THOUGHTS 21 ABRIL 2014: LEAVING.05
On 29 April 2014 at about 15:30hrs, it will be a year since I smoked my last cigarette.
At the time, I wrote about the experience of leaving my relationship with tobacco, but for various reasons never published anything on my blog. Relatively few friends, all very close to me, knew about this event but the vast majority of friends and fans knew nothing. Sorry!! Now I’m out of the closet, as it were.
Here are some random observations, collected over the course of this last twelve months. During that same year I also recorded and launched the two discs of Canto de la Monarca – lots of blogging about that, just look around here in January and July of 2013!
OK, to begin with: It seems very much in fashion to be profoundly anti-tobacco. There seem to be no shades of grey, no middle ground.
Here goes, however unfashionable it may be: I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy some 90% of the cigarettes I smoked. Goodness me, how I loved smoking! It brings a nostalgic smile to my lips just remembering it.
By the same token, it would be a lie to say I suffered horribly when I left that relationship. Yes, I had a couple of hours when I felt itchy with self-doubt, wondering if I’d done the right thing –something to which I realize I am allergic!— but that was principally because of the behavioural –as opposed to the physical— part of the dependency. And it all got resolved quite easily with the good meal to which I treated myself. Read all about it in Leaving.3.
A number of people said or wrote things that gave me the sense that they had visions of Cervantes fighting tooth and nail to free herself from the clutches of this horrid malevolent addiction. Phrases like “your battle with addiction” tended to appear, almost outlined with lurid orange lights or cartoon lightning zigzags. Very Hollywood, my dears, but it wasn’t like that at all. Really and truly, I just did what any of us does when she sets out to accomplish a task, whether it’s learning a piece of music or building a house: I organized myself with the best tools at my disposal –the first of which was my imagination— and let the work begin.
The truth is, I was ready to leave, as I’d been ready to leave other relationships in which I’d become entwined and which had started to be damaging. In all of them I had already, in some sense, been left: there had been some parting of the ways, somehow it had become clear that the Person In Question wanted some other kind of woman, or just some other woman. Here, I began to see that tobacco had already left me: it was starting to take a toll, to slow me down. So it was time for me to take my leave, as graciously and easily as possible, causing as little aggravation as I could. Like a lady? Yes. Like the Amiable (though Imperious) Diva which I aim to be? Yes indeed.
So it turns out that not everyone wants to hear that I didn’t suffer! I was amazed. In that couple of weeks after smoking that final cigarette –sort of like making love for what you (at least) are pretty sure will be the last time— I ran into LOTS of people with whom I shared that I’d left tobacco. Some were really supportive – interesting that many people who still smoke and are enjoying it a lot were among the most supportive. There were others who, apparently, had stopped and deeply felt that they’d given something up. One said, “It’s been three years and every time someone lights up, I STILL want to smoke a cigarette.” Then he looked at me with a penetrating glance and asked, “So how do you feel?” When I said that I was just deliriously happy he shot me a glance laden with profound skepticism.
All of a sudden I realized that sharing my own happiness was not always going to make other people happy. I’d seen this before in my life but had forgotten: misery loves company! When I told this to my dear friend Z*** Y***, a therapist who has done a lot of work around substance abuse, she said Sounds like you were smoking for a lot of people. Even over the telephone I could hear the smile in her voice.
And then there are the people –mostly non-smokers but who maybe have had their own issues from major to minor with alcohol or food or whatever— who are genuinely interested in how it worked for me, what my experience has been. For me this has been really heart-warming.
This is going to sound totally off the wall, but it is true: there are times when I think about cigarettes, and about smoking them, and the whole thing seems irrelevant. It’s the best word I can think of. Cigarettes have nothing to do with me, good or bad, enjoyable or disgusting. They just don’t matter.
Also, it’s been amusing for me to discover the huge amount of folklore around this dependency business, in particular as it relates to tobacco. Occasionally useful altho’ rarely; mostly amusing. For one thing, the data are totally contradictory. I think they fail to take into account that each body is different.
