One in Four – A Walk through Shadow and Flame

According to statistics, one in four children in the US have been sexually molested. I don’t know what the statistics are in other parts of the country, but that is a big number. It means that every fourth person you meet has been in some way or other, sexually taken advantage of. I don’t know what the statistics are in Malaysia or in the UK where it happened to me but it could be similar. And yes, it did happen to me.

This was 29 years ago, when parents thought that the world was a safe place and that you could allow children to play securely and innocently. He was an acquaintance of my mother’s, someone she was taking a course with in Manchester, UK. It was already a rough time, as my father had sent me to my mother along with a letter that he was leaving her for a younger woman. She was devastated and I was confused.

How does a six year old even begin to describe the situation? It was a public place, and there was no pain involved but something about the situation didn’t feel right. I couldn’t even find the words to say what had happened and my mother was already upset, so I kept it quiet. Keeping it quiet however, did not mean that nothing manifested of it.

I’ve lived my life panicking every time a man stands too close behind me, and when a man assists me in child’s pose, my initial reaction is to stop breathing and freeze up until the message gets to my brain that I know the person and that it is OK to relax. It took me years to get used to the assist in downward facing dog where someone grabs you from the hips and pulls you back. Even now, there are only a few men I can relax into the assist with and I am extremely sensitive to the intention behind the touch.

It was never spoken of, but it has always been somewhere in the shadows.

And it wasn’t until two years ago that I had a vivid memory of the experience. My abuser had come from behind and he wasn’t rough, but he did touch me in an inappropriate way. A child might not know it in their mind, but children are sensitive receptors of touch. It was a lucky thing that there were other people around on the other side of the room or it could have been worse. I wanted to look out the window and he carried me until I could see. It was subtle but I did feel violated.

The event has been playing in the back of my mind for all this time.

‘When the student is ready, the teacher appears,’ old Buddhist proverb.

And so I must have been ready as the right teacher appeared. She had been through a worse experience than I had, relived the memory and come out the other side. I remember being in her class over a year ago, and the feelings surrounding the situation for me came up. Even from the first class, she noticed that I had trouble connecting to my sacrum and was coaxing me to bring breath into the area. It has been a slow process and part of the thing that made is so was my fear to face the assault.

It takes a lot to face these things but last Wednesday, something clicked. Ana Forrest, my beautiful teacher coaxed us to go on a quest towards identifying the blockages that keep us from being whole. In case of a traumatic event, a part of you remains in that time until you go back and free them. Ana said the magic words, telling us that the worst was over. We had survived and we were alive.

That, I think was what did it for me. I decided at the beginning of class that I would chase this fucker down so he could have less power over me. That intention must have been potent because even from the beginning as I was bringing breath down to my sacrum and pelvic area, the tremors began. They continued through core work and most of the class. Finally, when we got into Shavasana, they took over, wrecking my entire body and causing me to panic to the point of not being able to breathe. Luckily Claire, Ana’s assistant, lovingly stayed with me, gently touching my head and cueing me to keep breathing. As soon as we were out of Shavasana, I was a sobbing wreck.

It did not finish there.

Through the day, when I got home, I would sit down, start breathing into my sacrum and the shaking would start followed by sobs. Emotionally, I had to revisit that time of being confused, scared and betrayed. That feeling of being left alone overtook me, and most of all were the very strong feelings that as this was happening to me, my father, the one who was meant to flex his muscles (he was an ex footie player) and protect me was busy starting a new romance. He had let me down, and that’s where my belief that men leave you when you’re weak started.

There were some positives to it though. I was finally able to speak to my mother about it and gave the six year old a voice. She has been a rock through these times. She continues to be amazing, caring, calling me and supportive in my determination to get through this. She’s stuck through me in my crazy quest and called every day since.

We women are so much stronger in our compassion than we give ourselves credit for.

On Thursday I went back. The tremors started early, and towards the end, we were in a compromising Frog pose with a big roll under our bellies. That’s when they fully took over my body. A big part of me wanted to leave the pose and run out of the room. Another part of me was absolutely adamant to chase this fucker out of my body. Ana stayed with me through almost all five minutes of the tormenting ordeal where there were moments when I truly believed that I might die.

But I didn’t and here I am.

