“You may not know how to do this…but something inside you does.” -laura mckowen

Thirty-nine days ago on a thoroughly unremarkable Sunday, I threw two packs of Marlboro Lights, a glass ashtray, and several lighters into the garbage. I wrote ‘ENOUGH’ on a piece of paper and taped it to the back of my front door. I rode out three days of nicotine withdrawal as the final traces of the substance cleared out of my system. And that was that. I haven’t smoked a cigarette or swallowed a drop of alcohol since.

Even as I write this, my fingers hesitate in trepidation…as if putting the words into the Universe may break whatever holy spell has been cradling me for the past five weeks. In years past, I’ve made sweeping proclamations. Out loud. Publicly. For whatever reason, I always found it necessary to broadcast my intentions. ‘Last cigarette ever!’ I’d announce as the clock struck midnight on any given New Years Eve. I’d usually lament my stupid out-loud resolution before the smoking butt even hit the ground. I’ve had a lot of last cigarettes ever.

And last glasses of wine ever.

And last fast-food meals ever.

You get the picture.

So to be very, very clear, I am not making a proclamation or a promise or a resolution.

This all feels impossibly delicate. I am carrying this thing with such carefulness – holding it tight to my chest as though it were a priceless family heirloom made entirely of glass. When my nephew was born, I mostly refused to hold him for fear of breaking him. His teeny body and unsupported neck and flimsy limbs were too valuable…surely, I’d make the wrong kind of movement and he’d snap in my arms. This feels like that.

I’ve avoided examining it too closely – choosing instead to accept my miracle for however long it stays…though I’m also praying it never, ever absconds from the tangles of my being.

And it is, indeed, a miracle.

“A miracle is a correction. It does not create, nor really change at all. It merely looks on devastation, and reminds the mind that what it sees is false. It undoes error, but does not attempt to go beyond perception, nor exceed the function of forgiveness.” -a course in miracles [1976]

Early that Sunday afternoon, I was sitting on my couch. The window in my living room was open. A few feet in front of it, a small fan sat perched on a stool, blowing cigarette smoke out the open frame. The stool had taken up residence in my living room for the better part of a year as though it were a legitimate piece of furniture. God forbid my home smell like that of a smoker.

I spent the previous day in bed, nursing an unusually brutal hangover, which had carried over into today. I was irritated at myself for wasting the weekend…a running tally of things I could have accomplished or should have completed marched through my still-pounding head. I brought a lit cigarette to my lips, inhaled, turned my head in the direction of the whirring fan, and exhaled a plume of smoke.

Empty craft beer bottles rested on various open surfaces…my coffee table, the TV stand, the kitchen counter. I counted nine, though I knew a few had found their way to the garbage bin before I stopped caring about keeping things tidy. What a mess. What a waste. Of time, of money, of life.

Sadly, it truly was an unremarkable Sunday…as familiar to me as the indentation in one of my couch cushions, which was where I found myself sitting and smoking and drinking more often than I’d like to admit. It was my secret spot for my secret life…my hideaway…my portal to a subdued universe where the intensity of life was dulled to a more manageable hue. In my little inebriated couch-corner bubble, I’d feel safe for a few hours at a time…despite the fact that I was orchestrating the world’s slowest suicide.

That Sunday was like so many Sundays before it. My mouth leached the putrid taste of too many cigarettes and stale beer. I coughed involuntarily and often as my body attempted to rid itself of the carcinogenic chemicals I kept pumping into my lungs with each and every drag. My stomach was still queasy from the hangover. I felt nauseated and headachy and drained. I didn’t consciously acknowledge any of those symptoms…they just existed inside my body as they often did. I was flicking my thumb across the screen of my phone…scanning news headlines with one hand, smoking a cigarette with the other.

I wasn’t thinking about quitting. This wasn’t a ‘last cigarette ever.’ When the paper and tobacco and poisons burned down to the filter, I turned the cigarette upside down and began stamping out the smouldering end as I’d done thousands of times.

‘Jesus, I feel like shit.’ I conceded.

‘You don’t have to.’

I don’t know where the ‘you don’t have to’ came from. I’m still at a loss to explain it. The words came from within me, somewhere, I suppose…after all, the two-sentence conversation occurred in my mind. But it felt as though someone else had spoken the words…and I had merely received them. ‘You don’t have to’ felt like a revelation.

In the span of a few seconds, as I extinguished the remaining specks of fiery ash, something in me shifted.

I was finished.

I rose from the couch and gathered my almost-full box of cigarettes, the ashtray, a few lighters, and an unopened box of anticipatory Marlboro Lights from my purse. I walked to the kitchen and deposited all of it into the trashcan. The empty beer bottles followed. I scooped the shitty little fan  under my right arm and gripped the garbage bag with my left. I descended the three flights of stairs and carted everything to the dumpster positioned at the far end of the parking lot.

And then I waited.

I waited for cravings to come and to overpower what I’d decided must have been a random spike in willpower that Sunday afternoon. I waited for the irresistible urge to stop at the liquor store on my way home from work to buy beer or wine. I waited for the familiar and overwhelming desire to curl up in the corner of my couch and disappear for awhile. I waited for the fallout. I waited to fail.

I’m still waiting. I still don’t know if I trust this seismic shift. Every time I’ve ever tried to quit drinking or smoking…it felt kind of white-knuckly. Like I was forcing myself to not do something I desperately wanted to do. It was willpower…and only willpower. And in my experience, willpower never lasts all that long. And I have a lot of experience.

For thirty-nine days, I’ve been waiting for the desire to drink or smoke to return…I’ve been waiting for this to feel like willpower. But there seems to be an absence of desire. It’s just gone. If you suddenly no longer have the desire to do something…there is no willpower involved in not doing it.

‘You don’t have to.’

I keep returning to those words and the definition of a miracle…to me, they are one and the same.

“A miracle is a correction. It does not create, nor really change at all. It merely looks on devastation, and reminds the mind that what it sees is false. It undoes error, but does not attempt to go beyond perception, nor exceed the function of forgiveness.” -a course in miracles [1976]

A massive shift in perception. A correction. A reminder that what I saw and what I had accepted was false. An undoing.

I didn’t have to do this anymore. I didn’t have to pour poison down my throat or suck it into my lungs or cause my own discomfort and misery ever again. There is nothing more to be gained from the doing. I could simply be free of it all.

I am equal parts thrilled and terrified, which is why I’ve been holding this thing so delicately. I am navigating each day with extraordinary caution…as though I could step on a crack and wind up drunk or wanting to drink or inhaling the deathly smoke of a cigarette before I even realize what I’m doing. Lord knows I know that can happen at the drop of a hat. But for all my cautiousness…I still haven’t experienced anything remotely resembling desire.

It feels like “Welp…that’s over. Now let’s get busy living.”

With bated breath, I am allowing the days to move through me and to collect between the present moment and those strange, sad drinking years. I’m  unsure how long this will last…or if it really is ‘over.’ I pray it is. I hope so. So, so much.

These last thirty-nine days have been nothing short of miraculous. All of me is screaming into the Universe.

‘Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!’



One thought on “miracle.

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