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Psychological Healing
in the Catholic Mystic Tradition

Stopping Smoking

If you hate your body
you don’t love God.

 

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Reprints of this article are available 
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Introduction | Enslavement | Finding Freedom | The Mistake of Self-punishment | Reasons for Stopping Smoking | Understanding Withdrawal Symptoms | Stopping Smoking through Faith and Prayer | Visualization and Prayer Technique | Coping with Cravings

 
MOST SMOKERS started smoking during a stage of identity formation in which they felt psychologically empty within themselves and wanted some way to make themselves feel accepted by the world around them. For example, adolescents who resent their parents’ hypocrisy and lack of true love can get caught in the illusion that if they start smoking then they, too, can be as powerful as the adults who mistreat them.

 
Enslavement

The illusions surrounding the first few cigarettes, however, have no more substance than a puff of smoke, because once nicotine gets into your body, it enslaves you to a continuous need for it. Like a deadly parasite, nicotine takes over your body so that you value this deadly chemical more than anything else in life, more even than life itself. More even than God Himself.

So there you are, one dark day, helpless and cowering in a cold doorway, damp with rain, desperately sucking the illusion of strength and power out of a reeking cigarette, thinking to yourself, in your bleak emptiness, “This is life?” And all the while you fear that, without smoking, life will be bleak and empty.

Well, there’s more to life than slavery to illusions.

Now, no one can argue that simply smoking one cigarette is a sin. Yet consider the following:

Smoking pollutes the environment with toxic smoke and poisons from millions and thousands of millions of discarded cigarette butts.

Smoking offends your neighbor with the stench of stale smoke that you carry on your body and with the poison of second-hand smoke that you force your neighbor to breathe.

Smoking scandalizes children with the bad example of a deadly habit.

Smoking afflicts your own body, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, with deadly poisons and life-threatening medical problems.

When you smoke a cigarette to make yourself “feel good,” you reject divine grace, the only source of goodness; thus you subordinate the desire for holiness to the desire for self-punishment.

And so, knowing all of this, and yet continuing to believe in cigarettes more than you believe in Christ, is a big mistake.

  

How often were you criticized and humiliated as a child by your parents? How often did you then condemn yourself for being worthless and inadequate? And how often do you reach for a cigarette out of unconscious anger as a secret wish to carry out that condemnation?

 Isn’t it time to give yourself a break?

  

 

Finding Freedom

Many individuals become nonsmokers every day without professional help and with only the desire to achieve their goal of finding freedom from an overpowering—and, at its psychological and spiritual core, self-destructive—habit. Despite the glamor attributed to it by the tobacco, entertainment, and advertising industries, smoking does nothing to enhance life and everything to pollute and defile it.

So, as you set out to become a nonsmoker, you will discover two things: smoking involves an addiction to nicotine, and it involves a pattern of habitual behaviors.

1.

For some individuals, the the nicotine addiction can be overcome through “will power” or prayer, while for other individuals nicotine patches or nicotine gum may be of help. Also, see the section below about understanding withdrawal symptoms.

  

2.

Overcoming habitual behaviors involves deliberate, repeated attempts to break old patterns—patterns that make cigarettes seem like “old friends” whose absence causes life to feel flat and empty.

There can be many reasons, some completely outside your awareness, that keep you hanging on to those old enemies in friends’ clothing. Some individuals, for example, have such a profound unconscious sense of despair and self-loathing that smoking aptly serves a dark wish for self-destruction. But by becoming a non-smoker you can reclaim the self-respect that you have been throwing away up until now.

 
And remember—many persons who successfully become nonsmokers will have had at least one setback, because “just one puff” easily rekindles old patterns. So if you do fall back, don’t punish yourself; instead, admit to God that you made a mistake and pray for the courage and guidance to learn from your mistakes.

  
The Mistake of Self-punishment

The problem with self-condemnation and self-punishment is that it usurps God’s wisdom, and, in doing that, it pushes away God’s mercy. As long as you’re punishing yourself, you simply are denying any mercy that God could show to you.

Believe, therefore, as your deepest comfort—more even than the comfort of cigarettes—that God desires your salvation and will forgive your mistakes if only you stop hating yourself and turn to Him in love, asking Him to teach you the ways of holiness.

  

It is the trick of demons to tell you otherwise, however. They will say that you are a bad person, that God hates you, and that there is no point in asking God for help. If you believe these lies, your belief in them will make it impossible to free yourself from self-punishment.

  

 

Reasons for Stopping Smoking

Pray about why you want to stop smoking. Write down some of your most important reasons on a small card. Review these reasons several times a day, especially when you’re tempted to reach for a cigarette. In fact, tape a card to your cigarette pack. Below are some suggestions that you can use or modify as you wish.