I’ve been a gaping wound all week. The memories, and the feelings surrounding them rise and fall like waves. They take over me and I am a shaking mess all over again. Sleep has been sometimes easy but most of the time not. I’ve had nightmares and gone to some really dark places in my mind, but as much as it scares me, I don’t want to put a temporary salve on this.

This will be a tough ride but I want to live my life fully so I am choosing to go through this. The other option is to live my life behind a safe wall where ‘fine’ and ‘comfortable’ are good enough. They are really not so I am living the days occasionally getting thrown into my past knowing that only by facing the nightmares will I be able to shine light on them.

The first 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training I did, I was recovering from a breakup. This time, I will be so much more vulnerable as I head into another time of big change. Sometimes though, it is in times of darkness like these that you learn to find your own light. I could bury it and stick a positive affirmation on it, but that’s not where the work is done. There is greatness and magic in the world however, as what you need always gets provided to you. In my case, I have a strong and loving bond with my family even though they are far away, a generous and solid community that holds me in their arms, wonderful friends and a nuturing yoga practice.

I am also taking steps to protect myself now. Where I would spread my love without fear of backlash before, right now, I am a bit more cautious. Where I see threat of unnecessary hurt, I step back. Some friends will taper away. This is when you know the ones who are leeching on your life force, the ones who only want you when you are light and easy. If you have a partner, this is when you know a weak person from a strong one.

It is a process of riding the waves day by day, and a transformation through fire. At the other side awaits a stronger person with more compassion and so much more love for self and others.0c136b5c56fd13046766ee65c4826572-d6ha2cv

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Brahmacharya

sacred-sexuality-with-dr-ray

In 2012, a few months before I went into my first 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training, I made a radical decision. I decided that for a year, I would observe Brahmacharya. Named for the state of searching for the ‘Great One, Supreme Reality, or Self,’ Brahmacharya is one of the five Yamas according to Yogic texts. In Vedic traditions in refers to the state of celibacy one chooses during the life stage of being an unmarried student and fidelity when married. In modern times, it is better known as a state of being sexually responsible. In Hindu and Buddhist traditions, Monks practice Brahmacharya their whole lives as it is considered necessary for their spiritual practice.

It wasn’t a decision that required a lot of consideration on my end. I loved the sound of the word, ‘Bharmacharya,’ and something about doing it felt completely right. I chose the more strict sense of the word, not only refraining from the sexual act, but also anything that could lead to it including kissing, extreme alcohol consumption and situations where I am alone with a man I am attracted to in a private setting.

As soon as I had decided on it, it was like I had donned a veil that made me sexually invisible. There was a sense of liberation in being able to let it go and practice my Yoga, learn my texts and most of all, learn more about myself. Once I had taken the whole dynamic out of the picture, I found a lot of freedom. I learned to walk in my own skin without trying to gather the attention or to please a dominant male figure.

A lot came up in that time but once the year was up, and as I was ready to lift the veil, my beloved father passed away. Now that opened up a whole other can of worms and Brahmacharya was extended. The relationship between a daughter and a father is always something pretty amazing. My father, no matter what he did was my hero. Whenever he was in a room, his was the only presence that mattered to me. We had our ups and downs of course. When we disagreed there were so many strong emotions running around that the charge was palpable. It was the love that was also the double-edged sword. When he hurt me, I would lash out as strongly but the love was so deep that when I hurt him, it was akin to taking a knife to my own heart.

My father was a bit of a narcissist in that he never saw how his actions hurt the people who loved him. Growing up I was used to him getting distracted either with a new relationship, a new love interest or a new work venture and he would disappear during those times. Those were the days when he didn’t return my calls, or was simply not available. Then when the thing that had his interest for the moment went to shits or he got bored of it, he would be back and I would welcome him. It hurt like hell but I was young not to see the cruelty and selfishness in it so it became the norm.

When he passed, the patterns that I had carried on from my relationship with him to my relationship with other men came to light. Of course, I never loved anyone quite as strongly. How could you love an employer, friend or lover as much as you love your own father? Not even close. But I did notice that in my relationships with men, I had been willing to accept a degree of cruelty. I’m not saying that the men in my life have been cruel, not all of them anyway, but there have been acts of cruelty that I had previously quickly forgiven and even sometimes apologised for.  In doing so, I had been cruel to myself and reaffirming the belief that I was not worthy and therefore it was my responsibility to hold things together.  That was a pretty big one to see and a bigger one to disprove.  Thanks goodness for the friends who see your light even when you can’t.

