Thursday, April 16, 2015

Smoking - How Bad is it Really?

Previously published on Yahoo January 17, 2010

You've probably seen the video of an old woman lighting her cigarette with one of 100 candles that fire up her birthday cake and thought, well, if she can make it to 100, so can I.

But let's examine your logic and let's look at statistics. According to the National Library of Medicine – National Institutes of Health, "Smoking harms nearly every organ of the body. Cigarette smoking causes 87 percent of lung cancer deaths."

Are you willing to risk your life simply because you don't know how to quit smoking? And if you are pregnant, do you want to risk the life of your unborn child by continuing your smoking habit? According to the same source, "Women who smoke have a greater chance of certain pregnancy problems or having a baby die from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)."

The habit of smoking is so difficult to break, it causes some people, in the final stages of emphysema, to request a cigarette even as they breathe their last breath. Loved ones standing by watch them die in agony, because dying from emphysema is a painful way to die. It is also frightening.

Smoking affects people with other lung problems as well. People who suffer from asthma, bronchitis, lung cancer, cystic fibrosis, tuberculosis, and other lung diseases feel the impact that smoking has on their lungs, because secondhand smoke restricts their airways and sometimes causes an attack.

To understand what somebody suffering from a lung affliction feels like while in the throes of an attack, imagine taking a straw and stuffing it with a couple of rolled up paper towels. Allow only a hairline of air to flow through the straw. Close your nostrils and wrap your lips around the straw.

Try breathing through the straw for a couple of minutes. You will soon notice that your heart is racing and your oxygen level is dropping. Not many people can last long with only a hairline of oxygen entering their lungs.

Besides health problems, other matters that result from smoking require attention. The tongue becomes coated with a smoky residue, teeth turn yellow, clothing and hair smells, and the capacity for exercise is greatly diminished. Smokers put at risk anyone who is around them.

So how can a smoker quit smoking? No one solution is perfect for everybody. From patches to hypnotism, smokers have to find something that works for THEM. The most important factor in quitting smoking, though, is readiness. Until smokers are ready to quit, they will not quit. And they may fail their first, their second, or even their third time.

Smoking is a habit, and smokers must learn to replace their smoking habit with healthy alternatives. Some former smokers eat when they can't smoke, but that remedy contributes to weight gain. Other smokers attempt an exercise routine, but give up quickly when they don't see immediate results. Readiness is key.

If you smoke and you are ready to quit smoking, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers smokers help in quitting. And that help comes in the form of free quit coaching, a free quit plan, and free educational materials. The CDC also refers smokers to local resources. Quit smoking now, by calling 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669 - TTY 1-800-332-8615).

Related Reading
Photo courtesy of Morguefile

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Coping Strategies – Stop Using Habits as Excuses and Start Using Them as Reasons…

…to DO what you KNOW needs to be done – FOR YOU!

You’ve probably heard or even repeated any of the following excuses: 

“I have to keep eating sweets. It’s the only thing keeping me sane.”

“I can’t quit smoking now. Too much stuff is going on in my life.”

“I have too much stress in my life to stop drinking now.”

“If I gamble just one more time, I’ll pay up all my debts.”

Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.


We ALL have challenges! Some of us think we have it worse than everybody else does, but not everyone speaks about their challenges. One of us may have just buried a loved one, another may be trying to work through a devastatingly fatal medical diagnosis, and still another may be coping with physical abuse or financial loss or an ill child. Whatever we go through, the one thing that separates us from people who go through life seemingly unaffected by their challenges is our inability to cope with our challenges. 

If I could grade myself as a parent who was successful in teaching her children coping strategies, I would have to fail myself. I never learned how to cope with challenges – how could I teach my children how to cope with theirs? And yet coping strategies are the most pivotal tool children require in order to lead successful lives. Why am I just now learning how to cope with adversity?

Sadly, too many people, unable or unwilling to find appropriate ways of dealing with their problems, resort to drugs, alcohol, gambling, prostitution, or any number of destructive ways to cope with their challenges. And they use excuses to explain their behavior.

Frustration at not knowing what to do when we are presented with challenges gives some of us permission to take the lazy way out. We KNOW that smoking is bad for us, we KNOW that drinking is bad for us, we KNOW we shouldn’t prostitute ourselves for money, but we CHOOSE to engage in exactly those types of behaviors because we see only what is in front of us. We don’t explore other options. We limit our own choices, because we’re “too tired,” or “too upset,” or “too whatever” to put any energy into improving our situations. Rather than work on making life better for ourselves, we take the lazy way out – “it’s hopeless” – and we give up.