Stopping smoking will strengthen my heart, improve my breathing capacity, and bolster my circulatory system.

Stopping smoking will increase my immune response to colds, flu, and other diseases.

When I stop smoking I will be more productive in all that I do.

Stopping smoking will help me cut down on drinking.

As a non-smoker I will be setting a good example for children.

When I stop smoking I will breathe more easily and won’t have morning cough or phlegm.

When I stop smoking my senses of smell and taste will improve.

Stopping smoking will help lower my blood pressure.

When I stop smoking I will have more energy.

When I stop smoking I will feel more in command of my life.

When I stop smoking I will be part of an increasingly nonsmoking society.

Stopping smoking will help protect my unborn baby from Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS) and decrease the risk of spontaneous abortion (miscarriage).

Stopping smoking will help protect the health of other persons from Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS).

 

Understanding Withdrawal Symptoms

Smoking withdrawal symptoms include cravings; tension, anxiety, irritability, and restlessness; numbness in arms and legs; dizziness; coughing; and hunger.

Some symptoms are related specifically to nicotine withdrawal, while other symptoms are the result of your body returning to a healthy state and recovering from your habitual abuse of toxic cigarette smoke. If you stop smoking by using nicotine patches or nicotine gum, you may not experience all the symptoms described.

You can stop a craving by focusing your attention on something else, such as prayer. Cravings usually last for only a couple minutes, so an attention diversion need only be immediate and consistent, not complicated.

  

Muscle tension, anxiety, irritability, and restlessness can be reduced through contemplative prayer or by using a relaxation technique as described in the next section.

You may feel tingling sensations or numbness in your arms and legs. These sensations usually indicate improved circulation taking place as a result of your body experiencing freedom from the poisons in tobacco smoke.

You may at times feel dizzy or lightheaded. These sensations usually mean that more oxygen is getting into your brain now that the carbon monoxide associated with smoking is no longer present.

Some individuals find themselves coughing more after quitting smoking than before. The reason for this is that the cilia that line the lungs are working to clean out all the tars and other debris in your lungs.

Increased hunger is a common withdrawal symptom. To avoid weight gain, it is important to exercise regularly; drink 8 oz (250 ml) of water per hour, even if you do not feel thirsty; and have plenty of low-fat foods available for snacks and meals.

 

Smoking Cessation Through Faith and Prayer

If you are addicted to any substance, you are declaring with your behavior that you “love” the addiction more than you love God, and so you will fail to love God as Christ commanded us: You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind (Matthew 22:37). But, if only you train yourself, through faith and prayer, to desire holiness more than you desire an addiction, any addiction can be overcome.

Stopping smoking, therefore, involves two things: overcoming the addiction to nicotine, and overcoming the habit of always reaching for a cigarette (either as a behavioral reward or as a means to relieve anxiety)—instead of reaching out to God in prayer.

To overcome the addiction to nicotine, you have three choices. You can gradually reduce the number of cigarettes that you smoke. Or you can use nicotine patches to put nicotine into your system (while you refrain from smoking) as you gradually reduce the dosage of the patches. Or you can just quit “cold turkey”—nicotine withdrawal is unpleasant, but short-lived.

To overcome the habit of constantly reaching for a cigarette, it will be necessary to teach yourself to act in new ways. This takes some conscious effort. The first step is to recognize, as it is happening, the urge to reach for a cigarette; the second step is to tell yourself to do something different. Some people will carry around a cinnamon stick, for example, and put it in their mouth in place of a cigarette.

  

While you are making all these changes, it can help greatly to use some sort of relaxation technique. For more information about relaxation techniques, see my webpages called Progressive Muscle Relaxation and Autogenics Training on A Guide to Psychology and its Practice. A relaxation CD (true to the Catholic faith) from the present website can help you experience relaxation as well.

Audio CD:
Guided Imagery Relaxation
The Catholic Way

 

  

Moreover, the Catholic Church offers a centuries-old form of relaxation and emotional support: prayer. After all, what keeps you chained to your addiction? Fear. Fear that life will be bleak and empty without smoking. And what is the most effective way to overcome fear? To love—to be filled with all the fullness of God.

Accordingly, I offer below two ways to use prayer to help you stop smoking. The first way is best practiced at least two times a day (morning and night). The second way is a small card that you can print and carry with you; whenever you feel the urge to smoke a cigarette, pull out the card and say the prayer. By the time you have finished, the craving for a cigarette will have dissipated.

 
Visualization and Prayer Technique

In general, changing unwanted behavior comprises three basic steps:

1.

To know how ugly the behavior is and how much damage it causes to yourself and to others.

2.

To regret the damage caused by the behavior.

3.

To know the benefits of new and different behavior.

