Was in the coffee shop with half a dozen old and new friends yesterday, after a nice hike in the woods. Someone mentioned that I had gone back to work. “What’s your work?” one of my new friends asked.
Oh-oh. The cat is about to be let out of the bag.
One of the problems of being head coach at the Smokers Freedom School is that many of my old and new friends who still smoke, when they hear what I do, get worried, back away, think I’m going to judge them harshly. Thus, they often quickly change the subject. They worry I won’t like them. Or worse, that I’ll try to coach them. Being head coach can sometimes be a damned lonely job.
(Other times, when a friend hears what my day job is, their eyes light up. “I need to talk to you,” they say.)
Here’s the deal: my mom smoked. (May she rest in peace.) She smoked even though I was a full time, government employed stop-smoking coach. She still smoked after reading my first two stop smoking books. (I’ve written three more since she passed on.) She smoked even though she understood intellectually what I was up to. (I’m happy to report that she did finally quit smoking, after fifty years of trying, four or so years before passing on at the age of 84. Alas, my great stop-smoking wisdom probably had very little to do with her finally quitting.)
Again, here’s the deal: whether mom smoked or not, she was still my mom. My dear sainted mom. That was my destiny, our destiny, and my good karma.
Same deal with my friends. Whether you smoke or not, you’re still my friend. That’s our destiny. Our mutual karma.
And here’s more of the deal: I often learn more about smoking from my friends who smoke then they learn from me about not smoking. I got the happy end of the stick.*(*In Roman forts a “communal outhouse” had a likewise “communal stick,” – which was a stick with a sponge or rag wiper on one end. Thus the origin of the common phrase, “short end of the stick.”) My friends keep me honest about the stop smoking biz, what works and what doesn’t. Friends help us keep our feet on the ground.
Still, I can sense when a still-smoking friend backs off when the topic of stop smoking comes up. So be it. Such is life, and destiny, theirs and mine.
Guilt and shame are the shirt and pants issued to smokers in our era. I see my work, at least in part, as helping smokers choose a different wardrobe. Guilt and shame are never in style. I help them to take off such garments and put on something more practical.
The tobacco culture is a huge 500 year old, 500 pound guerrilla waiting for any kid born after 1900. What is a kid supposed to do when meeting a 500 year old 500 pound gorilla? Of course we started smoking. What kid can stand up to such a cultural beast?
Fortunately, when I fell out of the Smokers Family Tree—a tree into which I had been born and to which I stayed loyal for many decades – – when I fell out of the Smokers Family Tree I fell on my funny bone.
Whether they believe me or not, I was left with absolutely no condemnation , no harsh judgement, for family members who still smoke. Nor do I have any urge to convert them. Of course I’m happy to share my experience if they’re curious. But I have no sense of “no-no, you shouldn’t smoke.”
But many of my smoking friends, especially those who don’t know me well, don’t believe that. They think because I am a stop smoking coach that I will want to convert them to non-smoking. “ MOM,’ I want to say, “just chill. I love you. Just the way you are. And thanks for being my mom. That’s more than enough for this lifetime.”
Most of my still-smoking friends find that hard to follow. But it’s true:
I love you dude, dudess, mom. Just the way you are. You can accept that I love you or not.I’m still going to love ya. That’s just the way I am, the way I am built.
By the way: You are built that way to. With love. And love just happens to be the portal to freedom. But that’s a post for another day.