June 15, 2015

Holier than Thou or Socially Conscious?

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I have opinions. So does everyone who is reading these words. Mine fall into the “left of center-tree-hugging hippie-social worker-peacenik” category.

I have marched for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA)—which failed because frightened people thought it would mean co-ed bathrooms rather than equal pay for equal work, regardless of gender. I have marched for civil rights and LGBTQ rights. I have marched for the environment. I walked in a portion of the Great Peace March that had participants taking one step at a time from California to Washington, DC  in attempt to ward off nuclear annihilation. Although my soles ached as if I had been walking on the bones of my feet, my soul felt uplifted.

I pick up litter and recycle. I donate to causes that are connected with all that I mentioned above. I also speak up when I see what I perceive as injustice being done. I have intervened when I witnessed a woman threatening to hit her young daughter. I erred on the side of caution by empathizing with the obviously frustrated mother, telling her that I knew she didn’t want to hurt her child—in part because I didn’t want to shame her, thus possibly furthering endangering the girl. I have helped to rescue dogs in cars that were far too hot for them to be sitting in. I volunteer at an equine sanctuary, offering Reiki to retired racehorses. My son rolls his eyes at his weird hippie mom who not only swerves (safely) to avoid hitting animals, but butterflies as well. I show spiders the door rather than killing them. I walk as lightly on the Earth as I can, conscious of my carbon footprint—I want to leave a better world for future generations. I organize Free Hugs events.

I have earned my goody two shoes badge.

But there is one issue that sticks in my craw that I am so wanting to release, so I can have peace: smoking.

I don’t smoke. Not too many people in my immediate circles smoke. Those that do know not to do it in my car or home. I lovingly move away when they are puffing. For years, I worked in the mental health field where the bulk of my clients and some of my co-workers smoked. Exposure to second and third hand smoke—which is not without its effect—was part of my environment for more than a dozen years. As a result, I have become a sometimes obnoxiously outspoken advocate for quitting or not starting in the first place.

I do have friends and family members who have put down the butts for good. Sadly, though, one in particular—my sister, who encourages me to share her story so that others can be helped—is bearing the burden of having had a three decade relationship with tobacco.

Now decidedly divorced from it, she is in her middle 50’s and has had two heart attacks, CHF and COPD. Breathing does not come easily to her these days. My mother, who never smoked, died of CHF in 2010. My grandfather and uncle had smoked around her throughout her life. I never smoked and doctors have acknowledged that among other factors, being exposed to smoking contributed to my heart attack that occurred last year. Both my mother in-law and father in-law died from smoking related illnesses.

Those are huge reasons why I cringe and clench when I see someone lighting up—or worse yet, tossing their cigarettes on the ground as if the earth were their ash tray.

In my belief system, smoking around children is tantamount to child abuse, since it exposes them in two ways: one to the toxins and the other to the habit.

Smoking around children shows them by example that’s it’s an acceptable habit, because they see adults who love them doing it. Smoking around animals does the first, since what their person is inhaling, so too are they.

Another pet peeve is witnessing ambulance personal smoking outside their rigs, knowing that they will be transporting people in respiratory distress with smoke on their hair, skin and clothes. Recently I spoke with a man who had gone through cardiac rehab with me and he told me that prior to the cardiac surgery that saved his life, he had smoked.

Guess what he had done for a living? He was an EMT who may easily have been one of those I just referenced. He no longer smokes, thank goodness, but his wife still does. He wishes she would stop. Hard to imagine continuing a habit that almost killed your partner.

A few days ago I was at the hospital where I had been treated to drop off strawberries (the only heart shaped fruit I could find) for the staff at cardiac rehab to celebrate my one year cardio-versary. On my way in, I saw a man drop a cigarette on the sidewalk right in front of the building, clearly marked as a smoke free facility. I took a deep breath, and politely reminded him of that fact. His calm response was “Oh, I didn’t know.”

What I didn’t do was ask him to pick up his litter.

As a therapist who has worked in the drug and alcohol field, I know it is an insidious addiction—harder to quit for some, I have heard, than heroin. I also know that the choice to pick it up in the first place can be prevented. Perhaps, like many drugs, it is harder to put down once the deed is done.

I asked for support from the Facebook hive mind to release the hold that anger over this issue has on me. The response ranged from empathy to judgment (they felt I was judging smokers and subsequently encouraged compassion, not condemnation). Some encouraged me to mind my own business, using the adage “Live and let live.

The only problem with that one is that some people don’t live because of the lifestyle choices those around them make.

Others used the spiritual bypass thought that who we really are never dies anyway and that if we think that toxins won’t hurt us, then they just won’t. I’m pretty darn spiritual, but still have not mastered total acceptance of that paradigm.

There were modalities suggested such as The Work of Byron Katie, Buddhist Tonglen and  Ho’oponopono. Those were the most helpful ideas. Some touted statistics that supported my take on it. One person reminded me that even Jesus had righteous anger when he dumped over the tables in the temple. At least I know I haven’t gone that far.

There may be those who see me as holier than thou. I think if myself as pro-social. Lest my do-gooder halo slip off my head, I acknowledge my judgments that sometimes feel as toxic as the chemicals infusing the cigarettes, as well as my willingness to let them go.


Author: Edie Weinstein 

Editor: Alli Sarazen

Photo: Mike Klein/Flickr

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