Blowing Away The Smoke
by Karol Ann Barnett c1996
I am a non-smoker. Now. But for 20 years, I lit up, coughed,
choked, craved and cringed at a rumpled pack with only one cig
left. Like the famous credit card, I never left home without 'em.
Or if I did, it was to the grocery for more. I was a REAL smoker.
Through all the years of smoking, I knew it was unhealthy. I
knew I was hurting myself. I took the humiliation when doctors
implied that I must not be very smart if I chose to smoke. I answered
that insult by lighting up another one. It wasn't an intellectual
decision that started my smoking habit. It was an emotional one.
But before I understood why I smoked -- the real reason -- I
told myself all the lies. I told myself that I was nervous and
that smoking helped me calm down. I told myself that I would be
the one person to escape the ravages of cancer, especially if
I didn't think about it much. The fear would then just go away
-- poof! -- like a puff of smoke. I told myself that everyone
had to have at least ONE vice. Mine was to smoke.
In fact, I had at least two. The other was my capacity to lie
I told myself that I couldn't quit because I was too addicted,
but if by some miracle I could quit, I would gain weight and be
fat and everyone would think I was ugly and I couldn't bear the
rejection, so I HAD to smoke in order to be happy and skinny and
acceptable to a world that didn't care what I did to myself, as
long as I was skinny.
ANYTHING is better than rejection, I told myself.
In point of fact, I did quit, I did gain some weight, but I have
not been rejected because of it. I know that my temporary weight
gain is my body's way of healing itself and after 20 years of
abuse, I'm gonna let it do whatever it needs to do to heal.
But it took time for me to get to that point of quitting. It
took time, self-examination, and the will to look past the smokescreen
of lies I had been telling myself. When I was finally able to
get the smoke out of my eyes and to see clearly, I was shocked
by what I discovered.
At the core of my desire to smoke, was a smoldering inferno of
anger and rage. The kind of anger-rage that's ageless, the kind
that every woman feels from the moment of consciousness and then
throughout life. It's the kind of anger-rage that develops from
a state of powerlessness. It's the kind of anger-rage every woman
feels, at some level, as she lives a life where no matter what
she does, she will always be a second-class citizen to most of
Every time I was denied basic human rights, or treated like a
brainless body, or a child, I got angry. And every time I got
angry, I stuffed another lit cig in my mouth, puffing and fuming
until the anger and rage died down to a manageable level. Most
of the time I was not even reacting on a conscious level to the
lack of respect that much of humanity has for women. But some
part of me felt it. Some part of me got angry about it. Some part
of me hated it so badly I was willing to kill myself with cigarettes
in order to quell the raging force within.
When finally I understood the underlying motivation for my need
to smoke, I quit easily, quickly, forever. Anytime I had the addictive
craving for nicotine, I would mentally remind myself that cigarettes
could not help me solve whatever problem I was experiencing in
body, mind or spirit. The craving would pass. I would then go
about handling my problems more productively.
My 20-year relationship with the "poison wrapped in white paper"
-- one psychologist's definition for a cigarette -- has been a
learning experience about myself and about the world in which
we live. Though women's issues are rapidly being addressed today,
it wasn't always so. And there is still much work that needs to
Not all of the focus should be on Chauvinistic men and their
denigration of women. There's also much to be done with women
and how they denigrate themselves. When women smoke a poison wrapped
in white paper because they don't want to gain a few pounds or
because they don't trust themselves enough to tell themselves
the truth or because they fear rejection at any level or because
they are raging with anger at the inequality in the world, there
is much work that needs to be done to enlighten a gender that
is wont to destroy itself.
But the work has begun. And the momentum will gain such a force
that it cannot, will not be stopped. Eventually women will learn
to love themselves as much as we love others. We will learn that
we need not sacrifice our health in order to be loved. The love
of self will be reflected back from others. When that happens,
the world will finally bear the glorious fruits of our propitious
labor. We will have helped to evolve the human race. And we will
have accomplished our great work.