On Smoking & Shame


One night as we sat around the table with a group of newer friends, the topic of smoking came up and eventually the question was asked of me and my husband if we smoked.  Actually, the situation was more like, after bashing people who smoke because how disgusting and terrible it is for your health, a statement was made that ended with a question mark that went something like ‘you guys don’t smoke. . . right?’

My husband and I cut eyes, briefly making contact, and I desperately hoped he got the gist of my ‘you-take-this-one' look.

Justin has an unmatched way of telling things factually, without defending or justifying.  He is unapologetic without an obnoxious arrogance and I love this part about him.

“Yeah, we do sometimes” he replied while I held my breath.

He proceeded to tell the table about our SDR’s.  You can try to guess what the initials stand for and I will give you one guess; S____ day rituals take place after long days of work that entail unfortunate events, hard conversations, highly charged emotions and usually death.  These rituals usually include red wine, good bourbon, cigars, and conversation on the topics of dying, eternity, divinity, and sovereignty.  Justin explained that SDR’s are the times when you may find us using tobacco products.

As he continued, I felt hot all over and my palms felt clammy.  There was a tightness in my chest that grew more constricting as I began to noticeably fidget in my chair.

One of our friends at the table had previously made known her distaste for smoking and her disapproval that we periodically engaged in such an activity.  She allowed her stance on the matter to be made known again in front of our newer friends around the table whom we had recently met.

It was quite flattering to learn that our new friends thought we were joking when we admitted to smoking periodically.

It was one of those awkward 'haha oh my gosh y'all are so funny. . . a glass of red wine does sound really nice after a long day. . .'  followed by a long pause and then Justin flatly saying 'No, but we really do smoke sometimes.'

By this point I was pleading with God to rapture us all right then and there, anything to get me out if the situation I was in.  I wanted to crawl in a hole and die at that moment.

They explained that they’d thought of us as health conscious individuals and because we were both nurses, they reasoned that they couldn’t see us smoking.

Our other friend pressed in with comments about how it is appalling that we’re nurses and we smoke and how smoking isn’t even cool.  She was right, health risks aside, smoking isn’t even cool anymore.

My head was spinning and I felt like I was losing my grip, I knew this feeling and this physiological reaction, it was shame.  It was piling up and I needed to quickly defer it.

Defenses and justifications for our behavior was all I could think of to say.

Defending was my first thought, after all we eat pretty healthy and aside from the fact that our lifestyle in general are pretty active, we were currently training for a half marathon.  At least we were doing more right than wrong I reasoned.

Justifying was my second tactic I thought about saying ‘ok you call me up when you’ve watched people bleed out or held a baby as they died and tell me a late night smoke and glass of wine doesn’t help take the edge off.’

Another option was to throw Justin under the bus in attempt to salvage my reputation because, after all, he had begun engaging in this guilty pleasure first.

But I held my ground and I owned it.

Looking over at Justin, I was desperately needing support, someone to help me rally.  He looked back at me, reassuring me with his eyes, letting me know it was ok.  He was with me in it as he could sense the enormous struggle that was playing out in my head.

I was just as mortified then as I am now sitting here about to click the ‘publish’ button.  Smoking?  Seriously, come on Mer.  Get with the program and quit doing that, even if it is a rare occurrence.

But in those moments around that table I felt courage in a new way, not despite shame but in the face of shame become I had someone there who got in it with me.

There was someone there, willing to be in the mess with me, reminding me that I wasn’t alone.

Shame begins to lose its grip and its power when we hear 'I know, I’ve done that too’ or ‘you’re not alone in this' from another.

When we allow others to step in and help us when we feel like we cannot stand because of shame, that's when shame is extinguished and where the journey of courage begins.