Don't Praise a Work in Progress, or The Up-Side to Being Hard-Headed

I found an article recently that affirmed my choice to be a bitch to people a few years ago. I love when that happens.

I smoked, very well and very consistently, for a long time. I smoked Marlboro reds for years, finally ramping down to Marlborough lights, which I smoked for more years. When I was 34, I quit.

I’m not the kind of person who “quits” something repeatedly. I was unapologetic about my smoking, and didn’t try to change it. I was pretty polite about it, making sure not to blow smoke at people, respecting the signs, and so forth. But I was also so stubborn about not being told what to do that I would light up every time an anti-smoking public service advertisement came on television.

I lived in Virginia for the last few years of this, a tobacco state, which held off the financial implications of sin taxes a little longer than elsewhere. I didn’t have any related health alarms. I wasn’t dating a nonsmoker. Three things came together, though, to change my mind about smoking.

First, people stopped telling me to quit. I guess they gave up on me.

Second, I took myself off the Pill, which I think had been making me mildly depressed. I think this led me to start to feel like I could change something for the better.

Third, I started to recognize that the tobacco companies were controlling me through the addictive nature of the cigarettes. I was their bitch. That started to bother me.

So I quit. I used the patch, I worked out, I set a goal, and I quit. It took a long time. First you have to quit the mechanical attachment of smoking all the time. Then you have to break the chemical addiction, which the patch helps. Then you have to figure out how to manage your emotions when you can’t dope yourself every hour with the soothing cloud. I’d say the whole process took me six months.

A smoker not smoking is something that gets noticed after a while. I didn’t bring it up, but people noticed that I wasn’t smoking. And here’s the part where I pissed people off: I wouldn’t talk about it, and I didn’t want to hear anything out of them on the subject, either.

They could barely help themselves. People who cared about me were so happy to see me quit, were trying to cheer me on, were trying to engage me about something that was important to me, were trying to help, and I just shot them down, all of them.

People would ask me how it was going. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

People would try to give me advice, like eating carrot sticks. “Seriously, I just don’t want to discuss it at all.”

People would try to give me positive feedback. “I don’t want to talk about it. Please. Really. Not even a little.”

I growled and scowled and frowned like they were challenging me to a fight and I didn’t know how long I could hold off from fighting them. Friends would jump in when someone started and warn other people, saying with wide eyes “She REALLY doesn’t want to talk about it.”

As far as I was concerned, I was using one of my more difficult character traits for a good cause for a change. I’m stubborn. This is not a mystery about me. Knowing this, I figured that as soon as I was encouraged to quit, even though I was already quitting, I would resent it so much that I would want to smoke.

I have since read this article that says, in short, that if you’re working toward a goal, keep it to yourself. Once you get positive feedback, it feels like you’ve accomplished a goal when you really haven’t. That pat on the back can actually derail you if it’s delivered too soon.

So I did the right thing, by knowing what I needed. I guess I didn’t have to be a bitch about it, but I’m not sure I would know how.