There is something to be said for not being in a romantic relationship and seeing these patterns. I haven’t been a monk where emotions are concerned. Of course, I’ve had crushes and emotional interests but the commitment to my practice has held me from getting into going forward with a relationship. I had nothing to lose. I’d spent my entire twenties almost continuously in long-term relationships. The thing is, when you are in one, you’re so caught up in the highs and lows of it that you can’t step back and say, ‘wait a minute, here’s that behaviour that I am repeating.’ I’m not saying the change is immediate but like with everything else, you have to notice the pattern to change how you act to it. That has been my greatest lesson.

I have many lessons to learn, I’m sure, but it has been three years and eight months since I committed to a state of learning these lessons on my own. This has in a way become a crutch to save myself from complications and the possibility of pain, but what is life without some complication. It might be time to opening myself to lessons that involve another dynamic now.

In about two weeks, I enter into my second 200 Yoga Teacher Training. The main teacher, the amazing Shiva Rea is a true Tantrist. This time instead of slow assimilation to practice, it will be a month away in an insulated situation, but once the month is done, I think it is time I consciously lift the veil of Brahmacharya that I’ve been wearing all this time.

To victory in facing fears, taking risks and standing in the discomfort of the fire until change is ready to happen. Jai!

Reintroduction to Grief

Grief.

Sometimes without warning it cuts through you, breaking you to pieces.  Like a hot blade going through your heart, only you don’t get to die.  You live.  Everything inside you wants to dim it down.  Suddenly you crave every addiction you think you have let go of – a drink, a cigarette, a pill, a warm unknown stranger.  Something. Just something to give you some relief from feeling this raw.

Grief

Yes raw.

You’re reduced to a big gaping wound and nothing else. You read things that spew crap like, “the wound is where the light enters,” and all you can think of is with a wound this big, it had better be the fucking sun entering.  When people ask you if you feel better or say things like they hope you feel better soon, all you want to do is punch them. It’s not a fucking cold. Better won’t come for a while. But maybe they forgot what grief feels like. Maybe they never knew.

It sits with you. Sometimes it sleeps and you’re fooled into thinking that it’s left you, but then, when you’re sitting there smiling it rears its head again. You can’t see it, but you feel it so strongly that sometimes your body doubles over and there you are, on your knees at the mercy of the universe.

All your life, you’ve been told that this is bad.  Somewhere in there, your mind is saying, “well, you’re not the first person this has happened to, so get over yourself.”  But this is beyond what your brain understands. It’s not something to fight or get rid of, it just is. It is not a disease. The tears that fall are just your emotions bubbling over into the physical world.

At some point, you ignore the thoughts that tell you this is wrong.  Ignore the people that say you should feel better.  This is grief.  It is not good, but it is not bad either.  It is a feeling that tells you that you loved.  It reminds you of the loss you suffered, and in its strange dark way, it fills you up, reminding you that you have a heart after all.

I used to fight my grief.  I used to think that because I was lying in a heap of tears on the floor, or falling apart in someone’s arms, it meant that I was not strong.  Then I was taught different. I was taught to see emotions in a different way, that strong might not mean fighting.  That strong meant feeling – sitting in the grief and letting it wash over you. Easier said than done.  But when I look at my past, at all the people who got hurt in the explosion of my endless fight against my own grief, my addictions, my anger and of all the hurt that I carried with me through the years because I couldn’t grow a pair and face them, perhaps, it’s time to surrender.

As I sit in meditation and the tears fall again, I realise that there is no right or wrong, only the knowing, the understanding, that instead of happiness, the goal might be to just be at peace.  And I am still learning – learning to be a peace with grief.  Learning to surrender to the fact that it is here, and it might be my travelling companion for a while.  Learning to accept of the fact that the tears will fall sometimes when I don’t expect them to, and learning to give myself permission to just grieve.

A Snob On a Meditation Cushion is a Snob Still

A few months ago, in yoga teacher training, we came across a scripture that addressed how in order for one’s yoga to progress, one would no longer mix with what’s known as “common people.”  Since then, it has become a running joke where we’d make statements referring to the so called, “common people.”  Although we use it in jest, yoga snobbery is a very real situation.  Personally, I have had statements, often laced with a tone of judgment, like, “oh we’re not likely to do so and so because we’re yogis,” “you’re a yogi so you won’t do so and so,” or even, “he eats McDonalds and smokes cigarettes, so he’s that kind of person.”