How can we afford to go back to school, for instance, provide daycare for our kids, and still afford a home with all its accompanying expenses if we have no money? How can we get to work or school if we don’t have a car and no access to public transportation? And even if we figure out how to handle these challenges because we found the courage to contact a local college financial aid counselor and a self-help group in our neighborhood, the minute we take care of one problem, we’re confronted with ten more.

We say we want to quit the habits we know are hurting us, but just as we’re getting through a bad divorce, one of the kids comes down with a debilitating illness, we find out one of our parents is dying, we just lost our job, etc., so how can we quit now?

But NOW is exactly the time to quit destructive habits! 

We need to understand something about ourselves – the time will never be right for us to quit our unhealthy habits, because life always throws obstacles in our way that we can use either as an excuse to continue the habit that will cause us ruin or as an impetus – or reason – to change. 

Change requires commitment – commitment to adhere to the decisions we make. WE make our own choices and we need to stop excusing our behaviors and start finding resources to help us make the right decisions. In other words, we need to learn how to ask for help and stop thinking we can solely handle everything that comes our way.

We live in a world filled with people who want to help us succeed. But we are too negative in our thinking to believe that anybody would want to help us. Many of us also suffer from a god-complex. Throwing ourselves a pity party, putting ourselves on our own pedestal, far above those wretched souls below us who could care less, because nobody is as good as we are, we provide examples for ourselves that nobody cares – we are in this world alone, fending for ourselves. We allow ourselves to believe that we are good, kind, generous, and helpful, and we can’t depend on anyone else, because we are the only people in the world who care about anything. 

How presumptuous of us, don’t you think? When did we give ourselves permission to be gods and dismiss the fact that others in this world are as kind, friendly, and generous as we are?

It’s time we started thinking more positively about our challenges and stopped looking upon them as roadblocks to our success. Any number of things can inspire us to move forward. Meditation, prayer, faith, and paying attention to somebody we perceive as experiencing worse problems than we have, who know how to cope with those problems in ways that defy our understanding. If we resort to drugs, alcohol, gambling, or any other addictive behavior, we have not learned to successfully cope with stress. Maybe it’s time to start investigating the coping strategies of successful individuals who cope well with adversity.

The Semel Institute at UCLA offers advice on coping. Rather than resort to negative ways of solving our problems, such as using denial and self-blame, successful copers tackle their challenges by using humor or seeking support. They try relaxation, recreation, or problem solving techniques.

For those of us with poor coping skills, it’s time we dealt with our stressors in more positive ways and exchanged our maladaptive behaviors with healthy alternatives.

EVERYTHING we do we do because we CHOOSE to do it. We cannot control what others do to us, but we can control our response to those situations. Instinctively we know the consequences and rewards for whatever behavior we decide to use to conduct ourselves. We say we don’t have a choice, but we always do. “I have to go to work,” you say, but you really don’t. You choose to go to work, because you want to get paid and you don’t want to get fired. “I have to wake up at 5 a.m. if I want to get to work on time.” Again, you choose to wake up at 5 a.m., because you want to keep your job.

You can always look for another job. “I don’t have time to look for another job.” And now you’re creating excuses. We are all very good at creating excuses for why we do or don’t do certain things. And we use those excuses as justifications to stagnate. Ten years from now, one of three things will occur – you will retain your addictive behaviors, because the time was never right, you will challenge yourself to be courageous enough to approach your problems with dignity and strength, or you will die. Unless the world ends, 2025 will arrive. If you plan on being around in ten years you owe it to yourself to find the courage now to face your challenges and to rise above them so that by 2025, if you’re still here, you can celebrate your victories and actually enjoy your life.

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Grudge Wall

Brick by brick, stone by stone, with each betrayal, with each perceived infraction, we add another brick or stone around our heart to protect it from experiencing more pain. We hold onto the grudge and we never forgive, because to let go means the other people won’t understand how truly unworthy of our affections they really are.

What we don’t see is the physiological manifestations of what happens when that grudge wall hardens our hearts. By not forgiving our enemies, we allow dis-ease to enter our soul and infect us with viruses we never saw coming. Cardiovascular (heart) disease is our number one killer. Plaque builds up in the walls of our arteries. If our minds, bodies, and spirits are connected, quite possibly our emotions are reflected in our bodies. That wall we build on the outside thickens on the inside as well. 

