Iconoclasm


A few months ago I wandered into a chat room in time to hear someone talking about "the Nicodemon". I asked this person what their strategy was for dealing with "the Demon" and was told, "KILL him!! Bury him!! Bury him so deep he'll never surface!!" I asked if they thought that would work, as the demon seemed to be a pretty powerful force. I was told that that's why we need to be constantly vigilant, to be always "on guard". They spoke of how "he's always out there trying to trip us up" and how "he can sneak up on us." I then asked just who they thought this demon might really be. The answer came back, "Why, it's us of course. Who did you think it was?"

True, the Nicodemon is us. I think you'd have a pretty tough time finding anyone who didn't honestly believe that the nicodemon is within each of us. But what part of us? Look at the language quitters use to describe that part: sneaky, evil, devious, lying, selfish. And the language they use to describe how to deal with it: kill, slay, bury, fight, battle. Yet none of this really names just what part of us it is that we've labeled "the demon" nor does it even begin to realistically address just exactly what the 'demon' did for us when we were smokers or what it does to us now that we've quit.

What's the gist of the demon's message? " A cigarette will cure _____ . So light up." No matter how subtle or intense the delivery might be, the message is simple in the extreme. When I think of a 'voice' telling us to light up, I don't hear the voice of some powerful demon I've created, but rather the small incessant whisperings from a very basic and simple part of us. It's the voice of a messenger we trained long ago, even before we became smokers, to interpret what we feel, and based on that interpretation, associate the feelings with an appropriate response, and then to 'tell' us what to do. Somewhere along the line we trained that diligent little messenger that the recognition of any and all stress was to be immediately responded to by telling us to smoke. If we were 'busy' and didn't hear or heed the messenger's voice, he'd raise the volume until we heard nothing but his voice. In many ways the messenger reminds me of the broom in the Disney production of "The Sorcerer's Apprentice".... endlessly, tirelessly, mindlessly doing it's job.

We humans are capable of doing several tasks at once. Without this ability, every time my ass got numb from sitting too long, I'd have to stop what I was doing, recognize that there was a lack of sensation from my back end, evaluate possible solutions for the situation, choose a first response, and then tell my body to carry out the response. However, once the appropriate response had been 'figured out' a time or two, then the job of dealing with a numb ass was relegated to that tireless little messenger. Most of the time I'm not even aware that the messenger has 'told' me to shift position, or that I've shifted position, or that feeling is now returning to those cheeks. I don't think our smoking responses were much different. We'd feel some vague, subtle sensation and suddenly there would be a burning cigarette in our hand.

One of the first symptoms of a lowered nicotine level is a reduction in our ability to concentrate. Every time the messenger sensed that I was feeling "mentally sluggish", it told me to light up. And every time I lit up and suddenly my brain seemed to work again, I revalidated the 'truism' that a cigarette would help me think or to think better. I long ago forgot that I'd trained my messenger to recognize a sluggish feeling as something to be 'cured' with a cigarette. I long ago stopped 'thinking' each time I felt sluggish, "What would be the best 'cure'? ". We may have consciously decided to quit smoking and may be going through all the motions associated with quitting, but is that messenger still going through his patterns just like that mindless little Sorcerer's broom? Are we trying to bring him to a halt without knowing how?

As smokers, we were rarely aware of the messenger's work to keep us comfortable. He did his work hour after hour, day after day, year after year and we let him. This little messenger is not within our immediate control only because we've never bothered to even try to learn who he is. Yet almost every one of us is aware of some *messenger* that called to us to light up. The majority of quitters will bestow upon him the power and stature of an almost omnipotent Demon that resides in some inaccessible place. Some people will say, "The demon kept me enslaved". Was it 'the demon', or the addictive characteristic of the chemical nicotine, or was it just easier to abdicate our responsibility for our own actions? Some will say, "I'm powerless in the face of the demon". Of course they're powerless. Having personified and empowered what which was nothing more than a very simple part of themselves, is it any wonder most quitters will spend a tremendous amount of energy, for some the rest of their lives, periodically struggling with themselves? For most quitters, their only weapons against this creation will be denial, repression, and an effort to hold on tight that will drain them body and soul. I don't know of any quitters who haven't, at some time or another, argued with themselves about whether or not to light up. Who hasn't heard the voice of their own messenger? Is it really a demon? Or have we taken a simple little broom, taught it a single universal response to all of our life's events, and called it the Nicodemon.

 

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