Yoga, in its essence means “to yoke,” or “union,” and correct me if I’m wrong, but this segregation of seeing ourselves as “yogis,” and therefore above other people, instead of uniting us, separates us from others. Yogis generally adhere to the five yamas (nonviolence, truthfulness, non-stealing, non-excess and non-possessiveness) and the five niyamas (purity, contentment, self-discipline, self-study and surrender).  But what about the practice of compassion?  What about the practice of feeling for others without putting them on another level, often lower than we are?
How could a bunch of tree hugging hippies be snobs, you say?

What about the snobbery that looks at people who don’t practice yoga or meditation as lesser beings, and at the other level the snobbery that looks at people who don’t or can’t practice certain things (including some asanas) as lesser yogis? How many times have you had a yogi flick you off by saying something like, “I’m a yogi,” with an unspoken side of “that makes me more enlightened that you are?”  Yoga practitioners, have you had an incredulous yogi say to you, “oh you’re not a vegetarian?”, or “you smoke?” Sometimes you might even find yourself looking at another yogi and OMG, they’re NOT wearing Lululemon, so they can’t be serious yogis, can they?  Don’t get me wrong, I love my Lulu gear, but I know that if I was a student who had to pay for university, rent and yoga classes, I wouldn’t be able to afford them.  Would that mean that I treasure my yoga any less?

Honestly, I can be just as guilty of yoga snobbery as anyone else. Not just to others, but to myself.  It’s not just that voice where your judgment eye is turned outwards, it’s also when your judgment eye is turned inwards, looking for reasons why you you’re not good enough for yoga.  I often find some vice or reason why I’m not a good yogi.  The fact that I hate the word, “resonate,” might make me a bad yogi, actually.  In fact, although yoga is a big part of my life, I often refer to myself as a yoga practitioner instead of a yogi.  It’s not anything, I just don’t think I’m there yet, wherever there is.

That’s the thing with judgment and snobbery though.  A truly enlightened person often is not judgmental at all, and they really wouldn’t bother about what people are wearing, or how long people are holding their handstands for. A person who was born into wealth within an old family is often more humble than what we would call the nouveaux riche. A spiritually experienced, although he or she might guide you through and occasionally make fun of you, would not segregate in a way that makes it seem some are less than others, and they sure as hell won’t talk down to people.

Yoga is a great place to be, but there can also be a lot of pretentiousness, especially as with our consumerist, achievement mad and socially conscious society, we have started to take the same shit into yoga.  The pretentiousness ranges from people who pretend to like kale because it’s the “yogi superfood,” to people using certain words or speaking in a certain way because it’s more yogic (by the way, yoga originates from India, so technically to properly use yogic words, you’d speak Sanskrit or a current language that originates thereof), to holding back on swearing because it’s un-yogic, to a view that someone who can’t move in a certain way are considered un-yogic.  And don’t even think about being a sci-fi addict, or loving beer, or wanting to own things. There is almost this idea that you have to tick boxes to be a yogi and if you don’t, then you are just not there.

A lot of people are starting to get interested in yoga for all its benefits. Who are we to say that while people are only practicing some aspects and not others, therefore they are not a yogi? Who are we to say that someone who has never stepped foot in a yoga studio is “common?” Some people choose not to practice asana at all, focusing instead on pranayama or the yamas and niyamas.  Some people practice asana but spend their time judging those who don’t.  Perhaps it’s time for a bit of svadyaya, a turning of the focus inside, and realizing that there are guidelines, but there are no rules that makes others more of something, or less than.  Some people just don’t like kale and enjoy a steak and beer, or a cigarette once in a while.  The smell might be unpleasant to you, but that sure as hell doesn’t make anyone better than anyone else.

Judgment is judgment no matter where it comes from and a snob is a snob even when you’re sitting on an expensive piece of rubber meditating five hours a day.

