No Smoking Allowed

After spending a little vacation time with my family I was reminded about what its been like to be a non smoker in a smoking family.  I try to make it clear to all of my family that I don’t judge their decision to smoke, but that I need some consideration from them as the non smoker.  For instance, I asked them to open a window when more than one of them smoked in the car because I would get a bit overwhelmed from the smoke.  And two, I asked that they wouldn’t smoke in the room I sleep in when I’m there because I normally wake up congested and get a cold because I’m just not used to it.  One of my sisters quit for awhile and was surprised when she started feeling bad when around smoke. I used to get some resistence, making me wonder if they thought I was overreacting, but in the past few years, things have been much better. 

Here in Chicago a law was passed at the beginning of the year making all public places, like bars and restaurants, smoke free.  Although I enjoy it for myself and find myself more interested in going dancing on the weekend knowing I won’t wake up with a sore throat and smelly hair, I know that smokers are judged pretty harshly.  I think people forget that we all have our issues and excesses, and all have things that bother other people.  We don’t appreciate how hard it is to quit!  But I’m very inspired by people who are able to overcome it and often tell my patients that when they share their story.  They are usually surprised because I think in part they aren’t used to getting any sympathy much less commendation for their hard efforts.  All sympathy goes out the window for someone who suffers an illness because of smoking. 

I read an article by a woman whose father died of lung cancer (Elizabeth Egan, Self magazine http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/24844538/) and one of the first things the she pointed out was how virtually everyone she told about her dad right away asked if he was a smoker.  She admitted that she probably would have asked the same thing before her dad’s illness but also said,  

     “Now that I’ve been on the receiving end of it, though, I think responding this way to news of a cancer death is misguided — and slightly rude.  Do we ask if a victim of a car accident was a good driver?….. [Its as though people think] smokers deserve to die, alcoholics deserve to die, overweight people deserve to die and should not be mourned or felt sorry for.” 

Even in health care we use diagnoses like non-alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver so they can avoid stigmas and especially so their insurance won’t deny their claims! I also read some of the comments to the article mentioned above and was shocked at the judgement and plain cruelty! Its as though people think, pardon me, that their shit don’t stink.  Just because their issues aren’t caused by something they ‘ingest’ doesn’t mean they don’t have problems (thin people can have bad cholesterol and workaholics or people with negative attitudes can develop autoimmune issues).  

I think it comes down to fear and dealing with that fear in an unfortunate, but instinctual way.  Cancer is very scary.  It is destructive and indiscriminate; we hardly know how to control it and feeling out of control is not fun.  I see this in the hospital too when children die.  The parents, at a time when they should just be getting total support and love, are peppered with questions about whether they did everything right to prevent mysterious things like SIDS.  People ask questions of them to ease their fears that they might befall the same fate.  I pray they don’t but I think we can be better than this, I think we can show more compassion and understanding.  After all, that is pretty instinctual too.      

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About Lauren Ivory

Lauren Ivory is a hospital chaplain working on Chicago's diverse north side. After receiving her Master of Divinity degree at Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis, MO she went on for further hospital ministry training at the Cleveland Clinic of Ohio. On the side, she enjoys helping couples plan wedding/commitment ceremonies and works with couples as a certified premarital guidance counselor.

3 thoughts on “No Smoking Allowed

  1. Good post. Both of my parents smoked all throughout my pre-college years, and have since quit, which was not possible, especially for my mother, without anti-depressants! Smoking is medicating, and incredible addictive. Anyone who’s seen the A&E show Intervention sees firsthand how overpowering addictions can be on our behaviors.

    Too true about skinny people having bad cholesterol my wife’s friend runs marathons, is stick figure thin, and eats well, and she has like a 230. The doctor recommended better diet and exercise!

    God Bless

  2. Thank you for this post. I was thinking of the judgment smokers face myself a few weeks ago, when I was at a picnic with friends and family. One woman disappeared from the crowd for a while, and when someone asked where she was, the answer came in a lowered voice: “Oh, she went around the front for a smoke.” The tone really struck me because there was such shame associated with it; shame in answering the question, shame in “exposing” the woman who was smoking. It started a conversation about how hard it is to be a smoker nowadays because there’s so much judgment associated with it. But it is an addiction, and, let’s face it, I think we ALL engage in destructive habits, whether they’re obvious, like smoking, or hidden, like being unable to forgive ourselves or others.

  3. Hey there, so, my family had a chance to read this blog and thought I did not represent their efforts very well, especially in the past 3-4 years. So, as a correction let me say that I have noticed a lot of effort from my family. They havent smoked in the room that I sleep in for years now. Plus, they try to smoke outside a lot of the times, especially now that my mom has quit. I wish I could tell her that those changes have made the problem dissapear, but I can’t say that they haven’t made some efforts so please accept my correction.

    The whole point of my intro paragraph was to explain my experience with smokers and how despite that, I still think that they get a lot of undue flack. But as my family member pointed out, it didnt exactly say that, so I’m saying it now!

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