I started smoking when I was 14. I used to say things like, “I’ll quit when I’m pregnant,” as though that was an actual plan, as though I could count on my addiction floundering just because there happened to be two of me growing instead of one. I made similar excuses over the course of my ten-year love affair with nicotine, none of which made logical sense but all of which allowed me to poison myself on an hourly basis without remorse. I wanted to poison myself.
But then, much to the shock of just about everyone who knows me, I quit. I didn’t chew gum or feed nicotine through my pores, I just abandoned the one constant in my life, the one companion I’d had for the past decade. The one-year anniversary of my quit date was this week. I don’t think I’ll go back.
It’s true that nicotine is addictive, it affects your mood, it changes the way you make decisions. It’s easy to point out that cigarettes are ‘the bad guy,’ the way they empty your wallet and yellow your fingertips. This is a negative habit that most people will commend you for giving up.
But we could stand to give up more often. Maybe there are no instructional pamphlets or illustrative posters to point out each and every one of the things we need to rid ourselves of, but there they are – lurking in the shadows of our subconscious. They are the people who make us feel like our lungs are in a vice whenever we see them. The humanization of our bad habits, walking and breathing and telling bad jokes.
Some people just make you feel bad. The way you can wake up smelling like some half-rate casino and think to yourself I don’t want to do this anymore, you can feel that way about people, and the worst part is that you can’t extinguish them, you can’t smother their head into an ashtray or make them someone else’s problem.
It’s in our nature to not want to give up, especially not on people; fragile, harmless people – we all just mean well, don’t we? Don’t we all just want to be happy? Don’t the things we do to achieve that happiness, the things that tear us apart from one another – aren’t those the things that make us similar? Aren’t people inherently good? Maybe. But what does it matter if that goodness is not reserved for you? What if all you extract from a person is negativity? How do we justify allowing ourselves to feel badly because someone may or may not be redeemable?
We don’t always recognize when someone is bad for us, but sometimes we do. Sometimes we become all-consumed by the disgust that’s bred from this idea that we allow hate to affect us so deeply. People create art because of it. It can drive us; it can turn us into something we’re not. And even though it’s ugly, it’s addictive. We become addicted to toxicity.
And in that case, it’s good to give up. It’s good to fight against the cancer growing inside of us by neglecting to feed it. We have to starve it into submission, forgo the efforts that help it grow. The brooding and the anguish, bury it. Extinguish whatever it is that’s making us feel badly and worry about ourselves. We need to quit allowing something that’s decidedly negative to drive our actions, our moods. We need to quit poisoning ourselves with vitriol.
The thing is, there are people who don’t make us feel terrible. There are people who listen to us and care for us and make us smile. They loosen the vice around our lungs and help us breathe. They are the fresh air. They alight us in ways a carcinogens never will. Whatever energy we devote to a toxic situation, we take away from the people who deserve it – the people whose goodness doesn’t have to be assumed; their goodness is just there, in plain sight. They are worth quitting for.