Jewel in the Lotus Flower

Lotus Flower

Recently I had dinner with a friend who told me that since her breakup, her yoga practice has gone deeper than it has in the last three years, in her case, especially in forward bends.  It made me think back to my big breakup last year, and how one day my lovely Vicki suggested a forearm balance.  Prior to that, I had a mortal fear of going upside down.  But that day, it was like every emotion I felt in my chest contracted and expanded, and somehow there I was, upside down (against a wall of course), and holding this crazy pose.  Of course, when your heart is light, sometimes your practice is almost effortless, your hips are so open that Warrior 2 or half pigeon does not feel like a death sentence. Who knew though that heartbreak could allow light into the dark corners of your body too?

Your body and your emotions are directly related.  In fact, a lot of the time, when you experience some kind of emotional turmoil or block, your body will react to it.  It has definitely been the case in my life.  When my parents went through divorce, I suddenly developed respiratory problems, and was admitted to hospital twice. Respiratory problems, centered around the chest area, was the way my body reacted to unreleased heartache. After a while, when I learned to manage the emotions, I got better, but by that time, I had already been put on steroid based medication (which now I know is never a good idea). In my late teens and early twenties, I suffered periods of intense weight gain, and incredible digestive issues.  If you study the chakra system, you will know that issues with the belly relate to issues with personal power, either so much that it becomes an overactive ego, or too little that you feel helpless. In my case, I was feeling helpless.

We have this idea that any sort of pain or illness is a bad thing, and worse still if it is emotional instead of physical. A physical ailment is normal isn’t it? But when it gets to a level where it is actually based on the emotional, it becomes unbearable. For years I thought my smoking was a physical addiction, but when you look deeper, an addiction, any addiction is a sign of emotional imbalance.  Accepting that I was suffering from an emotional addiction was much harder than just saying that my body was addicted to nicotine. The thing is though, just like our bodies, sometimes our emotions get sick too.  We just don’t want to look at it because this unseen universe, the one that goes beyond the physical is far beyond out comprehension, and most of the time, we can’t just pop a pill to cure it.

It is not all bad.  Most of the time, going into the emotional illness, or allowing your emotions to be affected have a way of allowing you to grow.  Sometimes emotional discomfort happens because your energy is growing and can’t fit into your current space anymore. Rumi said, “If you are irritated by every rub, how will your mirror be polished?” Yes of course, sometimes the rubs are rough. The truth is sometimes it’s more like being put through the wash than just a rub, but every emotional ailment has a way of expanding you just a little bit more. The secret is to first do the difficult thing of acknowledging it, and then going through the more difficult task of sitting with it.  Cry if you must, scream into your pillow, stare it straight in the eyes and let it hurt.  Yes, it’s hard, and yes, it hurts, but life is a cycle of emotions, and despite what the seven deadly sins tell us, there really are no bad emotions. They are there, and they are as natural as the sun rising.  It is when we start first hating ourselves for feeling these feelings, then denying them and pushing them down that they have a way of just one day overflowing and drowning us. So be there, hard as it is. Emotions are God given. The test is how you react to them.

I wear rings with the Buddhist mantra, “Om Mani Padme Hum,” which roughly translates to, “the jewel in the lotus flower.” Originally it refers to how Buddha is the jewel in the lotus flower that grew out of the mud, but personally, I think that we are all lotus flowers growing out of this muck call life. Every heartache, every bit of love, every flash of anger, and sadness, joy and hardship, every bit of emotion opens us up, petal by petal. The thing is, we should let it open us up, let the physical ailments be a window to your emotions, and a step to surrendering to your full potential. I say surrender because we never know what our full potential is, and while we push, we might be pushing in the direction that is the opposite of our complete selves.

There really is no point in my talking about it if I hadn’t been through it. So this is my story. For years fighting and pushing were exactly what I did, never checking in to see if this was what I really wanted. It was about being the “it” girl, making my parents proud, being this picture of perfection according to everyone else.  Then one day, my heart broke. “How could it be?” I thought, “I had held my fire in, cooked, cleaned, been nice to the friends and family. Everything I should be.”  Well, the thing is, I was not being me.  So unlike other times, this time I stopped and lived in the pain. It was the most diffucult thing, but it changed my life. Things became clearer and I became more of me. Despite what I was made to believe, it isn’t all bad if you don’t want to be CEO of your own company with the 2.5 kids and the husband, or a multi-millionaire wearing Manolos.  Just work at finding yourself. Not who your parents, society or the magazines want you to be.  It’s about being where you want to be, and being the person you are.  So surrender. Feel.  Everything is a step in getting closer to the jewel within you, your true center.

