Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Smoke-Free and Wanting the Same for You!!!

“I want to quit, but now is not a good time”.  “I will quit before I am ___ years old”.  “Maybe if I just try to only smoke a couple a day”.  “I know, I will just smoke on Saturdays”.  “I won’t buy my own cigarettes, I will just bum them off of other people, that way I won’t smoke too much”.  “I can smoke just a couple”.  “I am really stressed out right now, so I am going to have a few but then when the stress passes, I will stop”.
Do any of these statements sound even remotely familiar?  They did to me, but only after years and years of repeatedly trying to quit smoking.   These were my thoughts up until a little under 5 years ago.  In June of 2006, I came down with a really nasty upper respiratory infection.  These were quite frequent for me because I smoked but you could never get me to admit it.  I always blamed stress or diabetes, which I’m sure both played a role, but the smoking always made any infection worse.  This particular infection quickly went into my throat and chest.  Congestion, coughing, and a complete exacerbation of asthma led to prescriptions of antibiotics and steroids.  Though this was not the first time I had to undergo this type of treatment, there was something different stirring.
One night, during the peak of the illness, I was lying in bed.  I had taken my medicine, and I’m sure I used my inhaler, but I could hear crackling in my throat and wheezing in my chest with every breath that I breathed.  I remember thinking, “if this is how I feel at the age of 32, how will I feel at the age of _______”.  I can’t even remember the age I thought of that night, but I remember the fear I felt and the complete powerlessness I felt about smoking.  With the help of God and a recovery community, I had been sober for almost 5 years at that point, why couldn’t I kick this too? 
Many of my friends who had already quit kept telling me, “you’ll know when it’s time, you’ll just know”.  I never really understood that statement….until a few months later.  One would think that after a scare like I had in June of that year that this would have been it, that I would have kicked the habit.  But no…the insanity of addiction, the belief of lies, the powerlessness I felt led to me picking up cigarettes once I stopped feeling sick.  However, God knew what I needed and after that illness, lying to myself about cigarettes was never the same.  I started hearing the lies.  I started recognizing them as lies.  I was able to hear the ridiculousness of the lies.  I finally realized that everything I was telling myself about cigarettes was the same thing I had told myself about all the other “habits” I had let go of when I got sober.  I finally realized I needed to CHOOSE TO BE DONE AND COMBAT THE LIES WITH THE TRUTH. 
Many other people may have had this revelation much sooner than I did….or never picked up this habit in the first place.  I didn’t plan to be a smoker.  I never believed “those people” when I was 17 and 18 that told me I shouldn’t smoke, that I would become addicted, that it was bad for me.  I was in a self-destructive place but denied it.  I thought I was a way cool deadhead hippie who would eventually quit before I got “old”, whatever that meant.  I realized that I didn’t want to be a smoker anymore and needed to just quit once and for all. No patch.  No gum.  No pill.  Just God, exercise, and a ton of gum and wintergreen life savers. 
It would be a total understatement to say that this was not easy.  In fact, it was the hardest of all things I have had to quit.  God’s grace and His help in rejecting lies was essential.  I felt angry and agitated and then hit a depression that measured off the charts.  All of it, I know was an attempt by the enemy to get me to believe more lies so that I would return to smoking.  I started recognizing that anytime I had the thought that “things were bad and one cigarette would lessen _________ feeling….that I could smoke just one” was a total lie and was exactly what I used to tell myself about drinking and other things.  If it was a lie that I could have just one drink, it was certainly a lie that I could have just one cigarette.  God made this very clear to me and I am so thankful that He did.  I had tried quitting seriously over 10 times since the age of 20 and it had never stuck.  This time I was ready and my Heavenly Father helped me to get through the rough period following my last cigarette. 
Though I felt horrible for 2 months, it got better.  My breathing felt better, I became less angry, my mood improved, there were less and less trails of gum wrappers left throughout my job and home.  I was exercising and felt good about myself.  It kept getting better.  Every time I had the thought or craving to smoke and rejected it as a lie, I felt victorious.  I was clinging to God for strength and He was strengthening me.  After the first year, I could barely believe I had made it, but I could no longer picture my life with smoking.  It was a miracle.  It will be 5 years of cigarette-free living for me as of October 1, 2011.  My God is an awesome God.  He” heals all my diseases” (Psalm 103:3).  He “released my feet from the snare” (Psalm 25:15).  He was so good to me that He came and freed me while I was still smoking, instead of waiting for me to figure it out by myself.  This is my God, my Jesus and while in pursuit of God during this time, this was all before I had recommitted to following Him a short time later.
Why do I share this information?  I know how hard it is to quit.  I know that people often judge smokers and don’t understand why we can’t just stop on our own.  I have been there, done that, and God has set me free.  I needed others to support me, to let me vent to them, to share their own stories of quitting with me to encourage me. 
I share this for anyone, if you chose to read this, who is caught in the trap of cigarette addiction or any other addiction for that matter.  I want to see everyone get free.  If God would free me, He would free anyone and that means you!!!  If you are in this place, if you feel you cannot break free, if you feel no one would understand, you are a person I would LOVE TO PRAY FOR ---I WANT TO SEE YOU FREE!!!!! If you feel comfortable enough to message me or to comment, I will pray for you.  God loves you.  He is your deliverer.  He will make you free.
Blessings to you!!!

