“I shall have to grow up,” she decided.
And that’s always how simple it is in books, especially in books circa 19th-early 20th century that I grew up reading. The heroine (or the hero) goes through some experience that makes them decide to suck it up and become an adult instead of continuing to be somewhat childish. I’ll grant you, you do need to actually make the decision to grow up. Circumstances may force a body to make certain decisions that lead to more adult-like behavior with no conscious choice expressed until you realize that somewhere in there, you became more mature and have less interest in things that you used to enjoy.
There is definitely nothing wrong with that. That’s how life works.
But in the novels, they never show you the first six times that he decided to quit smoking and returned to cigarettes. Maybe the first time, but not the next ones. They’ll mention it in passing, but not how everything built up until dammit, just one. You’re a hero when you quit, and a quitter for not quitting. It doesn’t matter if your husband died of cancer, you had three teenage children heading into the adult world, college and graduating to full jobs, and your mother heading into the advance stages of Alzheimer’s while your father refuses to accept responsibility so it somehow falls to you, your sister’s doctor finds a mass in her breasts, and the long hours at work, the car crashes, the casual colds, and then just one smoke will help you feel a little better on these days that never end, that are destroying you and making you crazy.
Why won’t you just quit? It just takes a little willpower. Why can’t you just stop and make that decision? It’s so simple.
End the sarcasm.
We’re too willing to prescribe treatments, we backseat physicians. Why won’t you grow up? Why won’t you stop smoking? Why won’t you stop eating unhealthy foods? Why won’t you just cheer up? Why won’t you stop running? Why won’t you exercise? This is all your fault.
Which is not to say that one should not take responsibility for one’s own actions. It is not to say that we should indulge in perpetual childhood. But I am saying that when everything in your life is shit, your single vice—that is currently unpopular—gives everyone the right to comment on your life, whether or not they understand. Snap judgments, thoughtless words, and they’re taken aback if you don’t accept their words with a smile and a kind thought. Your day is a little bit worse—as if you don’t know that you just behaved in an embarrassing fashion, giggling too loudly in public with your friends like you’re still sixteen. As if you didn’t look at your weight on the scale that morning and regret that pizza you split last night. As if you don’t see the billboards on the highway telling you how awful smoking is and what exactly it will do to your throat. Thanks for the reminder. And as far as they’re concerned, why are you so rude? They’re just trying to help. They know that quitting is hard; their husband went through it after an emphysema diagnosis five years ago, and it took that scare—and the desire not to make things worse—to manage it. They were being sympathetic, trying to give you that push that might help you out, to let you know that they’d support you through the hell that you would go through around the end of your fifth day or first week or second hour.
I emphasize smoking here because while obesity is also a big evil in the public eye, while people are aware of the dangers of alcoholism, you have the anti-smoking ads everywhere, the laws about smoking anywhere in public, enormous scare-tactic ads on the cigarette boxes themselves, and yes, even billboards on the interstate highways with very sick people on them. Mandatory ads on DVDs that tell you—self-righteously—that smoking isn’t glamorous. But make no word of beer or shots or rum or whiskey. And no, it’s not healthy. It’s not good. Secondhand smoke kills; I’m not denying that.
So do drunk drivers. So does overeating. So does just playing around with your friends or yelling at your kids and being so distracted by the stupid thing that Mike just did that you don’t notice you’re hitting ninety and veering into the next lane. So do gun accidents. So does not watching when you’re going as you cross the street.
Every once in a while, people do unintelligent things, thoughtless things. Sometimes they kill; sometimes they just upset another person.
And so you won’t grow up on the word of your sister, your cousin, your best friend, your brother-in-law, your father, your pastor. You won’t get help just because they think you should; it was on the news yesterday about another person who died from bad cholesterol, another drunk driver who killed a pedestrian, another cancer patient who succumbed to their disease. You will get help when you’re already thinking about it and something pops you over the edge. It’s unlikely to be the same pamphlets that you’ve seen dozens of times or the same statistics that have been rattled off in your direction for years.
You’re the only one who can say it. “I shall have to grow up”, and you should not forget what came before; do not let it weaken you, do not let it give you the excuse to backslide, but remember that you have said this before, that it is not always as easy as just this. You did not decide it out of the blue on the basis of a small incident. You first had to come to the place that gave you the strength to try, whether for the first time or the twenty-fifth. Remember it all, and especially—once you are grown up, once you have decided to follow a strict diet and exercise regimen, once you have chosen to follow a path, and continued it through to the end—do not harshly judge those who take a different path than you. You never struggled with mental illness, but you had to be tutored in algebra, you had to Google how to get your car to stop honking its own horn, you had to try to quit drinking three times before you finally managed it and now every day is still a battle. You never picked up a cigarette, but you envy those who manage to participate in social interactions without any sign of anxiety. You are famous, but wish that the paparazzi would stop stalking you, stop trying to peer inside of your blinds as you change your clothes, that strangers would stop threatening your mother just to get at you.
Or maybe you have led a charmed life, and nothing has ever been difficult for you. You truly did decide that you would have to grow up, and you were able to do this effortlessly. May you never know pain, then, but know that you are extraordinarily lucky.