written in my first week of freedom from smoking and originally posted on november 24, 2001, this piece talks about how important it is to make the right choices now - even if sticking to them is painful - so we don't have the pain of regret later.

choose your pain

2009 January 6

one of the strongest motivators for human beings (actually, for all conscious beings) is the avoidance of pain. if you think about it, you'll probably come to the conclusion that this one factor, above all others, was the primary reason we continued to smoke for as long as we did, in spite of the overwhelming evidence that by doing so, we were doing incredible damage to ourselves; we didn't continue to smoke because we had a death wish (at least, most of us didn't), we continued to smoke to avoid the pain of withdrawal from our addiction to nicotine.

if we’re not willing to endure the pain of change now, we’ll almost certainly have to endure the pain of regret later. and it will affect not only us, but all those people whose lives we touch in one way or another.

but pain can also be a good thing: in certain circumstances, it's our body's only way of letting us know that something's wrong; in others, it's a sign that our body is doing its job of healing itself. the severity of the pain can tell us, in the first case, how urgent the problem is, and, in the second, how bad the damage was that's being repaired. pain is also inevitable; nobody goes through life without experiencing pain of some kind.

as it relates to our struggle to quit smoking, there are basically two kinds of pain, and we get to choose which one we'd rather endure; the pain of change or the pain of regret. yes, the pain of change (the pain of withdrawal from our addiction to nicotine) is intense; for many of us, it will be the most intense pain we've ever experienced. but it's also temporary; in a few days or weeks, it'll be pretty much over, and as long as we never feed our addiction again, we'll never have to endure the pain of withdrawal again.

but if we're not willing to endure the pain of change now, we'll almost certainly have to endure the pain of regret later. and it will affect not only us, but all those people whose lives we touch in one way or another.

because in our case, the pain of regret may be encountered when our doctor tells us that we have lung cancer and that we'll have to endure invasive medical procedures such as the removal of part of a lung or worse. in our case, the pain of regret may be encountered while we're undergoing chemotherapy. or it may be encountered when we finally find ourselves on our deathbed.

and when we encounter the pain of regret, we'll probably wish that we had gone through the pain of change back when we had the chance to do so voluntarily: "if only i'd quit when i found out about the emphysema...", "if only i'd stuck with that program...", "if only i'd resisted the urge to smoke that one cigarette...", "if only..."

these two words may be the saddest words in the entire english language (or in any language, for that matter) - "if only..."

and the saddest thing about them is, that by the time we say them, it's almost always already too late. and how are you going to explain to your son or your daughter that mommy or daddy just didn't have the strength to face the pain of change back when it could have made a difference?

how are you going to explain to your mother or father that, because you couldn't face the pain of change, they'll now have to face the pain of attending their own child's funeral?

how are you going to explain to your family, friends and loved ones who are watching you die a slow, horrifying, painful death why you chose to leave them with such a gruesome set of memories of you to carry with them the rest of their lives?

how are you going to explain that?

personally, i never want to have to try.

that's why i choose the pain of change.

18 responses leave one →
  1. 2003 January 17
    jvagabond@aol.com permalink

    This is the most thought provoking thing I have read in a long time. I understand that pain is associated with change. But I never went the step further to the regret. I will fight the good fight with tobacco. I will win!

  2. 2003 February 6
    rose permalink

    Great post. I fear the pain of regret. I choose to take the pain of change. Even though change can be painful it can also be alot of fun. I cannot think of a fun aspect of regret pain. Thanks for writing it so susinctly. Rose

  3. 2003 March 25
    carla permalink

    Probably the most important person we let down is ourselves, once its too late for us its then too late for anyone else. The biggest guilt trip is on our own shoulders. We go and leave others behind to pick up the peices, addicts never see that until its too late.

    Great post, thank you.

  4. 2003 March 29
    Dave permalink

    Essentially...pay me now or pay me later. I hope and pray that I quit soon enough. This was a very important thing for me to read because I don't want to go back to smoking and regret it. I am done.

  5. 2003 May 27
    lynn permalink

    What a WONDERFUL essay. I cannot tell you how badly I needed to read this today. I am over 2 weeks into my quit and having a bit of a rough time. How easily we want to dull that pain, the pain of now instead of facing it and moving through it. Thank you for your wonderful words of hope!

  6. 2003 May 28
    Dandelion permalink

    Thank you Kevin, for reminding me that the pain I am going through right now is by choice. I am making the right choice, I have lost a quit once before and experienced a taste of the pain of regret. Never again.

  7. 2004 April 12
    Fightn4life permalink

    The pain of change sometimes still eats at my soul. I agree it is better to experience this pain than the pain of loss. To that I am no stranger.

    Thank you for sharing this insight. Another angle I have yet to explore.


  8. 2004 April 20
    Angel permalink

    Wouldn't it be great if we could be long-sighted enough to be excited about the pain of change? I'm beginning to reach that point - when I feel the pain of change I try to feel happy, because it means I'm changing! Two of my favorite quotes about pain: 1 - "Pain is just weakness leaving the body." 2- "The good thing about pain is that it lets you know you're not dead yet!"

  9. 2006 February 12
    gauris permalink

    This is so deep and so true. IF only I'm sure is shared by a lot of people that wish they had changed their life's a lot earlier.

  10. 2009 January 6

    note: the comments above were left on the original tale at the date and time indicated.

  11. 2009 March 10
    Tim permalink

    thanks ...a poignant reminder to what pain/hell I went thru already to get where I am today

  12. 2009 August 20
    vicky permalink

    As with many of the essays on this site, this is excellent. I suppose so much of that is due to the fact that what you write are obvious truths - but it has really helped me to face up to, and hopefully deal with, the reality of being an addict. Thank you.

  13. 2009 November 8
    Matt permalink

    Thanks Kevin, this essay hit hard. I wonder what my aunts and uncles who died from cancer would be here if they were making the changes I'm making for myself today.

  14. 2010 April 28
    sandra smokefree permalink

    This made me cry - this is exactly the reason i quit, the dread of telling family what i'd done to myself... so selfish. I'm on day 38 of being a nonsmoker & will never allow my addiction to control my life again. Thank you for helping me see this so clearly.

  15. 2010 December 2
    lucie permalink

    Thank you, this reality check makes it all worth it!

  16. 2011 June 4
    chris permalink

    iv been quit for 5 months and anytime i think of smoking i read this and that takes care of it!! never again!!

  17. 2012 January 20

    Great article. I'll be putting a link to this on my website mygismo.com. i talk about this in my book "The GiSmo Guide to Giving up Smoking for Good". These real life choices are real motivations for quitting smoking and need to be used.

  18. 2012 January 21
    Dolly73 permalink

    OMG this hits home, im on day 21 and feel fantastic about ot putting those disgusting toxins in my beautiful body, this has just made me stronger thank you xxx

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