This is a spaghetti jar full of cigarette butts that I collected this morning from the sidewalks, parking spots, and driveways of my little neighborhood. It was a catalytic mix of emotions that called me to do this — mostly sadness, frustration, and anger. (And at the time, I hadn’t yet begun to feel the heat from all of those squats.) To be honest, my first impulse was to use this space to rant and rave about it, about the fact that a layer of smokers’ confetti has settled over my community. Rage was my second and third and fourth impulse, too, but I’ve been studying me and my impulse to fly off the handle long enough to know that nothing good ever comes from that space.
Interestingly, I can tell you that the piece I almost wrote would have been a huge hit. It would have been scathing enough to activate the rage that simmers in the Care2 readers who share my frustration about the way we are treating this planet. It would have been funny enough to distract those like-minded readers from the fact that they’d been betrayed by my call to hysteria. It would have had a confrontational title, which, sadly, would have made it very clickable.
Those readers who already agree that nicotine litter sucks would have been energized enough (by my bitter validation) to share it far and wide, hoping to rally more of “us” and shame “them” into acting “right.” But before I could cash in on my little rage fest, I got this gentle little reality check from one of my teachers:
“Please, consider that when we do good with a heart in judgment or blame, then we are canceling out the good we have done. Dig deep and release the blame, do what you do in praise of your Creator and gratitude for your life; let the act be pure for the sake of us all.” – Carrie Hanlin Churchill
I’ll be honest, it stung a bit. Sure, I’m on this “spiritual path,” and sure, I am committed to my evolution as a teacher and healer. But there is a wounded little girl in me that wanted it to be appropriate to rage against the “others” whose pollution of my beloved planet she can’t stop. She/I feel powerless. When I announced my intention to give “them” a piece of my mind, Carrie invited me to allow that surge to recede into something far more powerful and useful.
What if I could say what needs to be said from a place of love and oneness instead?
There are a million places to go here, and while I’ve written at length about recovery from addiction and releasing that which no longer serves us, I’m not interested in this particular piece being about how we need to stop using what we use to cope with whatever we experienced in the past. Those wounds are real, the cravings are epic, and the idea of getting through even a single day without the security of your most trusted companion feels like both heaven and hell. I used to use food the way those who left these butts behind use cigarettes, and I know that my concerns about nicotine litter will not be solved by shaming smokers about their addiction.
The time I spent collecting these cigarette butts changed me. At first, it was the anger and judgment that fueled me. I rushed about, squatting and standing, retrieving the evidence and depositing it into my jar. But as I continued, I began to ponder the realities of addiction and coping, shame, and the realities of disassociation. When we are engaged in behaviors that are out of alignment with our integrity, it’s really hard to stay engaged and alert. It hurts too much.
I couldn’t help but wonder about the man with the ring of smoker’s debris around his car. What is brewing within him that leaves a trail of destruction like that, and what happens to the body that receives such persistent abuse?
I wondered about the one who smokes only the first half of the cigarette. I found them from one end of this neighborhood to the other, always the same brand, always burned down to the same exact length before being discarded. I only found them on the driveway, not the sidewalks or grassy areas. And there was a significant collection of random butts at the neighborhood entrance, I can’t help but wonder if there are people living nearby who are keeping secrets from their families.
There is a woman I sometimes see sitting on the sidewalk near her front door when I walk down to fetch our mail. I see her and have noticed that she looks like she’s in another world when she smokes. She uses her flowerbed as an ashtray, and finding that today made my heart ache. I wished I had a magic potion that would transform the fallout from her not-so-great escape into a vibrant abundance of herbs and wildflowers to inspire her to stay in her body instead of wherever she travels in her mind.
Perhaps it was the burning in the backs of my thighs, but tears filled my eyes when I stumbled onto the worst of the nicotine litter in front of the last home in the neighborhood. I saw a couple of butts, so squatted to pick them up. One, two, three, four, five… I turned a little to the right and grabbed six, seven, eight, and then nine and ten… I stopped for a moment and looked up to survey the larger area around me.
There were so many little white filters that I couldn’t make sense of what I was seeing. Had someone emptied an ashtray? Could the wind have carried them here? Perhaps water pushed them all downhill to this location… I seriously couldn’t process it. So I stood, took a deep breath, and walked toward the center of this vile collection. I still planned to pick them up but I wanted to understand what could have attracted this scene. What I found turned my stomach inside out and threatened to rob me of the compassion I’d been trying so diligently to nurture.
It was a metal storm drain cover that read, “DUMP NO WASTE: Drains To River.” There were more cigarette butts in there than I could count, and try as I might, I couldn’t reach a single one of them. That sucks. It sucks for the river. It sucks for me. It sucks for the smokers and those who don’t.
It sucks that someone throws the remnants of their addiction into a concrete tunnel that leads directly to the river. It sucks that someone leaves their butts in the parking lot at the soccer field, the middle school, and the grocery store. It sucks that someone litters my favorite hiking trail with cigarette butts. It all just sucks, and frankly, I don’t understand what makes someone feel like these are acceptable ways to dispose of the waste generated by being a smoker.
If it is that one believes there is no consequence, this jar proves otherwise. Just like the soda cans and junk food wrappers that accompanied my old vices, the smokers’ debris counts. It settles in wherever you toss it and it stays there until it decomposes, a process which takes literally years to complete. Yes, I said years, for every single one of those butts to be gone. One doesn’t throw a cigarette butt away, it’s the earth that receives — and then holds — the waste.
If it is that one believes that what remains after the joy of smoking is over is dirty or inconvenient or burdensome to tend, then it must be true that cigarette butts continue to be dirty or inconvenient or burdensome after the consumer has released them. And if they are going to be a burden, shouldn’t it be the person who bought and smoked them who finds a proper solution?
If it is that one believes that disposing of their waste properly might cultivate conflict with their employer, friends, loved ones, or other individuals and establishments that disapprove of or prohibit smoking, then please let this serve as a loving invitation to put on your big girl or big boy pants and just be a smoker. Closets are for coats, and hiding breeds shame and self-loathing. Come out if that’s what you have to do to tend the trash that comes with your disease.
This feels like an integrity issue to me.
Ideally, none of us would need to use coping mechanisms. We would have the courage to employ the multitude of resources available to support our healing. We would recover from the past, freeing ourselves to live powerful, engaged, conscientious lives.
But that’s not reality, at least not the one with which I was confronted this morning and one that I still feel bears addressing, which I have sought to do as lovingly as possible. Not everyone is ready to do “The Work,” and so we choose what we do to help us cope. So, if we are going to use these various crutches, let us do so with our eyes wide open to the impact that choosing that path has on ourselves, on others, and on the planet. Please.
A Note On Addiction: If you are ready to release your coping mechanism, here are many recovery paths available to you, and regardless of what you are using, keep digging until you find the support you need. No matter how many times it takes, you are worth it. Refuse to give up on you, and remember that your addiction simply meets a need that is asking to be identified and met in a more healthy, beautiful, and life-promoting way. I am just one of many resources available to you. If you’d like information on classes or private sessions, visit www.seedsandweedscoaching.com