it took to go down, if not more.
Before you know it, you’ve developed a habit of seeing the man that’s as fatal to your mental and emotional health as smoking is to your physiological health. But what can you do? It just feels so good. You like the attention from him even though he should be punished eternally for his ingenious use of words that lure you in time and time again. You know that every time he cracks a joke; every time he makes you laugh is a tug at your heart with a force unknown to your brain’s comprehension and approval – you constantly feel like you’re fighting yourself. You even love the smug ass smile on his face that is as crooked as what he is up to behind your back. It feels invigorating and you love it as much as you love to hate it. He is a vice all in his own right.
The excitement is like that of the ritual of smoking that begins by thrashing the box against your palm to pack the cigarettes and pulling the tab that swivels around the plastic wrapping to undress the packet. All of this is just foreplay for what will feel like an orgasm in your blood stream as soon as you tweeze the freshly packed cigarette between your fingers and place it between your lips; inhaling as you press down on the lighter to light the cigarette. It is that exact moment when you feel a surge of nicotine course through your veins, making you exhale a sense of relief alongside the smoke. You got your fix and it feels fan-fucking-tastic; a feeling that doesn’t simply rest as an emotion but numbs your limbs and sedates your mind.
It feels sexy.
However, with each subsequent drag of your cigarette, the euphoria becomes less so and more just like a chore of putting something in your mouth and sucking it. Smoking that cigarette (or the third one you’ve chain-smoked) becomes meaningless when your body is already seized up with nicotine. You stop when you no longer crave the hit. Until after a lapse of time, when you need it again.
It ends up resembling a game of hard-to-get between you and your cigarette. Much like the one you play with the wrong man. Because just like smoking, the exhilaration of being with that man dies down once you’ve gotten your fix of all the superficial things he does to please you. Sooner or later you come to your senses and realize you no longer need it because he is incapable of fulfilling your real needs. Except it’s only a matter of time until you fall for his ploy again. Before you know it, things between you two have senselessly been going back and forth too many times to count. It’s a perpetual game with smoking and with that man, and the main thing they both have in common is that the one who ends up getting hurt is you.
I know it, my friends know it and my family knows it. So at times I secretly indulge myself in these guilty pleasures just to avoid judgment. Maybe I don’t tell people just how much I smoke, or that I’m seeing someone so undeserving of my acknowledgement, let alone my love – see, you’re probably already judging me.
Everyone fucks up and I’m as prone to feeling entitled to fucking up as the next. But the thing about having vices is that, the fact that everyone has it doesn’t justify you having yours. There are no legitimate excuses. You have to realize that all the good feelings are a lie. That the sensation you get from smoking is synonymous with cancer in your lungs; and that the butterflies felt with that man will eat you up from inside out when all is said and done. There’s no winning this game and you have to end it before you get played. Again.
So one day I stared at the cigarette I was smoking, erect between my fingers, bewildered to notice that I was addicted to smoking a stick of grass (even though it’s more like a stick of carcinogenic chemicals used for rat poison and lighter fluid and what not, it was quite literally just a stick of grass). The thought increasingly struck me as bizarre and jolted me into my senses – how could I be so inferior to that stick of grass? Surely I am above something this small and pathetic. Right? It was now or never. So I chose now. And I quit. Unfortunately, the train of thought that led me to quitting the man didn’t occur so seamlessly, but the motivation all the same: that I am above something this small and pathetic.
Here I am more than a year after quitting smoking and I am not afraid to say how incredibly proud I am of myself. This is not a time for false modesty – I could pat myself on the back until my arm got tired. As someone who used to desperately fish butts in the ashtray when out of cigarettes, quitting was a monumental feat for me. But although I’ve stopped smoking for a year, I’ve only recently cut all contact with that man so I really hope that I’ll have the same success I had with smoking – the thought of which puts a wide grin on my face even after just one year.
But just because I don’t smoke cigarettes anymore, don’t buy packs of it anymore, doesn’t mean I don’t want it. Doesn’t mean there aren’t times I crave it so badly it agitates every nerve in me – it feels just as shitty as a chronic meth addict looks. Likewise, I don’t respond to that man or see him anymore, but I know there will come a day when I will miss him and want to, and if it requires every ounce of integrity in my being to resist it, then that it shall take.
We all make poor choices and it’s okay because we are more than what we do and what we have done. If you’re ready to make changes then your life is ready to embrace it. Just remember, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way”. Granted, giving some things up will consume you dry before you get to see the good that comes out of it, but if everything were easy in your life, what would you have to grow from? How would you feel a genuine sense of accomplishment? And most importantly how would you know to expect more from life?
Difficulties such as these are a blessing in disguise. But if you find it challenging to see it that way then force yourself to look further – the will to see a healthy life ahead should always cast a shadow over the will to get your temporary fix now.