Note carefully, though, that in trying to overcome an addiction you will immediately encounter a frustrating paradox: thinking about the negative consequences of an addiction will only increase the desire for the addictive substance. So why does this happen? Well, the psychological defense at the core of any addiction is denial, so when contemplating any negative idea (such as getting cancer from smoking), your mind will crave the intense pleasure of the addiction as a way to override (i.e., deny) the frightening idea.

Therefore, even though it is important to know the negative consequences of the addiction, the fear of those consequences in itself won’t be nearly so much a motivation for overcoming the addiction as will be the hope of positive changes. Consequently, those positive changes need to be visualized very, very clearly.

So here is how to do it: practice the following procedure at least twice a day until you no longer need it.

First, enter a state of relaxation. Here, you can simply sit (or kneel) and pray quietly. This is important because the next two steps (if done properly) will arouse substantial anxiety, and you need to be able to reduce that anxiety again.

Second, create a negative mood state in which you visualize the harmful and disgusting effects of the unwanted behavior. Instead of defending your behavior—to yourself, to others, and to God—see the smoking addiction for what it is in all its gruesome reality. For example, smell the stench of the smoke on your clothes and body; see the stains on your fingers and teeth; notice your shortness of breath and coughing; visualize the poisons coating your lungs and other internal organs. After the intense negativity of this mood has been felt fully, reduce the anxiety with relaxation. Then pray the Hail Mary.

Third, contemplate how miserable and wretched your life will be if this behavior does not change. For example, see yourself wheezing for breath and dying of cancer. Imagine other persons around you encouraged in their own addictions because of your negative influence. Then, after the intense negativity of this mood has been felt fully, reduce the anxiety with relaxation, and pray the Hail Mary

Now come the most important steps.

Fourth, create a positive mood state in which you visualize the beneficial effects of new, healthy behavior. For example, see yourself as calm and confident as a non-smoker, relaxed and able to concentrate, free of frustration and tension, a positive influence on others. Remember here your reasons for wanting to stop smoking. Use your relaxation technique to enjoy a peaceful state of mind with a deep sense of hope for yourself and love for others. Pray the Hail Mary.

Fifth, reinforce your positive mood with positive statements of validation. Repeat the statements several times. Create your own, or select from the following examples.

When I trust in You, Lord, I do not need to soothe myself with cigarettes. Through Your grace, I am no longer a slave to impulses and addiction.

Lord, when grounded in prayer, I work calmly and confidently. Give me the grace to not let my self-confidence be bothered by small mistakes. In You I can overcome all obstacles with total confidence.

Give me the grace, Lord, to respect my own body as a temple of the Holy Spirit and to present myself to others with respect and dignity.

Give me the grace, Lord, to remain calm, relaxed, and composed in any situation.

Lord, let Your calmness and patience reflect through me to shine upon others as compassion and sensitive understanding.

You, Lord, give me an experience of peace and calm that cannot be threatened by anything outside myself. I thank you, Lord; I refuse to be jealous or envious, and I wish peace and good to all.

Lord, help me to remember that in You there are no good  days or bad  days; there is only love.

Sixth, conclude with a prayerful closure to the session. Recite the following prayers:

The Hail, Holy Queen (Salve Regina).

HAIL, holy Queen,
Mother of Mercy;
hail, our life, our sweetness, and our hope.
To thee do we cry,
poor banished children of Eve;
to thee do we send up our sighs,
mourning and weeping in this vale of tears.
Turn then, most gracious Advocate,
thine eyes of mercy towards us;
and after this our exile,
show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.
 
V. Pray for us, O holy Mother of God.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
Amen.

 

The prayer to St. Michael the Archangel.

SAINT Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle;
be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray:
and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host,
by the power of God,
cast into hell Satan and all the wicked spirits,
who roam through the world, seeking the ruin of souls.
Amen.

 

The following invocation, thrice repeated:
 
V. Most Sacred Heart of Jesus,
R. Have mercy upon us.  

 
Coping With Cravings

Copy the following prayer card, and whenever you feel a craving for a cigarette, pull out the card and say the prayers:

 

PRAYER FOR STOPPING SMOKING
 

 
 

O MARY, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee. Through the grace of your purity, may this unclean habit cease.

FROM the stench of smoke, the foul taste in my mouth, the stains on my hands and teeth, pray for my release.
Hail Mary . . .

FROM coughing and phlegm, from polluted blood, from heart and lung disease, pray for my release.
Hail Mary . . .

FROM habit and slavery, pray for my release.
Hail Mary . . .

FROM tension, fear, and anxiety, pray for my release.
Hail Mary . . .

FOR health and calm and peace, pray for me.
Hail Mary . . .

Pray for us, O holy Mother of God, that, by Christ redeemed, we will choose to live in purity. Amen.

 

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