Monday, 11 February 2013

Deepest, Darkest Cigarette

Today, I have a topic for discussion which I have a lot to say about, but when it first came to me I couldn't find a Word of the Day to do it justice. Because today's topic is about truth, secrets, shame and what we do, as individuals, to justify our actions. For all of these, only one word came to mind. At first it seemed quite odd. But the more I thought about it, the more apt it became. So if you'll allow me to explain . . .
the Word of the Day is: 'WORMS'.

Worms /werms/ n. 1. Zoology. Any of numerous long, slender, soft-bodied, legless, bilaterally symmetrical invertebrates. 2. (loosely) any number of numerous small creeping animals with more or less slender, elongated bodies and without limbs, including insect larvae and tapeworms. 3. Something resembling or suggesting a worm in appearance, movement. 4. Informal. A groveling, abject or contemptible person.

For the purposes of is article, I was looking for a quote somewhere that would suit my needs. So I searched for the term:
  "Secrets are like Worms"
I was surprised to find only four hits (now, you should find five). Some of them were good, others less so, but my findings were thus:

  "Secrets are like worms because they eat away at you until they can crawl to the surface. Only there, in the sunlight, can they die away."

This is indeed true, as evidenced by the latest reports surrounding a popular Australian television and radio host, known as Chrissie Swan. If you haven't heard of her, Chrissie began as a contestant of the reality show, Big Brother Australia, and went on to become a breakfast radio host. Her comeback to television was as one of four female hosts on The Circle (Australia’s answer to The View). And went on to become the latest and greatest host of the new show called Can of Worms. On this show, guest stars are asked pertinent questions about culture, society, etiquette, prejudice, morality, sexuality and taboo.

She is much loved by many, including me. I think that she is not only funny, down-to-earth, intelligent and caring; but also (in my opinion) one of the few women who proves that ‘fat’ does not mean ‘ugly’.

Unfortunately, ugly is a good descriptor for this latest turn of events. On the 6th of February, five days before this post, listeners of ‘Mix 101.1’, a Melbourne breakfast radio show, tuned in to hear Chrissie Swan in tears. She was giving a confession. One she had hoped would never come to light:

  “I have struggled terribly with totally giving up cigarettes, since I found out that I was pregnant.”
You should hear this confession, in Chrissie’s own words, for yourself. But here is the abridged version:
For most of her life, up until her mid-thirties, Chrissie Swan smoked an awful lot, especially in her early twenties. When she met her partner (known as ‘Chippie’) she reduced her smoke intake, until she stopped completely with her first pregnancy.
After many years clean and a second pregnancy, she sadly relapsed around 2012 and started ‘sneaking’ cigarettes when she was alone.
It was a few months after this that she fell pregnant with her third child. At the time, Chrissie was unprepared to quit again, and so tried to go cold turkey. But after failing many times, she came up with a compromise with herself - Five Cigarettes a Week.
She would smoke these cigarettes in secret, alone in the car. She did this for about six months until, during one of these secret smokings, a paparazzo snuck up and took a picture. After begging and pleading for her secret to be kept, it seems she saw no other option than to come clean. Two days later, this lead up to her confession on radio.
It’s a sad thing, and very bad. When you smoke, a lot of things can happen to your body, and you do take in many chemicals and carcinogens into your bloodstream. An unborn child in your body will not get tar in its lungs, but other than that all of the nicotine and chemicals in your system will be pumped through that baby and its underdeveloped heart. It is pretty nasty for a fetus to go through that.
Chrissie knew all of this and yet smoked anyway. The situation is pretty condemning.

Indeed. The worm burst through the soil, and at its first breath of air, it died. It was a secret no more. But unfortunately, that’s when the cockroaches came, to feed on the carcass.
You see, there are many reactions to this story. But I believe they can be rounded up into two categories:

  “CHRISSIE SWAN, YOU ARE BRAVE FOR BEING HONEST!”
  “CHRISSIE SWAN, YOU ARE DISGUSTING! SHAME ON YOU!”

While there are some level heads out there, everyone who has responded seems to either condone or condemn her actions (if they care at all). But, I feel my position has not yet been heard. That is what I want to talk about today.

