GUS (Gave Up Smoking) is a community support diary for Kossacks in the midst of quitting smoking. Any supportive comments, suggestions or positive distractions are appreciated. If you are quitting or thinking of quitting, please -- join us!
"Repression will provoke rebellion." - Hugh Williamson
"A little rebellion now and then is a good thing." - Thomas Jefferson
"Don't know what I want/But I know how to get it..." - Johnny Rotten
"You're not the boss of me!!" - Every Kid on Earth
Tea-Bagging AstroTurf "Evidence" to the contrary, it's most often folks on the Liberal side of the fence who embrace rebellion as a lifestyle choice. Maybe it's our ingrained sense of contrariness, or the need to question authority, that leads us there. Maybe it's our willingness to entertain gray areas and reject dogmatic thinking, or our refusal to live in blissful ignorance, no matter how much simpler and convenient that may be.
Or perhaps we choose the Big Blue Tent in part because we know it will tolerate our idiosyncrasies and human failings? Got your freak flag flying? Come on in! Rebel without a cause? We've got room for you, too. (Rebels without a clue? The Tea Party is that-a-way...) We don't just welcome rabble-rousers and troublemakers, the unique and different, we actually kind of admire them.
And nobody admires -- or understands -- a rebel better than an addict (recovering or otherwise). Defiant opposition to something (or anything, or, heck, EVERYthing) is a common reason for people to experiment with all kinds of substances, including nicotine. Unfortunately, it's also one of the things that tends to get in the way of recovery.
Show of hands: whose parents give them permission to start smoking? Precious few, I'm guessing. No, we sneak them out of our Mom's purse, or slip one out of the pack next to Dad's chair. We huddle out behind the school or the shed in the backyard for our first clandestine puffs. We cluster at a party somewhere, far from prying parental eyes, trying to act casual as we fumble a bummed cigarette, the first of many. We hang out the bedroom window or cruise around aimlessly in cars, blowing nervous clouds of smoke, alone or with scared but admiring friends.
Quite often we're smoking simply because we know we're not supposed to.
And that kind of knee-jerk rebellion is not an isolated phenomenon, either. A recent study found that there's a strong element of guilt and shame attached to various substance abuse behaviors, and that the very guilt and shame that public health campaigns often attempt to capitalize on don't really work as intended.
In fact, they have the exact opposite effect: for those experiencing guilt or shame about the behavior or addiction, the ads actually trigger a defensive mindset that may lead to increased consumption. The study focused primarily on binge drinking, but it has implications for other addictive behaviors, including smoking.
The study's authors theorize that messages that create a sense of empowerment in the individual -- a reminder that they have some control over the situation -- may be more effective than those 15 and 30-second guilt trips being churned out by public health departments. For those of us who already feel residual guilt or shame over the addictive behavior, ads that prey on those feelings elicit a strong emotional response -- either denial or defiance. On the other hand, a message telling you that there are ways to quit, and that you have it in your power to quit, is less likely to trigger that knee-jerk defiance.
I can relate to this in a visceral way...after all, I was one of those people who watched Great American Smoke-Out PSAs and was inspired to smoke even more that day. I once headed out for a smoke break and ended up sharing an elevator with the former Surgeon General of the United States, Dr. C. Everett Koop. Did it make me turn around and go back to my desk, chastened by the presence of the guy who wrote the little warning on my cigarette packs (you know, the warning you studiously avoid reading)? Oh Hell no it didn't! I proceeded to smoke a couple of extra cigarettes on my break, thank you very much.
** sigh ** What was I thinking? What on Earth was I trying to prove, and to whom? I was at least thirty; well past that youthful rebellion stage. It's not like I didn't know any better. But did I feel defensive? Yep. And did I have a knee-jerk, rebellious reaction to being told what to do (overtly or implicitly)? Yes indeed my friends, that's exactly what happened.
In retrospect, I realize a good deal of my own self image was wrapped up in being a creative iconoclast, someone who questions the status quo and doesn't accept things at face value. I liked pushing the boundaries and calling my own shots. I clung onto those rebellious bits of myself like a drowning person clings to a life preserver. One of the hardest things I had to contend with when I finally did quit smoking a decade later was the sense that I was "caving in," that I was knuckling under or submitting to someone else's dictates. My brain had a lot of those "I'll smoke if I want to, dammit!" moments in those early days.
It wasn't until I realized that I was calling my own shots, that I had the power (and always had, to borrow a cliché from The Wizard of Oz) to choose to smoke, or not, that I made peace with those impulses. I am still a rebel at heart, where it counts. What I'm not, at least not anymore, is someone who is a rebel for the sake of being a rebel, and damn the consequences.
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