This story never gets old.
At the ripe old age of 29 I had been a pack-a-day smoker for 16 years. I started in grade 8. It wasn’t to fit in, rather it was to get off my head – the first foray into mind-alteration. But this story isn’t really about that. This story is about me at 29 and I’ll provide a snapshot: she is in a low period of her life; in college and failing, unemployed, suffering from panic attacks, living in a house where some unmentionable activity is going on, with very unhappy people around, and she’s sick, all. the. time.
Every little virus, bug or bacteria going around seemed to hone in on me. I couldn’t shake it. On any given day I was invariably coughing up a lung or puking. I had acne running up and down my back and all over my scalp and face, which had just kind of appeared out of no-where (and didn’t help with the going outside part – of life). I could barely get out of bed some days. The house I lived in was dismal – with all of my roommates in their own personal versions of ‘the Fall’ – most days I felt like I was in a living hell. It was a strange period of life because there were no drugs involved – which in my own experience was what brought people to their knees in this way – and yet the hell existed here in the same way. It was like we all came there to fall apart. Needless to say, none of us are friends still.
But I digress. This story is about me being sick all the time. I was poor – on student loans that ran out too fast. Some days I didn’t eat a thing. Some days I didn’t leave the house – this big empty unfurnished house with brown walls and hardwood floors – I would perform this abject shuffle about from the front window to the back window, periodically venturing out to the back porch to sit and have a smoke (oh yes, no food but always cigarettes!).
The only thing good about this time of my life was yoga.
The toxicity in my house, the fighting, the people at the end of their ropes and tethers, the cruelty that was done in that house settled on the walls like 3rd hand smoke. It hung there in the air like a bad smell, making the space feel heavy and suffocating. Sometimes it was intolerable – so bad that I started to think we were cursed. So – one day I found a book at the library on yoga, and it fascinated me. I took it home a read it cover to cover, and then started to practice. This was my first ever introduction to yoga. I was alone in the house most days, aside from the occasional roommate explosion running in an out. But however lonely I was, it gave me the space to practice – and this book I had was so very good at explaining breathing techniques and exactly how the postures should be executed – I took to it all very quickly.
Over time I began to discover that when I practiced, in earnest, the bad vibes in the house would disappear. It was like white magic. So I took it more seriously; lit candles and said mantras. I practiced in that house every day for at least 6 months. It was my solace. A soothing balm for my wounds. It really was the only thing that got me through the day-to-day of that horrific situation I was in.
Back to the sick – it started to concern me that I was sick all the time. I had a multitude of remedies scattered about the house that I took every day; vitamin c powder, oregano oil, grapefruit seed oil, each one more powerful and foul-tasting than the last – yet I never really got better. It was a constant malaise interrupted by frequent bouts of real sickness. Flues, colds and anxiety – always anxiety.
Then one night I had this dream:
I am sitting in a dark movie theatre – the curtain goes up and screen comes on. On it are images of me smoking. Sitting at a bar smoking, having coffee with friends smoking, sitting at my computer smoking, standing outside in the rain smoking, drinking martinis smoking, laughing, crying, walking smoking, smoking after sex – it went on and on. It was like snapshots of every moment of my life smoking – different ages and places, hairstyles and friends – all the associations I could possibly have with smoking – it was all there, one scene moving smoothly into the next, spliced together by some talented and unknown editor.
Then, the pictures started to change faster, then faster and faster – until it became pictures of just a few moments with each cigarette, and then became just picture after picture of me taking a drag – and then drag after drag after drag, faster and faster until it was like my whole life passing before my eyes in a torrential waterfall – and the me that was watching all this, I became agitated. I couldn’t catch my breath at first – and then I started to cough, and the faster the images got (and I couldn’t look away) the more I choked until I was hyperventilating and I couldn’t get any air. I was grasping my throat and suffocating as the pictures of me dragging and dragging and choking and dragging overwhelmed everything.
At this climax I suddenly found myself in a white place. Just white everywhere. Couldn’t really even see walls or a floor. It was a no-place; an in-between place. Gasping and floundering but relieved to be suddenly able to breathe again, I briefly had time to look around before I saw someone walking towards me from a distance. Squinting, I realized that… it was me. I walked up to me – smoke in hand and between drags, wagging fingers in my face and said, “Smoking is why you are always sick. And if you don’t stop, it will kill you.”
BAM! I woke up and threw myself out of the bed, gasping for air that I felt like I could not find for the next ten minutes. Heart pounding, literally drenched in sweat. Gasping, gasping, grasping at my blankets and reality, trying to pull it all closer around me. Trying to breath.
Auspiciously, New Years was just two weeks away, so I made a resolution. I wasn’t sure if I was quitting for realz. I had tried so many times in the past with absolutely no progress. I had quit things you would think would be much harder much more painful, but tobacco is a very heavy monkey. I had no expectations that this time would be any easier, yet I had this dream that was like no other dream I had ever had – and it freaked me right the fuck out.
Turns out that was it – I woke up that New Years morning after a night of partying, hung over and bleary and asked myself if I was going to have a smoke. And I answered, ‘meh’. And it went on like that. I quit that new years day 2001. I lived in a house full of smokers and never once had the urge to smoke. It was like a crazy miracle. I was just, done.
I also left that situation pretty soon after that.
I credit the yoga for these experiences looking back. I really believed it was white magic at the time. Now I think that daily practice opened a passageway between me and my higher-self or perhaps a guide, allowing a life saving message, that gave me exactly what I needed to overcome a huge obstacle in my life, to come through.
featured image by Maegan