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Man Who Loved Without Strings Attached

When you know that no words can adequately capture the depths of your feelings or the beauty of the memories you have about a person who has passed, what is the best thing to do when trying to figure out how to express your thoughts? 
In my case, I needed to wait for a few days to share and express my thoughts until I could string some memories and thoughts together of a good friend who passed on September 9th.  (For the purposes of anonymity in this blog post, I will simply refer to this person as” friend”)  I can’t remember the first interaction I had with my friend, but I know that I had known him from the day I was given the gift of sobriety on July 8th, 2001.  My friend sat in a meeting with what seemed like a million years sober to a newcomer such as myself.  I remember him speaking in the meeting through the haze and anger of my newness, but cannot remember the words he spoke.  What I remember is his presence. 
This presence he carried brought comfort and peace to situations.  I had felt it every time I was around him for even just a few minutes.  I was a fearful person when I got sober, but my friend’s presence began to make me feel a little more safe.  He was always there.  I could always count on him to be there.  I knew he would tell me what me what I NEEDED to hear and though the truth hurt sometimes, his love shone through the words and I knew that he had my best interest at heart. 
And he didn’t stop at just being present for the business of recovery…no, this was a man who was invested in relationships!  My friend took the business of recovery seriously, and this showed as he made people his priority.  It was so obvious to those who knew him.  There was never a day that I wondered where I stood with him.  I knew that my friend was there for me 100% and there were no conditions on this relationship.  He didn’t require that I did or said the right things.  He didn’t require perfection or put parameters on my behavior.  When I needed help, he did not hesitate.  There was one occasion where he heard I needed help and all he asked in return was that I pay it forward.  This was truly a man who loved without strings attached. 
My friend shared his heart with those he met, for better or for worse.  His honesty was admirable and his humility was a trait I strove to acquire.   Further adding to this amazing man’s character was that he was totally hysterical, fun and spontaneous, and had one of the meanest games of 1:00am poker of anyone I knew!  During all the fun, he was always quick to show wisdom to those of us who didn’t know much…all the while, laughing and letting us know he was just as human as we were.
 I know that when I came into my recovery, I was a lost little “kid” at 27 years old.  There were many men and women around me, who I am sure would say the same.  In a group where “kids” are many, my friend demonstrated the biggest father’s heart of anyone I had the experience of knowing up to that point.  Not only did he demonstrate this fatherly type of love to me by supporting me, encouraging me, and helping me out of emotional pits, but I watched as he shared his "father’s heart” with anyone and everyone else in need this type of love who crossed his path.  Even after I left my home in Champaign-Urbana, my friend's support consistently remained through my own transition, growing pains, and grieft due to losses I faced after I left.  It meant so very much to me that every time I visited, my friend ALWAYS made time to spend with me.  I am so grateful that I was able to visit with him in July.  It was a bittersweet honor to have been there with him on his last day with us and the sight of his family and closest friends surrounding him will forever be in my memory.
It is so rare to meet men like my friend…I am blessed to have known someone like him in my lifetime.  I have seen written social media comments from many of my friends who have told me how much this man’s encouragement to me has impacted them, and these are people who don’t even know him.  What a great legacy this man has left to the world.   For the rest of my life, I will always talk fondly of this man who loved without strings attached.  Thank you Father God, that you allowed me the privilege to know him.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Matthew 5:4