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December 15, 2016

How Did This Happen

My blog is about healing and surviving severe emotional and mental abuse as a child.  My goal is to help others to heal, or hopefully offer motivation that no matter how bad things get, we can grow and reinvent ourselves no matter what life throws at us.

I hope to achieve my goal by being completely honest with all aspects of my life, no matter how embarrassing.  Healing from emotional and mental abuse is not pretty or like in the movies, where we have a sudden revelation and everything has changed.

It’s a journey of constant inner reflection and very painful self admissions of our own dysfunctional behaviors and thought processes.

One aspect of my life which I have not shared yet is that I’m a smoker.  Recently I’ve been getting the urge to quit smoking.  However, having spent my life dedicated to healing from emotional and mental abuse, I knew it wasn’t going to be a question of simple will power.
 I had to figure out when I started smoking and why, and what I found, is a mind that was extremely dysfunctional from years of mental abuse.

The truth is, whether we want to admit it or not, everything we do either has a psychological pattern, i.e., we learned it from someone we knew as a child, or has deep seeded psychological reasons we may not want to admit to.

We don’t drink, smoke or do drugs simply because we love it so much or want to feel better for no reason.

While some people become drug addicts or alcoholics due to peer pressure or a need to feel “cool,” I would guess the majority of drug addicts and alcoholics are in some form of emotional or psychological pain that they’re trying to escape.

Now smoking, there’s an addition that is truly puzzling.  It doesn’t make us forget our pain or make us feel better.  It simply very slowly destroys us.  Why would we want to slowly destroy ourselves?

The answer would seem obvious.  For example, I was severely abused and I’m simply continuing the pattern of abuse by abusing myself through smoking.  I’ve learned in my healing process that the answer is never that cut and dry and simple.

Here is what I found, and I hope it will help others either quit smoking, or to overcome something in life that may not be healthy.

My father was an alcoholic and a chain smoker.  My sister was also a very heavy smoker.  I remember as a child how much I hated the smell of smoke.  I also remember thinking how stupid they looked when they smoked.

I remember I once saw my brother smoking weed and I thought he looked stupid, even though I didn’t know what weed was.  I thought it was just another form of a cigarette, like herbal cigarettes. 

I’ve spoken a lot about my sister, and how she developed a strange deep resentment toward me because of some twisted idea that I had not suffered as she had.

It’s very difficult for me to write that on some level, I saw my sister as being “cool” because she was five years older and could do whatever she wanted to do.

She could wear make-up, stay out as late as she wanted to, drank beer and smoked.  She was a very pretty young woman and she seemed to have a lot of friends and seemed like a strong and confident young woman despite everything that happened to her.

My sister didn’t seem to care what anyone thought about what she did, or what she looked like.  She hung out with people who at the time were considered from the “wrong side of the tracks.”  High school drop outs who hung out at the corner all day long smoking, drinking and getting high. 

In my young na├»ve mind, I perceived her behavior as strong, confident and “cool.”

Looking back, I now understand that she was lost and very insecure and in a lot of emotional and mental pain, which is why she constantly lashed out at me and targeted me for her sick twisted idea of revenge.

As I entered my early twenties, and worked in a professional setting at a bank, I met a lot of strong and successful people.

My boss, the president of the small loan collections department, was a sweet and wonderful man.  A very successful man and he smoked.

The vice president of the small loan collections department, who earned his MBA at a young age and was one of the youngest vice presidents at the bank, was very confident and a strong young man and he smoked.

The office manager at the bank, a woman with a strong and great personality that everyone liked, was a smoker.

My best friend, who was only two years older than me, was married, gorgeous, a very confident and strong young woman, and she smoked.

I would rent a small house with two roommates as I didn’t make a lot of money and I thought it would be nicer than living in a studio apartment.  One of my roommates was a young woman who had graduated college and was starting her career in marketing.  She was very beautiful and confident and she smoked.

In my early and mid-twenties I literally had no idea of who I was.  I was a very broken young woman from having been abused almost my entire life up to that point.

I was extremely insecure and very scared that I would never fit into life or society.  I had no idea where I was going in life or what would happen to me.

I felt worthless and empty.  Most days I thought life simply wasn’t worth living.  I believed all my problems would be solved by simply finding someone to love me.  I was completely unaware of how damaged I was.

I didn’t know how to feel normal because my mind had been damaged.  The only guide I had was observing other people and trying to be like them.  Since almost everyone I knew smoked, I thought if I started smoking I too would be perceived as being normal, or at the very least I would be taking the steps needed to become more normal.

I remember calling my boyfriend at the time, the successful young vice president at the bank, and basically bragging when I said, “Guess what I started doing?”  I still remember how hurt I felt when he told me I needed to immediately stop smoking.  I felt angry because I felt so proud that I was taking the necessary steps to become a strong and successful woman, and he was telling me to stop.