Om Mani Padme Hum

Like Attracting Like

Anyone who read my earlier posts would know that I recently decided to end a very long relationship – https://azphoenix.wordpress.com/2011/12/12/letting-go-of-addictions-the-first-48-hours/.  To be honest, after being a smoker for 14 years, it wasn’t really something that I considered doing up until a few weeks ago.  Then on the day of the last eclipse, 10th December 2011, I thought “what am I waiting for?” And so, I put out the one I had in my hand and I haven’t picked one up since.

Giving up, for me, has been like ending a very long romance. It was the kiss I reached for when I felt lonely, and it was the smoke-screen I hid behind when I didn’t want people to see the real me or to make real conversation. A friend said today that as he was a very shy youth, he felt like smoking was his way of socializing, and I completely agree. When you are a bit shy and slightly awkward, you feel like you need something to break the ice, then before you know it, you associate that thing (be it alcohol or cigarettes) with a real connection or socializing.

Thinking back, smoking (and drinking) had been the way I had met almost all my previous partners. Conversations were started when we were outside smoking or a when one was borrowing a lighter from the other.  It was the initial common ground that set the scene, and for the entire relationship, we were the people who stepped out after dinner or lunch or whenever to have a cigarette.  I wondered why I was always in relationships with people who suffered from one form of addiction or another, but the truth was that I was just the same. It was a case of like attracting like.

The first week was interesting to say the least, but physically, it doesn’t take very long for nicotine to leave your system.  It’s more the mental and emotional attachment that you have to work through.  Honestly, I do miss it, but it is not so much part of me that I thought it was.  Also, with the season being what it is, there has been the additionally daunting task of attending social functions, and this time without my smoke-screen intact.

The first function I attended was the yoga studio Christmas party, which to be honest, was one of the best parties I have attended in a long time. For me, it was always the people who made the party, and this party was filled with people who made my night.  The kisses and hugs were affectionate instead of sleazy, I wasn’t forced to have a drink if I didn’t feel like it, and the conversation was great.  Laughing and actually being interested was not considered un-cool or weird. I knew that although my Az-quirks would have been laughed at, they would have been accepted as part of me.

The other party I attended was the office Christmas party.  I’ll be honest when I say that I do genuinely like quite a few of my colleagues, so in terms of company, it was not all bad. My work is in the conferencing industry, where a lot of it is about networking so our outings are usually to so called “swanky” places.  The party started with a cruise, after which we headed to a bar called Bungalow 8 in Darling Harbour, then over to Slip Inn, also around the area.  At some point in the evening, I looked around and what I saw was almost the same exact crowd that had been there three years ago.  Here was the man in the shirt, slacks and dress shoes, winding down after a hard day at work, talking shop with colleagues, out to impress, while checking out the “talent”.  And here were women with their sky high heels, too much makeup and dyed blonde hair, trying to get the attention of these men. Everyone in the bar was just trying too hard it looked like.

A few years ago, I would have been right at home in one of these swanky pubs.  A few years ago, what these people thought of me would have mattered.  I would have been the girl with the drink, the cigarette, the lightened hair and the heels trying to impress people I hardly knew and were not likely to want to know on a personal level.  Yesterday though, not being drunk at such a gathering, I realized that there was not one man that I found attractive there, and when I looked around, although some of the girls looked great, there was not one group of them that I would like to be a part of.  They were not different.  For every previously brunette blonde with a cigarette that walked out of the pub, there were five to take her place.

Today, reflecting on everything, I realize that sometimes the things that you think are so much a part of you actually do not mean that much at all. Sometimes, all these things I do as part of my work are not really an integral part of my life.  So much of what I thought was my life had been superficial; the places, friends, lifestyle and it wasn’t until I had a hard time, and took time to be with me that I realized that.  The pubs had not moved, the people in there were different variations of the same, and sometimes, even the jokes were recycled.

After this week, I realize that I have gone out into the world scared, always hiding behind alcohol or cigarettes.  It’s time not to be that person anymore.  It’s time to go out into the world as just me, quirks and all.  With all the time worrying about people not accepting me as I was, I wasn’t even thinking about what I thought of them as people.

