1975. Back seat of my Mama’s car. That familiar viscerally revolting smell, coupled with the strangely aspirational vision of my hero, my queen, my mother, her elegantly veined hand out the window, cigarette perched between first and middle finger. Music, lightness, breeze. Freedom.
1985. My bathroom, my childhood home, standing on the closed toilet seat smoking into an exhaust vent two feet above my head, praying I’d go undetected, savouring the naughty victory. I’m exactly like her. I’m nothing like her. I’m nothing but her. Freedom.
1995. My Gramercy Park alcove studio. Rolling my own cigarettes, this time with marijuana, working too hard, playing too hard, doubting too hard, wondering if there was some layer I was missing, some alternate reality in which I wasn’t existing. Freedom.
2005. Sneaking a smoke out my window. New apartment, same battle. This time I was wondering if any of my students might catch a glimpse of me smoking and how that would go over. Knowing that this habit was a finite experience, and that someday I’d stop looking over my shoulder and start living my real life. Freedom.
2015. Mother of a 9 year old, I am one year sober, clean. Feeling the truth that the slavery is OVER and it’s time to find out who I can be. Time to fashion my days out of ease and simplicity. Time to create and enjoy a new threshold of prosperity. Freedom.
2016. October, two years sober. Late night laundry run in my building in New York, passing by an apartment door near the laundry room, the unmistakable smell of chain smoking wafts into the hall. The smell causes a cascade of visuals: the orange carpet of my Grandma Belle’s apartment, my home away from home, candy dishes full of sugary pink wintergreen discs, M&Ms and cigarette butts. The dark of night, when my Mama and my Grandma would talk on the terrace, their laughter, their murmurings, their freedom. The sliding doors always slightly open so they could hear us, and through that opening, that same exact smell, so curious, steadily poisoning themselves. Freedom.
I knew it. Back then, in the 70s and 80s, I’d already registered that smoking meant closeness, family, shared secrets, and home. I struggled for so many years, sneaking around with myself, to learn that true freedom means freedom from that or any slavery; freedom means love, freedom means clear seeing, freedom means full healing. Freedom means waking up in the morning with a soft mind, a warm heart that magnetizes my boy to my mat. Freedom means knowing that he’s one step farther away from all that.
Thank you to all the forces for freedom in my life that have held my hand here. Thank you for the many years that I struggled, numbing my lungs and my body, thinking that was freedom.
Thank you for all the mornings I’ve woken up early, knowing and feeling myself as light; lightkeeper, lightseeker, lightworker, lighthouse.
And most importantly. Thank you to all who’ve asked for my help; you know who you are. Your daily presence feeds me and frees me.
Originally published at medium.com