originally posted on july 6, 2005, this tale talks about the illusion that quitting smoking leaves a hole in our lives that we have to fill with something else, and the difficulties that that illusion can cause us as we work on staying free.


2009 March 1

one of the recurring questions i read here (and at other quit-smoking support websites) is "how do i [relax|unwind|concentrate|fill my time|etc.] now that i've quit smoking?" we imagine that there's a hole in our lives, an empty place that smoking used to fill, and we wonder what we're going to use to fill that hole now that we don't smoke any more.

i gave myself emphysema trying to fit the square peg of smoking into an imaginary round hole in my life.

i think most of us can relate to the idea of a hole in our lives; we've been trying to fill it since we were kids:

when we were in kindergarten, we couldn't wait to get to first grade, to be one of the "big kids". but when we got there, we soon realized that "this isn't it"; there still seemed to be something missing...

then we thought life would be complete when we got to be teenagers, but that didn't fill the hole, either. neither did getting into high school, getting our learner's permit, our license, or our first car, turning 18, going to college, turning 21, etc., etc., etc...

yet, through it all, we continued looking for the thing that would fill the hole:

would a relationship (with people in our family, with friends, with a boyfriend/girlfriend, with a husband/wife) do it? nope, that wasn't it, either.

maybe religion? political activism? career? public service? or, on the negative side, smoking? drinking? doing drugs? living recklessly? no, none of that stuff did it, either.

but we kept trying; we imagined that all our previous attempts amounted to trying to put a square peg in a round hole, and if only we could find that round peg, we'd be all set...

then, maybe, after we'd banged our heads against the wall long enough, we started to question our assumptions; was there really a hole? if there was, why had nothing we'd ever tried to fill it with worked? and if there wasn't, why were we trying so hard to fill it?

imagination is an incredibly powerful tool. and like any powerful tool, if you use it incorrectly, you can get seriously hurt. most of us have been on a life-long quest to fill an imaginary hole in our lives, and we've caused ourselves untold mischief because of it.

i gave myself an advanced case of emphysema and did irreparable damage to myself trying to fit the square peg of smoking into an imaginary round hole in my life. lots of other people have killed themselves trying to do the same thing. many others struggle day to day with staying quit because of the mistaken assumption that smoking used to fill the hole they imagine to be part of their lives...

imagine yourself whole.

imagine that your life is complete; that there's no empty place; that there's no hole.

now look back on all those things that you tried to fill that hole with — especially smoking — and realize that you weren't trying to put a square peg in a round hole; you were trying to put a square peg in a nonexistent hole. of course it wouldn't go in.

there is no hole.

when you realize this, you also realize the futility of trying to fill it.

and the compulsion to do so dies.

4 responses leave one →
  1. 2005 November 13
    Margaret permalink

    Kevin, what a wonderful and powerful piece of writing! And so true. I remember exactly when I began, in the Quit, to stop trying to fill the Hole. It was so very freeing, and what I consider the turning point of my Quit! Giving up the Compulsion is gaining Freedom. Thank you for this Tale.

  2. 2006 October 25
    anonymous permalink

    Nicotine is a powerful addiction. I was so young I can't remember not being addicted. My older brothers and I would smoke daddy's ducks, or whoever that was around smoking. We would steal his cigs sometimes or roll his Prince Albert. As I got older, I bought them every time I earned some money. I started smoking regularly when I was about 18. I read so many times that people started because they thought it made them look cool, etc. Not me. I was so ashamed because I smoked, and I slipped around to smoke. Nice girls didn't smoke when I grew up. At least not where I grew up.

    "The Tales" have been so helpful. You have a gift with "the pin."...Thanks!

  3. 2009 March 1

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

  4. 2009 November 9
    Moira permalink

    Thank you, Kevin, as a lifelong addict of something (food, coke, pot, alcohol, gambling etc etc etc) I also believe that addiction is an attempt to fill the holes but never thought of it quite the way you did!

    Smoking is the hardest addiction I have ever given up and it is because so much of my life everything was attached to a cigarette, it is just a way of learning life again without one of my crutches.

    I hope you are doing well health-wise, my friend's mother was a heavy, heavy smoker for 45 years who had advanced Emphysema and Lung Cancer but who has somehow miraculously survived both and the doctors are telling her the diseases are gone so I hope you have had similar luck. I can hardly believe it since she was a chain-smoker!

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