Maybe I am growing up after all. Maybe it’s time friendships and possible romances are built over real conversations instead of cigarette breaks.  Maybe it’s time I found out if a joke I thought was funny when I was drunk would still be funny when I’m sober.  Maybe it’s time that I really looked at people without smoke clouding my vision and let them see me without the same.  Maybe it’s time to have a real talk instead of a cigarette when I am unhappy. And maybe, just maybe, if like attracts like, being a bit more like me will allow people to like me for being me.

As my dearest friend and yoga instructor messaged me during the work Christmas party, “smile and walk away,” because sometimes, when you’re done with something, that’s all you have to do.

Letting go of Addictions – the First 48 Hours

Photo taken and edited by Sarah Ghazi

After 14 years, I have just decided to end the longest relationship I have had in my life.  This relationship, although not with a man, was started at about the same time that men (apart from my father) came into my life.  This is my relationship with cigarettes.  To be honest, it’s about the same as a relationship with a man.  The first time you smoke, like a first kiss, is often disgusting and unnatural.  Then, you keep at it, and it starts feeling better and before you know it, you feel like something is missing when you don’t have it.  With relationships, they could be good or they could be bad.  Unfortunately for me, my habits within relationships so far are about as healthy as my smoking habit.

So far, it has been 48 hours, and just like a breakup, where you want to call the other person and either profess your love or abuse them, I miss my cigarettes.  Like a relationship, there are many ways to give up.  Some people give up smoking when they meet someone who wants them to quit.  Some people do patches, or gum or some form of medication.  To me, any one of these quitting tactics would be like leaving a relationship only when you’re sure that you have something else to fall back on, and anyone who knows me would know that I never do anything the easy way.  The thing with addiction is that more often than not, you end up replacing one with another, and in really wanting to quit, you have to be really honest with yourself.  The truth of the matter is, just like a relationship, if you really were ready to let go, you would be able to do so without looking for something else to take your attention, and without having to justify it in any way.

I know some people think this is insane, but the first 24 hours, I still had a box of cigarettes in my possession, and while I was at home, I would keep the box in front plain sight.  Why?  To me, it was like ending a relationship with someone you really love, but is really bad for you, and still having them there in the house with you.  If I could make it through the first 24 hours with that presence and not go back, then it could only get easier.  In a way, smoking is a distraction, and without it, you’re there, without anything in your hand or smoke in the air, and you’re just that bit more vulnerable.  Having the box of cigarettes in front of me was my way of saying “I can look at you and want you, but I will not reach for you.”

You know how when you end a relationship people will tell you to “keep yourself busy” or “look for a distraction”? Although I am always thankful for friendly advice, through experience I have learned that distraction is like taking painkillers – at some point in the future, you might wake up at 3:00am when you’re most vulnerable, and the stuff you were trying to distract yourself from hits you in the face.  Unfortunately, the misdemeanors you were party to while trying to distract yourself often come back to you at the same time as well. So, to avoid replacing smoking with for instance alcoholism or a parade of male prostitutes, I took the harder route. I just sat and did nothing with just chick flicks spaced half an hour apart and reading a passage every so often.  A whole day spent where you are breaking into tears every 15 minutes really isn’t a pretty sight.

48 hours since my last cigarette, and I’m still feeling emotionally and mentally fragile.  Just like someone who runs back into a relationship without facing their issues first, the slightest exchange could have me reaching for a cigarette or some other attachment.  This is only the beginning and I don’t know where this will head.  At this point, I can’t even think that far ahead yet.  Right now, I just have to make it from 48 hours to a week, knowing that the choice to be healthy or unhealthy is mine and mine alone.  Somewhere inside though, I know that this is part of the relationship where all other relationships begin.  This is part of my relationship with me.

During this transition, my friends have been amazing! Christine, Will and Jess who are my team-mates at work have given me unwavering support.  The girls who know so far, Karen and Nikki, have been emailing me through the day with their support.  Wayne, the awesome, who quit smoking about a month ago has been great too.  Every time I go down for my soy chai (yes soy chai!) now it’s accompanied by a threat of how I’d get hit up side the head if I picked up another cigarette.  It’s only been two days and although friends can support me, the only way through is by taking one day at a time, and having a lot of faith.  At the end of the day, a cigarette is just an addiction – the real issue is that I felt that I needed it to get me through the day.