Several people, upon learning that I’d left, sent me these adorable lists of good changes that happen to your body when you stop smoking tobacco. In both English and Spanish, bless their hearts. Several different versions, as I recall.
In one it said that I would have less body hair. This was accompanied by a rendering of a hairy arm followed by a less hairy one. I find myself wondering, not for the first time, what this sort of thing tells us about the popular image of female beauty … but that’s another blog, sorry.
Well, I am sorry to tell you that in the case of my own body this has not been the case. I seem to have more hair on my head and on my arms and everywhere else women have hair. It’s not abundantly more, but I do notice that I have to go to the depilación place a little more often: I’m still getting used to that part. No complaints: I am a Big Hair Gal and feel that you can never have too much hair –at least on your head. Or be too rich or too thin … just joking …
Obviously the relationship between art and dependency has been much written-about. The death by heroin of Philip Seymour Hoffman brought out a lot of commentaries about how the “sensitives” among us are particularly vulnerable to addiction problems. And there were the inevitable commentaries about how for such people, when they are artists, the dependency may even be a sort of necessary precondition for their creative work.
I have some real problems with this whole package of stuff For one thing, it is a terrible stereotyping of the artist: real romantic twaddle. The worst is when young artists believe it!
Plus, it’s just not the case: look at all the musicians –just to mention one category— who ended their abusive relationships with alcohol or other drugs and carried on to have splendid careers. They didn’t lose an iota of their musical passion or potency, and almost certainly they added years to their lives both creative and physical.
As you might imagine, I thought about this a lot, before I left smoking. Also afterwards. If there was anything that worried me it was precisely that bit: how tobacco was hooked in to My Life As A Musician. I remembered, many times, how from one day to the next I abandoned the cigarette and ashtray on their own little table by the side of the piano, a few weeks after I started working with Lettvin. No one –least of all me—was trying to get me to stop smoking tobacco … but it suddenly became a distraction. Not only there was no need for it, it was positively In The Way. I thought of this as another model, not certain how it would come into play but pretty sure it would, literally or metaphorically. And of course, it did: smoking had started to hold me back more than it pleased me: ergo, it was In The Way. Time for me to go.
The friend who left cigarettes when she was smoking as many as 60 cigarettes a day said, before I stopped, “It’s not about cigarettes as such, it’s about your relationship with cigarettes – it’s much more about YOU.”
I have never regretted this decision, not for one single minute. On the contrary, I feel profoundly grateful that leaving that relationship –so gratifying for so many years— was so easy, at the end when it was no longer very exciting and had become a burden.
Nostalgie du tabac. There has been and still is what I have come to think of as “nostalgie du tabac” –no idea why I think it in French, maybe all those sexy French actors smoking?--: nostalgia for tobacco. Most definitely it is not nostalgia for smoking tobacco: I have zero desire to smoke. Rather, it’s nostalgia for the way I felt in certain moments when I smoked. Interestingly, almost all of them have to do with being alone, with moving apart from the crowd in one way or another. Lots to chew on here, obviously.
I got my wish. Three or four times I have actually had moments in which I realized, incredulous, that I almost wished I wanted it – makes me laugh. After the last time this happened I understood: to not want it was what I’d so passionately desired, almost seven years ago.
At various moments during the last 20 years or so, I’ve realized: all the things I really desired, I have received.
OK, the weight part. If you’ve read the earlier parts of this posting, you know that I had this vision of myself looking something like my tocaya (namesake) Ana Guevara the Mexican runner, within six months after that last cigarette. This has not happened. In fact, there are some four or five kilos around my middle that were not there before. I oscillate between fury at the weight and delight in the extra-delicious flavour food now has, as well as a kind of silly-happiness about almost everything, fundamentally about being alive and sentient.
