A lot of people say that drug addicts (nicotine being a very, very powerful drug) need to “quit for themselves.” This, I have come to find, is nonsense. Telling a self destructive person to stop doing self destructive things “for yourself” is just plain silly because self destructive behavior is the pinnacle of selfishness — i.e. self destructive people are self destructive “for themselves.”
It’s true that the desire to quit has to be sincere and come from within, but the reasons leading up to this desire are often external. The first time I quit smoking was because of martial arts. Martial arts affected me in a way that made my life, internally and outwardly, better. Smoking was pushing me backwards, back into the darkenss I was trying to claw my way out of. I quit smoking because an external factor — martial arts — became more important to me than my own self destruction.
Later, I started smoking again, but I know (KNOW) that a major factor was that I had also stopped training in martial arts and I had become self-absorbed and self-indulgant in my egotistical philosophy and behavior. I smoked for years after just one delusionally romantic cigarrette on my way to New York City. In 2008, I met the woman who would eventually become my wife. I was a smoker and she loved me, but hated (HATED!) my smoking. Things between us were getting more and more serious and I kept telling her that I was going to quit “someday.” I’d done it before and I would do it again, but “I liked it” and I hated being told what to do (rebellion, it seems, can grow on a person as he/she gets older and becomes more embittered).
One day, I picked her up in my work truck to take her out for dinner. She got in the truck and started crying. I asked her what was wrong, half expecting to be some kind of hero and rescue her from her troubles. Then, to my great shock, she started yelling at me! I was instantly trasformed from Prince Charming into Dick Dastardly. “You aren’t trying to quit smoking,” she yelled, still in tears. “You aren’t even cutting back! Your truck smells reeks of cigarette smoke! How can I marry a man who doesn’t care about himself? How can I marry a man who doesn’t care about me? How can I marry a man who doesn’t care if he grows up to see his children graduate from college or get married?”
Of course, I was defensive and offended. Who was she to tell me what I could or should do or not do? I was smart enough to keep quiet (not something I am usually capable of). I don’t remember anything else from that night, but I’m sure we went out to dinner and I dropped her back off afterward. The next day, however, something had changed. I had changed. After the shield my self-righteous indignation faded, I was left bare, open. She was right. I loved my own self destruction more than I loved her, our life together, and our future — our potential children.
Standing in the light or our own humanity, of our own flaws, of our own imperfections, facing something we love more than we hate ourselves, we are left with two choices. We can ignore the light and shut it off, backing away into the shadows of lonliness and delusion. Or, we can embrace what we see and change to become the better part of ourselves, the part that is seen by those who love us, but which we are afraid of because it is difficult to wield and maintain. As writer Marianne Williamson said, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.”
Two days later, for this woman, for the future she represented, and for the me that she saw and wanted to have a future with, I quit smoking for good.*
Robert Van Valkenburgh, Co-Founder of Kogen Dojo & Taikyoku Mind and Body
*Note: I do not believe that it is a coincidence that, prior to meeting my now wife, I had started doing martial arts again, I had rejoined hapkido with a new found dedication and, this time, I would follow it through to earn my black belt and teaching credentials. Without this path as a foundation, it’s difficult to say whether or not I’d have had the strength to quit smoking again. Love and pain are our best teachers, but it helps to have a path for them to guide us down.