Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Smoke Free Deity

Don’t get me wrong, I would enjoy the visits regardless of the smell, the headache, the coating of smoke that stays with me up until my next shower.  And I am not judging you even though I am known to tell it like it is.  You mean that much to me.  All the people from my past are important to me like that, regardless of what they do.    
What does bother me is that I can tell you don’t seem to be feeling entirely as well as you could; that you have a cough, a gravel sound to your voice and that your breathing is more labored than that of someone else your age, a non-smoker.  I could hear you breathe, your coughing, labored clearing of your throat from time to time.   I could also sense a kind of nervousness over the matter.  I don’t blame you.  I remember vocalizing my own frustrations over smoking when I still smoked.  As you said yourself.  It sucks.
It is indeed silly that anyone would continue smoking  knowing that it has been proven time and time again that it is truly a death of a thousand cuts; the real damage being the reduction of quality of life when you will want it the most; taking a walk, riding a bike, running with your kids and/or grandkids.  Bottom line, your overall energy level is now set to decrease from what’s considered normal for you (if you can remember normal).   I have been worried for you and the others for quite a while, now that you have been a smoker for more than half of your life, perhaps it’s really more like two thirds of your life.  I’m sorry if this comes across a little strong.  I suppose I have license to do this because I was a smoker once too—before I became something else.
It was back in 1999. For me it was the fact that some old habits really caught up with me and it was necessary to change things up, this after a four day hospital visit.
It was really quite embarrassing, even though a lot of people didn’t know what was going on with me back then.  I had had chronic bronchitis for months, a terrible cough that wouldn’t go away, I smoked too much, drank too much and worked too much, and I ate like hell. I was unhappy and seeking comfort in all of the wrong ways.  That’s pretty much what I had been doing since I was 16 years old.
I picked up the indulgent lifestyle over years in the restaurant and bar business, by watching those closest to me; my parents and their friends, my bosses, my co-workers.  They were all my heroes, my good-time heroes.  A hero was anyone I could hang around that would do the same thing and not give me shit about it. It was mine and the others “culture” to indulge like that.  Me and my good-time hero folks subscribing to the same value pool.  Me, I smoked Marlborough Reds.
The hospital stay was a result of playing poker all night while I should have been in bed. I felt a fever coming on but blew it off. When I finally made it home that night, I laid down on the couch only to wake up with a temperature of 105 and a severe ringing in my ears. I couldn’t move and I had to call a friend to help me get out of the house and in to the emergency room.  I had pneumonia and was admitted into the hospital.
I felt pretty bad.  In addition to the lung infection, I had, yes, a hangover, and I was feeling pretty sorry for myself due to what I knew (deeply) could have been avoided. Taking responsibility was a little tough because it was my own choice to over indulge all those years, all of it, over time, my consequence.  I lost my hearing in my right ear for 6 months due to some other middle ear issue related to the infection that I had also blown off for months.
So this is where things got a little weird.  Right there in the hospital room while I was struggling to find an excuse for being in as bad a shape as I was at 38 years old.  And don’t judge me on this either.  But I swear, an Angel appeared—not shittin.  
First off, it was not the type of angel you’re thinking about.  Not while you are sitting there reading this thinking I’ve gotten religion and now I’m spouting off about finding some type of God and stuff.  That’s alright by me, btw.  But that is not what this is about.   Because you see, this Angel, well she was this cool hippie type of chick, a real free spirit; dressed in tie-dye and a hemp rope choker around her neck, with dreadlocks down to her ass. She smelled of clove or curry or something like that.  I thought she was going to give me flowers.  She wasn’t exactly what I considered your stereotypical nurse, but she was a nurse indeed.  She was earthy and cool like a flea market soap peddler.  This Angel was going incognito as my nurse (and to be quite honest, she would have been my angel of choice for sure).  This was a much, much better personification of devine intervention for me.  The free spirit hippie Angel was just what I needed. 

Since I couldn’t breathe very well due to the infection, I got really paranoid and anxious when not being able to get comfortable.  I was having an all out panic attack right there in front of her in the first five minutes of her visit. Instead of hitting me with some super-powered Angel nurse stuff, or a pill or shot to take the edge off, she stood there shaking her head, measuring me up; not what I expected.  She gave me some calming exercises, some hippie type of yoga Angel breathing stuff. And it worked. She taught me some relaxation techniques that left me centering myself a bit. 
As the next few days went by, she took interest as to why I was so pissed off at myself, and I eventually came clean. I told her that I was basically a mess and had hit the bottom as it related to my health; I had lost my quality of life completely at barely 40 years old. I kept my indulgence hidden pretty well back in those days.  A lot of us do. The hippie Angel said that she noticed bad energy upon my admittance and was drawn in to try and get me centered and on track with what I was truly capable of becoming.   We spent the next four days like guru and student, questions and answers on how to “be”.  Why not?

When I was released, there was nobody to take me home, so the hippie Angel gave me a ride in the wheelchair to a cab waiting at curbside pick-up. I didn’t know what to say.  I hadn’t expected an enlightenment; not your typical hospital experience.  I felt a bit sad because I had grown to seek the comfort of her influence, basically a mirror with a new image of what could “be”.  For the first time in my life I had really taken a good look at myself.  I had been confronted in an unconventional way, while faced with some very significant health issues.  And that without this person, my hippie Angel, whom I had never met and would surely never see again, I might not have overcome the fear of dealing with the truth.
The truth—that I was not supposed to be in that situation, and that I was not supposed to be the person that I had become.  The Fear—that I would fail at becoming better; that I was supposed to end up that way.
Before I got in the car she whispered two things to me. 

The first: “Get up now, and walk”.   

Oh, I walked alright, and kept walking until I could run.  I quit smoking, (laid off the booze for a while too),  dropped a ton of weight and started a new journey, a new way of thinking, a focus on what I thought I could become; an athlete, a speaker, a successful businessman, a father, a writer, a singer, a thinker.  I am still working on the possibilities—what I could become, because that is a hell of a lot more exciting than the alternative.  The elixir, helping people, being honest towards fear and the fear of others who struggle with the truth a bit.  We are not all quite there yet, some of us further along than others.  There are renewals to consider as well.  This I know.

The second: a quote that I live by...

“A man is but the product of his thoughts - what he thinks, he becomes”. - Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi

I had certainly become the product of my thoughts at the hallmark of my previous existence…kind of pathetic if you don't mind me sayin.  Just less than 40 years old, lying in the hospital bed barely able to breathe… I wasn’t all that thrilled with what I had become.  I needed to change things up and I suppose that by choosing (or being chosen) by just-the-right deity was key in determining my launching point.  Yup, that hippie Angel, she sure changed things up for me.

I know this whole thing is kind of cheesy, lofty and surreal, and I know my story may not mean Jack squat in comparison to whatever you have going on with your smoking or whatever else you think hinders your quality of life. I suppose I can see a little in you that the hippie Angel saw in me? 

So what I am saying is this, after all this talk about "becoming",  if I have to dress up in tie dye, wear some goofy Jesus sandals, grow a beard and live on a bus to get you to quit smoking.  Well…then I would do it.

“I would become that”. - rp

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