Why Do You Smoke?
There’s a rich understanding here.
When I was young, my mum smoked in secret. It was an unspoken thing inside the house; she’d quit years before; however, when she was going through a really stressful time — retraining as a mature student, she began again.
My sister or I, I can’t remember who found her smokes in her bag. Smoking was forbidden in our house; it was shrouded in stigma and scorn, heavy silence and disappointment. Yet, I was always drawn there.
The first drag of that warm air descending my throat and into my lungs was heavenly, the rush of energy up into my brain, and passing it around my friends.
It was a connection to my friends; a sense of community amongst youths that didn’t understand what their pain was about, skaters who expressed themselves in outlandish tricks and got as high as possible on marijuana.
It was a connection to myself; to a body I couldn’t access, hidden beneath the fear of disappearing into the myriad of feelings that I had never seen — the anger, pain, depression, rage, sadness.
I had to be ‘good’, be a good boy, they said.
Who’s they? Everyone, myself included.
I didn’t understand until today, that I also smoke to connect to my mum’s humanity, her weakness. She grew up in a home where mothers were divine, uninterrupted and unchallenged.
“Because I’m your mother.”
That was a completed statement; the full stop was final. It’s interesting how your children come to break you free of those past pains and ways you used to survive.
I could never bear the finality; curiosity coursed through my veins. I couldn’t take the silence after the full stop. I would fly into a rage. My mum used to say that I’d get like a tiger in a cage.
Her favourite animal.
We’ve always struggled to connect, in my view — we’ve never been able to have this conversation because my experience of life was too close to her pain. Recently she admitted that I traumatise her with my anger. A hard thing for a son to hear and the relief washed over me. Finally, it was said.
I reminded her of her father, who had traumatic anxiety from the war. His anger was terrible; she’d continually tell me.
Squashing my anger made my anger terrible, suppressing it until it blew like a volcano in Iceland, blocking out any sun and stopping all travel for five weeks whilst everyone recovers a sense of safety. The blame goes on me, of course, a scapegoat of the family shame system. I learned that I was nothing.
I couldn’t connect to her feelings because she couldn’t connect to them, I’m not blaming her. It took me a full year in psychotherapy to be able to connect to mine. They’re scary for a reason. I needed help.
All this to say that smoking was my only connection to her weakness, the only humanity that she felt comfortable to share; the rest was competence and teaching, a blind need to be right and knowledgeable about everything.
Humans connect through vulnerability, empathy, and compassion — gratitude, forgiveness, love. Not needing to be right, having barriers.
I recognise my role in all this; I became unsafe. I was wild with the rage that came after being sexually abused for three years, and adrift from connection in the family.
I had no way out of the drowning feeling I felt every day; waking up was always a struggle. The family trait of being stubborn, spiritual and courageous kept me alive. I always believed in life. I just didn’t know why.
I was only able to connect to my body through smoking, the feeling of the warm air descending into my lungs, filling my lungs, and then returning out of my mouth.
Even the wheezing of burdened lungs in the morning. The only time I connected to my breath, and my body, to any extent.
Does that ring a bell for you too?
Today I walked up on the south downs in the UK, looked out to the light flares sparkling light onto a rippling ocean, through the gaps in thick winter cloud.
I sparked the lighter. It wouldn’t light. I tried over and over. It made me angry, and that anger illuminated the truth that I’m sharing with you now. I asked someone else for a lighter,
and I realised that I could ask for help. I took a few puffs and discovered the hot air in my lungs, the bitter taste of slight disgust in my mouth. Eckhart Tolle talks about this as ‘the pain body’.
I also realised that I have been developing an awareness of my body this year, understanding the ‘somatic descent’ of the mind, the longest shortest journey from the mind into the body.
I noticed that I was aware of how my heart centre felt in this moment of hot air in my lungs. I’d been ticking off awareness of the reasons why I smoked. The needs, desires and wants behind it. Today was a big day in that process.
It’s crucial not to flagellate ourselves in the spiritual journey; if our desires are pointing us somewhere, then it’s good to follow them in curiosity. If they take us somewhere scary, then listen to that fear,
talk it over with your therapist and friends, understand where it’s coming from so you build the awareness to have the space to respond. Shame never helps. It’s a fine line, I admit that. When I started smoking again three weeks ago, I didn’t understand why.
Sitting here with all the smoking paraphernalia in front of me, I don’t feel the anxious need to roll one. That’s a giant leap for me.
We don’t just do things because we decide to in our rational mind. It’s more complicated than that. My desire to smoke came from a complex web that I now understand as a need for affection and connection.
As I build that connection to myself, I need it less from the outside, and paradoxically I find that it exists more and I can embrace it wholly.
Self-acceptance brings secure and inspiring people into your life because they recognise that you’re committed to yourself. They won’t need to keep saving you from despair, that you can sit with despair and find it’s meaning for you.
There are so many somatic imprints and implicit memories in our surrounding cultures. One of them is smoking, so if you smoke, why is it that you smoke, and what lessons can it teach you?
Peter is a creative coach working to unblock people's authentic creative essence and expression. Using transformational life coaching, meditation and embodiment techniques. He is passionate about mental health, trauma informed practice, spirituality and how to create sustainable cultures that empower in equity.