Monday, November 9, 2009


When I met my husband, I was a smoker. Probably what you might call a medium smoker. I think I went through a pack in a week - maybe more... and I sometimes hit long stretches where I'd just have one or two per day.

I was out of my cloves stage at this point, and the Marlboro Reds (which may have led to my asthma in my late 20s - who knows). I had very few drug-type vices at this point, and I was loathe to give up smoking entirely... particularly social smoking which often happened in tandem with dinners out or drinks after the show, etc.

My husband, however, was a staunch no-smoker when we began dating. My habit was not a deal-breaker for him, but it was something that stood in the way of our having a child - because he felt very strongly he didn't want his child to grow up around cigarette smoke.

I agreed. I quit (pretty much cold turkey), and I have a new conception of myself as a non-smoker. It is difficult, in fact, to remember what it was like to be a smoker... even harder to remember what I enjoyed about it.

"Such an easy thing to change!" I think, in retrospect. It's remembered with a sense of distance and a feeling of separate-ness because the current "I" and past "I" are so different in this regard.

I have been taking a look at many of my habits lately... ones that are more subtle and insidious than chemical addictions or the tendency to eat lots of sugar when depressed or rely on soda for caffeine. No... the habits I now investigate are the ones connected to behavior - actions and choices seemingly ingrained in my arsenal of "involuntary" responses so that they become unthought/unthinking echoes of rut-like conduct.

Bossiness; attempts to control circumstances or others; a pessimistic perspective; impatience; self-doubt. All seemingly inherent aspects of my personality and self as I currently define it; and yet, every single one is a choice. All are habits I choose knowingly (or unknowingly, which makes it no less of a choice), and all are within my power to alter.

We see habits, I believe, as something generated or existing outside ourselves... dictated by external events or influenced by circumstances - people, places, things. It's so easy to assign the blame to an other of some kind; to engage in self-medication, self-denial, or self-soothing without truly acknowledging the impact of our decisions upon ourselves or others.

They seem so difficult to change; and yet, time and again, we remake ourselves in an effort to please someone else. Maybe a spouse or partner, maybe a mother or sibling, maybe a boss or mentor. And sometimes those changes are great and wonderful things (and sometimes, as you well know, they are not).

The trick is knowing why you are choosing to be who you are. Why you are holding onto the patterns, habits, yens, and ruts in which you currently find yourself... and to embrace - and truly own - the knowledge that you can change any single aspect of who you are at any moment.

Habits are the result of being human; we crave predictability at times. But they should not be an excuse for unhappiness. They should never feel like an anchor or prison. And... if they do... then perhaps it's time to remake yourself - for no one other than yourself.

I have been reminding myself of this - attempting to relearn a lesson I have long forgotten from the carefree and entirely transmutable days of infancy. It's frightening, sometimes, to admit I have the power to define myself every second... it makes my frailties and failings so much more crushing at times. And yet, even choosing to forgive... to answer my weaknesses with compassion and love as I would a dearest friend - even that is a choice I may make.

So much power, and still... I wrestle to pull my habits close to my chest. Enclose them and claim them as my own so I may honestly assess what best defines the person I wish to be. Keep what works, discard the rest. And make no judgments in between.

May you recognize the person you wish to be in each moment; may you feel empowered to choose the habits that fit you best.

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