Every addict knows the smokers. Users smoke while using. Those in recovery smoke before meetings, during breaks at work, between classes at school. Smoking is an addiction too, but an acceptable one. It’s a safe replacement – not because it won’t kill you, but because it won’t kill you today. Everyone knows smoking is bad for you, that it causes lung cancer, emphysema, etc. But we smoke anyways. For some people it’s a comforting habit, for others a social tool, everyone has their own reasons. I should say everyone starts smoking for their own reasons, but as time goes by, we’re all smoking for the same reason: we’re addicted. It’s a drug we can use in sobriety, an addiction that doesn’t consume your life (at least not immediately).
Smoking is like any other drug in one major way – if you don’t quit, it will likely kill you. In fact, the eventual death may be a plus for some smokers. For the anxious, the depressed, and the addicted, death occupies the space in the mind that heaven occupies in the mind of the religious; it’s a safe haven, a place we may wish to go, just not today. Addicts often act in ways that indicate a desire to die. Just quitting doesn’t address that death wish. Cigarettes offer a compromise between suppression and embrace of the suicidal instinct. It’s a “safe” outlet for that death-wish. Instead of getting drunk and driving like a madman, or shooting up with used needles, or getting high and wasting your life away, you can simply smoke a few cigarettes each day. It’s going to kill us eventually, but we can still function in life in the meantime.
This is also why so many smokers are somewhat confused by e-cigarettes. We may say we like the taste of traditional cigarettes, but really at some level, I believe we’re thinking, “Sure, you get your nicotine, but if it’s not going to kill me, what’s the point?” This is why e-cigs aren’t an effective way to stop smoking unless someone is really ready to quit.
When is a smoker ready to quit? As one get older, smoking takes an increasing toll on the body. It’s no longer a “safe” outlet, it becomes scarier and the threat more immediate. But merely getting older is not enough. You have to learn something very important, something that takes many addicts and mentally ill people in recovery a long time to learn: Your life is valuable and worth living. You will die someday, but it’s not necessary to hasten the end. It sounds cliché, but in order to take care of yourself, you have to accept yourself as a person worth taking care of.