People don’t know what to think about this either, at least some of them. On the one hand, in every possible Righteous Way, they have to be happy that Ana Left Tobacco. On the other hand, are they happy to see me looking A Tad Plump? What is WRONG with La Q, for heaven’s sake?!
But I can’t explain. I guess I have figured –using the model of “I seem to have achieved the things I’ve really desired” – that at a certain point the equilibrium would re-establish itself, product of a mysterious gyroscope whose rule-book I do not have but only intuit.
It seems I’m not quite ready for the Madonna Macrobiotic Diet. Well, perhaps if there were a really appealing chef cooking it up for me … I never say never.
In the meantime, as always when I am here, I go out every morning to walk or run with my two wonderful companions Azabacha and Estrella. In the last month I seem to have finally re-established a good work rhythm at the piano. Curiously, going hand-in-hand with this is the re-establishment of my own Pilates-Yoga-mélange of mat work. So who knows? –maybe that gyroscope is activating itself.
Important to understand: leaving tobacco is a major metabolic hit. If you’d drunk a glass of orange juice upon arising every morning for several decades, and suddenly one day you didn’t, your body would let you know. Tobacco is surely a bit more complex than this example but you get the idea. I believe there’s some research on this but really, in the middle of recording the two Monarca CDs and all the attendant craziness I couldn’t be bothered to do the necessary looking around.
A kind of innocence. I smell the perfume of a newly-lighted cigarette and it smells delicious to me. But it gives me no desire to smoke. I find this an absolutely amazing and delightful phenomenon. It is a kind of innocent pleasure which I imagine to be that of being an little girl and smelling the cigarette of my father –or of my mother, for that matter, they both smoked— and loving the scent without wanting anything more.
Curiosity. As in many other moments, Curiosity was an impetus which generated enormous energy for me.
For example: I played my first tobacco-free concert exactly one month after smoking that last cigarette, and that was quite cool. I had absolutely no idea what it would feel like and the cool part was that it all went perfectly fine. I was gratifyingly surprised to find that I felt no different than when I was smoking: the concentration and the focus were the same. In fact they were slightly better, I think now: perhaps because of having more oxygen in my body?
Another example: when I went to the US for the DC and NY launches of Monarca, it was the first time I’d been in DC as a non-smoker since I was a teenager … and the first time ever in New York City. Here too, I wondered how that would feel. On the one hand, ¡¡SURPRISE!! It really didn’t feel that different. On the other hand, it was an amazing sort of historical landmark in my own life.
Do it for Your Own Reasons. At the very end of that six and a half-hour Allen Carr course, the therapist/group leader said, “This is sort of a cliché, but it’s extremely important. We always read that we should Do Things For Ourselves: meditation, exercise, relaxation, a walk in the woods, whatever. This is the same, but in a different way: it’s critical that you leave cigarettes for your own reasons. Write them down. Put a copy on the fridge, keep one in your wallet or your purse, another by your bedside – wherever you think you may need it. Everyone around you will have a long list of good reasons why you should leave cigarettes: don’t do it for their reasons, do it for yours.”
Impossible to overstate how important and wonderful this advice was for me. As the days and weeks and months unfolded after that last cigarette –smoked with joy but also, the truth be told, with a bit of boredom, in anticipation of my soon-to-arrive freedom— I was to understand again and again how right-on it is. So true: everyone around me had a whole list of reasons why it would be good for me to leave smoking. I’m sure all of them were valid, persuasive, whatever. But at the end of the day those reasons –as I suppose they often do in these situations— had way more to do with each of those people than they did with me.
What were MY reasons for leaving? If you’ve read the previous chapters in this little history you’ll know a bunch of them. At the end of the day, the central reason is:
It Was Time To Go.
What do I take away, most centrally, now, a year after leaving? I think it’s this:
Primordially, more and more: The Happiness Part is Up To Me.
Second, that The Choice and the Reasons are Mine.
Not so strange, I guess, that those were the central lessons of other leavings, other movings-on, other evolutions in my life. The best is still to come!