For those that call Chrissie Swan ‘brave’, I have to refute. No, she is not. She was caught in the act, and had little choice in the matter. She was a deer caught in the headlights. She could have jumped out of the way, and denied everything; she could have done nothing and let it run her over. Instead, she chose to jump on board, and ride it out.
While I do think she made the right choice, there’s not really any bravery in that, just honesty. Everyone is supposed to be honest. Doing the right thing isn't brave, it’s what you’re expected to do.

However, for those who say that she is terrible, selfish and a lot of other mean words. Well, I have two words: FUCK YOU.
These people have obviously never been smokers. I too have never been a smoker, but I don’t have to be. An addiction is an addiction, and I understand those shameful acts that we do, despite knowing how wrong they are.
What Chrissie did was wrong. We all know it’s wrong, she knows it’s wrong. Does that make her a contemptible, grovelling worm? No. It makes her human.

Alone, she was struggling to keep a secret, because she was ashamed of it. She was disgusted, and knew others would be too, so she tried to stop, whilst at the same time feeding her addiction. Because that is the nature of addiction, and quitting.
You both love and hate a thing so much that you must stop, and yet can’t. Today I won’t get into why I understand addiction so well; that is a longer story for a longer blog post. But I know that thing, that painfully pleasant thing that we must have, yet cannot. I know what Chrissie was going through. With each failure feeling terrible. And with the smallest success, the tension would build until she would again relapse, wracked with shame.

Finally, running low on options, she saw that her only choice was to come up with a compromise. An excuse - an admittedly paperthin excuse - to feed her addiction, which under that pressure of failure and shame seemed bulletproof.

I understand that inner conflict, and so should you.

Throughout her confession, I kept noticing that Chrissie would keep dropping in little callbacks to sort of 'deflect' the spotlight, kept referencing those things that everyone does:
”Is it just me, or did you have trouble giving up smoking?”; “as a lot of us did”; “and I know I’m not alone in this”; “no smoker wants to smoke.”; “is it just me, or is giving up cigarettes easier said than done?”
She kept deflecting and insisting that she was not alone. Some probably heard this and thought they were listening to excuses, but I didn’t. Those words were too honest for that, too raw. What I heard was a plea for understanding. Not for a reprieve, or absolution from her actions, just someone to know that we all feel shame when we cannot overcome something, especially when that something is addiction.

Because this whole time, Chrissie has been alone, too scared to tell anyone about her secret. She didn't tell her workmates, her friends, or even her partner, Chippie. So she wanted to know that she’s not alone, and wants others to know that they are also not alone. After all, it’s true: Many women have admitted to smoking during their pregnancy.
What Chrissie has done is wrong. But calling her or any smoker ‘disgusting’ for succumbing to their addiction is just going to stress them out [and probably make them want a cigarette].
Addiction is part of the human condition. Many, if not all of us, have secrets and personal shames that we keep to ourselves. The reason we are so ashamed is because of these assholes that think their shit doesn't stink. Think that addiction is a choice, a disgusting selfish act; when in truth, it’s often the most self-loathing vice a person can inflict upon themselves.
And to those people I say this:
  “If you were a long time smoker, freshly relapsed and ashamed of yourself, and were suddenly expecting an unexpected child amongst a constant litany of work, home and life stress – could you have quit?”

If you say yes, I don’t think you understood the question. Not really. If you were in that position, you couldn't do it on your own, and would be unable to seek help, because people like you would make you feel ashamed to admit it. Everyone and anyone in that situation would want to keep it a secret. Chrissie did this terrible thing, not because she has bad judgement, but because we all do. We believe that something as complicated as addiction, can be solved with something as simple as 'Name & Shame'
, despite the fact that, while we demonize one person and keep them in the spotlight, we will then sneak off into the shadows. Hide in our car to smoke our own metaphorical cigarettes.


Because that’s the thing about secrets . . .

Secrets are like worms. Start digging, and you’ll find them. It doesn't matter where you dig. Because, if you dig deep enough, you’ll start to find them everywhere.

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