“Life is difficult”. This quote from psychologist M. Scott Peck might sound like a huge understatement to a young woman struggling through her teen years but it was true for 25 year old Tiffany. Pregnant at 18 years old, and needing but not getting adequate guidance at home, she was seeking comfort where she could find it.
“I started smoking around age 15,” she says. At that age most young smokers see only the illusion of a cigarette’s lure. Never do they really confront the reality that, among other truths, cigarette smoking is the #1 preventable cause of death in our country. “I tried to quit but it never worked! I’d start up again in a couple of days.” Then came her entrance into using drugs.
In February of 2015 she came to the Mothers and Infants program at First Step of Sarasota County. Pregnant again, and smoking, she would need to learn more about the hazards of smoking and learn some new and powerful techniques to manage cravings and emotional triggers if she was to truly conquer her addictions.
Chip Schaaff is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor who is in his 20th year of working with the Healthy Start Program of Sarasota County. In the past, he provided mental health counseling as well as smoking cessation to Healthy Start clients. As a result of financial cut-backs at the state level, however, he no longer can provide the counseling so many of his Healthy Start mothers need, but he does continue smoking cessation and relapse prevention to pregnant women and new mothers.
“Tiffany was a good example of a woman who wanted to do the right thing for her baby but didn’t know how,” he said. “The first step is always to provide education about the harmful effects of smoking to all parts of the body and especially to fetal development.” But knowing the facts is not usually enough to change behavior; how to manage the physical triggers such as stress or cravings also needs to be learned.
Tiffany began to accept new information that was presented and to use new techniques to manage her emotions and her thinking. She learned deep breathing – sometimes called the “relaxation response” – and additional ways to focus her mind with mindful meditation. Tiffany shared, “I honestly used the meditating technique I learned in [Chip’s] class during my C-section. I was there alone because I went into labor early so I went to a calm state where I have honestly never been more relaxed. I almost fell asleep and then I heard my baby cry!”
Now, Tiffany has been smoke-free for 4 months and she is successfully breastfeeding her 1 month old daughter. Fear of what smoking could have done and where her life might have gone is replaced by something new and wonderful: confidence in herself and hope for her future.