Because my mind was not functioning like a normal person who had not been destroyed with abuse, I felt insulted.  I thought my boyfriend didn’t want me to smoke because he wanted me to stay a weak woman that he could control, like my mother and sister controlled me with fear and abuse.

My boyfriend’s insistence that I stop smoking made me want to smoke more because I was incapable of grasping that anyone cared about me enough to want the best for me.

As the years passed I would continue meeting successful people who smoked, which would reinforce my dysfunctional belief that what I was doing was normal.

Slowly over time people would comment that I smoked too much, and I would consider them weak people who were not strong enough to smoke.

Then the smoking ban was enforced in public places.  I could no longer smoke at work, in the movie theatre or restaurants.  I still remember when the trains had small ashtrays in the armrests and when I could smoke on a plane.

Of course I immediately dismissed these new laws as the government trying to control what people do.  I would not accept that what I was doing was bad for me, even though I began to meet more and more people who had quit smoking. 

When my best friend later in life had to have a double lung implant due to her chain smoking all her life, I told myself it was in her DNA and nothing like that ever happened to my father or sister.

As I grew older and my healing became more complete, I would often look at myself smoking and know that I was being stupid for smoking, but I had convinced myself that it was too late to quit.  I was too far into my addiction and I could never stop.  I actually convinced myself that I could never be strong enough to quit smoking.

I often felt that all my energies were used up in my healing process.  I no longer felt like the strong woman I used to be when I was determined and had laser focus to heal and become a healthy and normal functioning human being.

I read article after article how smoking was equivalent to doing heroin and quitting was almost impossible without taking drugs that could make you feel suicidal.  For many years I convinced myself that smoking is now my fate and I had sealed my own death with my own stupidity.

Then one day I thought maybe just try not smoking first thing in the morning.  If I have withdrawal symptoms equal to heroin addicts I could call 911.

Nothing bad happened, except a craving no worse than a horrible craving for chocolate or coffee. 

I increased the time I waited to have a smoke every two days, until I was waiting five hours before I smoked my first cigarette.  After a week I went to six hours before having my first cigarette and nothing bad happened.

I did not have cold sweats, no seizures, no vomiting.  Nothing comparable to what heroin addicts experience when quitting. 

Unfortunately, I had a horrible fight with my husband and the stress and depression after fighting made me slip back into my heavy smoking pattern.  At least now I knew that quitting smoking wasn’t as scary or as painful as I thought it would be.

I’m no conspiracy theorist.  In fact, I stay as far away from conspiracy theories as possible, however, I do think pharmaceutical companies want us to believe that quitting smoking is almost impossible because if people knew how painless it is to quit, they would lose billions from sales from cessation products such as gums, patches and drugs.

What I realized is that smoking is purely psychological and discovering the underlying psychological reasons why we started smoking in the first place and then acknowledging our mistake is the key to not only quitting smoking, but any unhealthy behavior.

I started smoking because I had a dysfunctional belief that it would help me to become an emotionally and mentally stronger and normal functioning human being.  I wanted to heal from years of abuse, but in the end, I was only mimicking what I learned from my father and sister, which was masked by people I met as being normal.

It’s not normal to choose to destroy ourselves, not with smoking, alcohol or drugs.

There’s nothing wrong with having a beer or a glass of wine or going to a bar and having a few.  It’s probably okay to have an occasional cigarette or cigar.  I’m not talking about social drinking or smoking.  I’m talking about taking social norms to excess and becoming alcoholics and heavy smokers. 

I didn’t become an alcoholic because I always remembered how ugly my father was when he was drunk.  I did become a chain smoker, because I wanted to be normal and fit into society, but then society told me I was wrong.

Let me tell you, there’s nothing more difficult than looking back on your life and realizing how you screwed up by making a stupid decision to literally throw your money away and damage your body and health. 

I feel very angry with myself.  I want to fall back on the excuse that I had been severely abused so it wasn’t my fault.  That may be partially true, but I should have recognized immediately I was doing something my abusers had taught me, and that’s the part that makes me angry.

Have I quit smoking 100%?  No I have not.  However, I have gone from three packs a day to 1 and half packs a day and I’m determined to keep cutting back until I can say I’m done and will no longer harm myself or continue behavior I learned from my abusers.

We do heal from being abused, if we put our minds to it, and stay determined to heal, but it’s a process of growing that never really stops.  We learn about ourselves and grow for the rest of our lives, but I think that’s true for everyone.  I think the learning and growing is a little more amplified when you’re a victim of abuse.

The secret, which I hope I’ve shown in this post, is to dig deep into your past, your behavior, and being able to recognize our own faults and dysfunctional beliefs, ideas and actions and taking responsibility and not just settling for blaming our abusers.

In the end, whether we’ve been abused or not, we are responsible for whom we are; who we become and everything we choose to do in life.

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