I happen to be an ex-smoker, and of course a long time ago (before I had ever smoked at all) I used to be a nonsmoker. What’s the difference?
The difference of course is that in one case, you quit smoking, and in the other case, you never smoked at all. They’re just labels, right?
Well, sort of. I think the labels that we use to refer to our own selves can affect our recovery in subtle ways. It’s worth taking a look at.
Remember what it was like to be a nonsmoker?
Back when I was trying desperately to quit smoking cigarettes, someone said something to me at an AA meeting that really struck a chord deep within me. I don’t remember their exact words, but the effect was that they made me think back–really think back, to when I was a complete nonsmoker…..and what that felt like. The effect was so profound that I could remember what it actually felt like to wake up and just start going on about my day, without having to light up a cigarette first. This was true freedom, and I remembered it. I remember what it felt like.
When I first quit smoking cigarettes, I would wake up in the morning and sort of stop short, saying “oh, that’s right. I quit smoking. I don’t need to go find my pack.” In other words, I was very definitely an ex-smoker, not a non-smoker. It would be months before I could really wake up each morning (or finish a big meal) and not have even the tiniest or quickest thoughts that I needed a cigarette.
What I’m getting at here is that the label of “nonsmoker” gets at our very state of being. Today, I am more than just an ex-smoker. I feel like I’ve come further than that. Today I am a real nonsmoker. I simply don’t smoke.
I know there have been times in the past when I was merely an ex-smoker, and I would sometimes catch a longing glance at someone who was taking a deep drag on their cigarette and think “Nope….I quit, and I don’t want to go back to that.” But deep down I wanted a puff.
Fast forward to a few years later, and now I am a non smoker who no longer secretly wishes for a puff. I am back to the “non-smoker” mindset: “Why would I want to subject myself to that? Why would I want to put myself in a position where I had to spend all that money and continuously finding opportunities to go feed a nicotine habit?” This is the kind of self-talk, the kind of mindset that a nonsmoker has. They have never been hooked on cigarettes so they have no concept of why anyone would subject themselves to addiction like this.
What I’m saying is that the nonsmoker mindset can be yours again (if you happen to be a smoker, or an ex-smoker). The process of achieving this attitude can only come through continuous abstinence, plus a healthy vigilance against romanticizing the idea of relapse. In addition, if you encourage others to quit smoking and help them by giving them your experience, strength, and hope, then this can help revert you back completely to a true “nonsmoker” mindset.
Becoming a “true nonsmoker” doesn’t mean you deny that ever smoked, or that you forget where you came from. Instead, it is about rearranging your internal belief system, and empowering yourself and your life.
Practice thinking of yourself as a “true nonsmoker” and help others or encourage them to quit as well, and this will only strengthen your recovery.
Application for recovery
I’ve used the example of smoking, but these ideas apply to recovery from drugs and alcohol as well.
Think back to when you were very little, before you had ever picked up a drink or a drug. Think about what your life was like when you never had to obsess over drugs and alcohol. This is the state of mind, the state of freedom that we want to attain. If you can remember what that felt like, it can be a very powerful experience for you in recovery.
Use this idea and build on it. Remember what it felt like to be free from chemicals, and decide to be free like that again today. That is your identity. That is who you are.