In our 3-dimensional world, we pass along only one side of the story, and we infect others with our views. They pass along our side of the story to their friends and family members and the picture they provide is only a third of the truth. The grudge wall congeals. And the message gets passed on much like messages get passed in the “telephone game,” where one player whispers a story to a second person, who then whispers it to a third person, and so on, until the last person repeats aloud the story s/he heard. Like the old telephone game, the story gets twisted and, in the end, sounds nothing like the original story.

Reasons for a different ending are plentiful. Perhaps the listener didn’t actually hear the words and his mind fabricated the misunderstood words. Perhaps the listener decided to embellish what she heard. Or maybe the listener blatantly lied about what he’d heard.

Other factors that affect our ability to relate to the messages we hear and that play a role in determining the way we internalize the messages we receive, are our moods, our actions, our reactions, and even our histories. We have a remarkable tendency to see facial expressions and recognized clenched teeth through telephone lines. But even if the person who causes us anxiety is responsible for our grudges, why do we hang on to that grudge – sometimes forever? 

One of my sisters and I engaged in battle quite frequently as kids and when we were in our twenties and thirties, we continued to battle. She invited me to her home during one phone call and I could tell she was clenching her teeth as she made her repeated commands: “Your kids are now allowed upstairs, they are not allowed to touch anything, you will watch everything they do, and you will monitor their every action – do you understand?” 

“Yes,” I told her every time she repeated herself. 

She continued, “I don’t have to mention these things to (our other sister), but I do have to make sure you understand! Do you!”

At that point, after hearing her admonitions no less than three times, I said, “You know what? I’ll do you a favor. We just won’t come.” And then I hung up.

When my mother heard about the situation, she immediately penned a letter to both of us. In the letter she told us about one of her best friends who had been in a fight with her sister – for decades. The friend never told my mother what the fight was about, so at the wake of her friend, my mother asked the sister what the fight was about. The sister of my mom’s friend responded, “I don’t remember.”

My sister and I made up, and after so many years of wondering what I had done to my sister, I finally asked, “Why do you hate me so much?”

The hesitation in her voice was palpable. I could almost see the words jar her. And the way my sister responded changed my life. She had so much insight into herself in that moment that the words burst out of her like molten lava from a volcano. She admitted that she was jealous of me and she admitted that she had treated me miserably. The funny thing was I had been jealous of her for my whole life too! The realization that jealousy was the basis of our fights was enough to halt the decline in our relationship. And that realization was the turning point for both of us.

Today I see parents fighting with their children, siblings fighting with each other, friends in combat with each other, and the underlying problem is usually much deeper than what appears to be the reason for the fight. We hear one version of the truth, ignore the other two sides, and then we assess the situation based only upon that one-sided explanation.

Every time we hear one version of “the truth,” and we judge the other person involved, we help the storyteller add another brick to her heart. Eventually the grudge wall becomes so thick, no love can enter. Any infraction, small or large, will add thicker layers to the wall that perhaps only a jackhammer can remove. Hardened hearts become etched into deeply creviced faces trenched with scowls and clenched teeth.

But what if something other than a jackhammer can break down the grudge wall? What if forgiveness softens that wall enough to allow all barriers to break down? We have to realize that none of us is perfect and that our perceptions are imperfect as well. What we see is not necessarily what IS. We base our feelings upon what we perceive to be true, so if our perceptions are distorted, anything in our minds that projects from those perceptions becomes warped as well.

Holding onto grudges does not serve us well. Holding onto them burdens us. Letting go allow us to soften our hearts so more love can flow through us. Forgiving does not mean forgetting. But not forgiving reveals more to us about our own characters than it does about the person we can’t seem to forgive.

For more on Grace, Forgiveness, and Thankfulness, please click the link. 

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. ~ Ephesians 4:31-32

“Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.” ~ Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith

“Child, you do not forgive because the person who wronged deserves it. You misunderstood the point of forgiveness entirely. The only cage that a grudge creates is around the holder of the grudge. Forgiveness is not saying that the person who hurt you was right, or has earned it, or is allowed to hurt you again. All forgiveness means is that you will carry on without the burdens of rage or hatred.” ~ Merrie Haskell, The Castle Behind Thorns

photo of stone wall from Morguefile