The other night, in bed with my husband Ron, I said, “Did you see that thing your brother posted? I really liked it. It asked, ‘If you could go back in time to your 18-year-old self, what advice would you give yourself in 3 words?’”
Ron responded, “No. I didn’t see it. What would you say?”
I replied, “Stop smoking now. You?”
Ron stated, “Just enjoy it.” He followed his three words with this: “You know, I wouldn’t want to change a single thing. Everything connects. Everything has gotten me to where I am today. If you change one thing you change it all.”
His words were profound and got me thinking differently about my smoker’s remorse. What would have happened if I stopped smoking earlier or perhaps never started in the first place?
While the obvious benefits would be a lower risk for cancer and fewer dental problems, I realized that if I had chosen to stop smoking, I may never have:
Fallen in love with my husband: When I met Ron at 19 years young, I was instantly attracted to him. His tall lean frame, his auburn hair and the fact that he smoked were all sexy as hell. As a smoker, I loved men who smoked, and most non-smokers didn’t want to date “a girl like me”. If I had quit smoking, perhaps Ron wouldn’t have been so sexy to me. Perhaps I wouldn’t have wanted to date a smoker because he may have triggered me, and maybe Ron only wanted to date a smoker.
Gained strong empathy for addicts: While I’ve experimented with my fair share of drugs and alcohol, I never got addicted (Thank you, God!). But I know what addiction feels like due to smoking. I started when I was 13 years old and the habit quickly spiraled to the point where I couldn’t hold a conversation, focus or function without the inhale of a Marlboro Red. Because I know what addiction feels like, I’ve found success coaching and supporting those with addictive personalities. If I never smoked for so many years and never tried to quit so many times, perhaps I wouldn’t have the enormous amount of empathy that I do now for addicts of all kinds (food, sex, drugs).
Saved Ron and myself: After I got pregnant with our son Aaron, I was determined to quit smoking, but after I had him, it was an all-too-typical cycle: stop, start, stop, start again. Ron kept smoking which didn’t make the “stopping” part stick. We’d fight and it’d get ugly. I’d beg him to quit, to help me quit. One night during a nasty argument, we both got so mad with each other – my arms flailing and Ron going into silent mode – that we swore we’d both stop smoking to avoid the fights; to avoid getting divorced. And we did. We quit. Without the opportunity to reach a place of compromise and synergy with Ron, he might never have quit for good and perhaps I wouldn’t have either.
While there are still pieces of me that wish I never smoked, I don’t regret it. I forgive myself for the experience. I’m thankful for the learning and growth it gave me. And I accept the lightness and the darkness of what is.
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PS – Here’s an affirmation to help you let go of regret: “I live in the present and look to the future.”
PPS – To explore your regret, get out your journal. Here’s a writing prompt: Describe the life you would have now if something you regret never happened. How would it be different? How would it be the same?