written during my fourth month of freedom from smoking and originally posted on february 26, 2002, this tale explains how our freedom lies in the choices we make every moment; how freedom is not the destination, but the journey itself.

freedom is the journey

2009 February 6

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."
  - Lao-tzu

we’re taking one of those steps whenever we choose NOT to smoke. whenever we choose NOT to obey the compulsion to feed our addiction. in the moment of making that choice, we are free.

when i was getting ready for my quit date, i figured that what it boiled down to was simply choosing not to smoke today, whenever it became today again for me. and i said to myself, "hey, i can do anything for a day".

but then a little voice said, "what if it's too hard? you've been smoking a long time; what if you can't hold out for a whole day? what then?", and i realized i needed a plan "b". so i said to myself, "in that case, i'll choose not to smoke before noon-time. then, when it's noon, i'll choose not to smoke before six. then, when it's six, i'll choose not to smoke before midnight. then i'll go to bed before midnight."

and the little voice said, "yeah, but what if you can't hold out for six hours? you're used to smoking at least once every hour; what if six hours is too long?", so i devised plan "c". i said, "in that case, when i wake up, i'll choose not to smoke for an hour. at the end of that hour, i'll choose not to smoke for another hour, and i'll just keep making that choice, every hour, on the hour, for the rest of the day if i have to".

i won't tell you about plans "d", "e" and "f". suffice it to say that the little voice kept questioning my ability to hold out for shorter and shorter periods of time, and i kept coming up with yet more alternative plans that were based on the idea that i'd choose not to smoke for a certain period of time, and when that period of time expired, i'd renew my commitment not to smoke for another similar period.

i told myself (and have told many other people since then) that the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step, and it doesn't really matter what size step you take, whether it's a day-long step, an hour-long step or a moment-long step, as long as you keep moving in the direction that you want to go; towards freedom.

and that's true, as far as it goes, but there's more to it than that...

because when you look at the famous quote that started this post, you see that there's a thousand-mile journey involved here, and if you can measure something like that, it implies that there's both a starting and an ending point. and we all know where the starting point is: we're all there, or were, not so long ago; i am a smoker. i am a slave to my addiction. and we all know where the ending is, too; freedom from smoking. freedom from slavery to our addiction.

but is it? is freedom really the ending point?

if it is, when do we reach it? how do we know we've "arrived"? what are the signs?

perhaps the best way to identify the signs of freedom would be to identify the signs of slavery, and then look for the opposite conditions. ok, what are the signs of our slavery? they are many, and they identify us unmistakably to even the most casual observer:

there's the smell of stale smoke and nicotine that permeates our hair, our breath, our clothes, our furniture, our home and everything else we own and announces our presence before we've even arrived.

there are the tell-tale yellow stains on our teeth and the fingers we habitually hold our cigarettes with.

there's that phlegmy smoker's cough.

there are those burn-holes in our clothes, our cars, our furniture and our carpeting.

there are our regular hourly (or more frequent) disappearances from non-smoking environments (like our workplaces, movie theaters, hospitals, shopping malls, etc.) to go someplace where we can feed our addiction...

wait a minute! hold it right there. freeze frame. this is it; THE sign.

everything else is just an effect of this one, and it's the only one smokers (and other addicts) really need be concerned with: that we are compelled to feed our addiction at regular intervals. no matter the cost or inconvenience or social or health consequences; our addiction says it's time for a fix, and we obey. we have no choice. we are in its control. we are its slave.

alright. if we can agree that all the other signs are merely effects of this cause, that we obey the compulsion to feed our addiction, then that makes it very easy to identify the opposite condition: when we no longer obey the compulsion. and when does that happen? at the end of some hypothetical thousand-mile journey? i don't think so.

how do we know we're taking one of those steps i was talking about before when i said it doesn't matter whether the steps we're taking are a day long, an hour long, or a moment long? we know we're taking one of those steps whenever we choose NOT to smoke. whenever we choose NOT to obey the compulsion to feed our addiction. in the moment of making that choice, we are free.

freedom then, is not the destination.

it's the journey itself.

4 responses leave one →
  1. 2003 February 23
    Donna permalink

    Today is day 4 of my quit. Today was the first day I had an almost uncontrollable urge to smoke. Glad I threw all my cigs away. Couldn't get on FFS (time of day I suppose) Started re-reading your posts. Had not read this one before. Burst into tears. Tears of gratitude. Thank you for reminding me that "I am a nicotine addict" and "I cannot afford to feed that addiction even one time" and "Today I choose not to smoke" Thank you. I'll sleep well tonight and tomorrow I'll cash in my first reward - a full body massage.

  2. 2004 April 26
    Fightn4life permalink

    I am fasinated by the depth of your writing. You understand and can express each moment of this freedom journey. You have a writers gift and have choose to share it with others. Thank you for sharing your journey and helping so many of us along the way.


  3. 2009 February 6

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

  4. 2011 January 12
    DWB permalink

    I just realized that as a long time smoker I’ve been creeping around softly for years. That is to say that I never exert myself beyond a cautious stroll too and from the car. Why? Because I don’t feel well when I breathe deeply…. that’s why. I get all anxious and my face goes white and I get a distinct feeling that I’m about to die. I’m now in my 3rd week of quitting and just starting a walk of about a mile per day. I’m as high as a kite. What gives? I feel like I’m stoned all the time. When I go to sleep I pass out in less than a minute, then wake up a few hours later with fast heart beat. Mouth as dry as a fish. White tongue.… waaaahhhhhh WTF ??

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