I have been a strong advocate for kicking the smoking habit for years. I’ve never been a smoker, but I have had some family members whose health consequences of smoking- emphysema, COPD, cancer, etc.- made me adamant about it not being a part of my own family’s lives.
When I began in addiction recovery ministry, I investigated the impact of smoking cessation on successful outcomes for other addictive substances. What I found led me to train with the Bay County Health Department to be a certified smoking cessation class facilitator and to incorporate smoking cessation into the addiction recovery program with which I was associated. Scientific studies have shown that individuals that break the nicotine addiction are significantly less likely to relapse on any chemical substance.
But there is another reason, I have discovered, why I have been so adamant about the women coming into Titus 2 be smoke-free.
In 1993, just months after being born anew in Christ, I experienced a strange sensory issue…..smelling smoke at odd times and without any presence of smoke around me. In my car, which had never had a smoker in it. Walking in open fresh air. Sitting and relaxing at home. Odd places, odd times, with no apparent source. It bothered me after a while and I began to fear that I might have a brain tumor affecting the olfactory center of the brain. But, I reasoned, if I had a brain tumor I would surely have other symptoms. So I ignored it.
In 1995, after we’d moved to Panama City from Montgomery, I decided to see an otolaryngololist (ENT) about it. I arrived for an 8:30 am appointment and after about 45 minutes I heard the receptionist talking to the doctor on the phone. It was clear from the conversation he was still at home and was not going to be coming in right away. I reasoned again that if this was something serious after this amount of time I’d have developed other symptoms. So I said a prayer and asked the Lord to deal with it and I left the office. I did not realize that what I was experiencing would be called an “olfactory hallucination.”
Two years later I experienced a psychotic break from an undiagnosed depression and was hospitalized. In the weeks before I was hospitalized I experienced bizarre hallucinations affecting each of my senses at one time or another- sight, hearing, smelling, tasting, and tactile sensory perception. After hospitalization, underlying medical causes were ruled out for the sensory abberations. When I got into counseling and was talking to a Christian counselor, we talked about what I had learned from the experience of psychosis. One thing I learned was that every single sense that I have could be deceived and made to believe that something was real that was not. I told her that I believe God had allowed me to experience this sort of as an “inoculation”…..in preparation for spiritual growth and understanding of the spiritual realm and how satan can mess with our perceptions and create doubt, confusion, and fear.
Later, in counseling with women in recovery from substance abuse, I discovered that roughly 30% of them had sensory perception aberrations, or “hallucinations”. Sometimes they were very frightening and caused these women to fear that they were losing their minds. Such experiences can leave a lot of trauma and anxiety. Because I had prompt medical care and an excellent counselor to help me work through the experience, examine the insights, explore the meaning in it all, and gain closure, I was able to work through it all and have never had psychotic symptoms again.
Life Management has a program now called EPIC- Early Psychosis Intervention and Care- designed to do exactly that…..address the trauma, explore medication needs and engage the sufferer in counseling to work through it to the point of hopefully reducing the risk of future psychotic breaks. I belief that is possible since that is what I experienced.
But the psychotic break led to one clear “aha” moment sitting in counseling one day. I shared with the counselor how I had experienced periodically and randomly smelling smoke that had started in 1993, shortly after becoming a born-again Christian. As I described it to her, suddenly I had the revelation that what I had been smelling off and on at odd times for those last 5 years had been an evil spirit…..the spirit of fear…..that was stalking and oppressing me. I told her it had started about 2 months after I gave my life and will over to Christ. Concurrent with that new life in Christ, I had an acquaintance who worked in an office that I called on with my job. She was a Christian Scientist who was having a lot of medical issues…….vision issues, symptoms of diabetes, arthritis pain, and more. She was unable to get to a Christian Science Practitioner in Birmingham, so she was very distraught. I was talking to her, encouraging her to see a doctor, praying with her when I saw her. One day she came to my house in a state of near hysteria. She said voices were tormenting her. They were very vicious and there was a very strong lurid, sexual theme to their taunts. She had never married and had no children. Her Mother, with whom she lived, had died the year before and she was fearful that her siblings were trying to take her modest home left to her by her Mother and put her out.
I sat her down on my sofa and talked calmly to her. Suddenly, I felt something in the center of my body like a cold steel rod causing me to sit up straight and I heard a voice that I believed was God’s say to me, “Be careful.” I realized there was a demonic element to what she was experiencing and I asked her if she thought she could be being harassed by an evil spirit. She said, “yes.” We talked a little more, then I prayed for her. She calmed down and left shortly thereafter. A few weeks later she did go to a doctor and she was diagnosed with glaucoma and diabetes and arthritis and was cooperative in getting medical treatment. She was fearful of telling the doctor about the voices and taunts. She would not see a psychiatrist for fear her siblings would have her committed. Over the next two years she applied for disability and eventually got it and was able to settle down into a less fearful and anxious lifestyle.
In counseling, I realized that the random smelling of smoke I experienced had started right after that encounter in my home with her. I realized that the smell I had been smelling was the spirit of fear and he was stalking me. My counselor and I talked about some fears I came to recognize in my own life and we addressed them.
She asked me why I thought the evil spirit had allowed me to smell his presence. I said I didn’t believe it had. I believe that the Holy Spirit, present in my life after surrendering my life to Christ in December 1992, had equipped me for that encounter and for being able to discern the evil spirit’s presence. After that time I rarely have ever smelled it again. If I even get the faintest hint of an unsourced smell of smoke, I am immediately tuned into it, on guard and in prayer against the spirit that bears the smell, so that it has to flee.
It occurred to me a couple of weeks ago, in talking to a student who has never been a smoker either, that the reason I am so adamant about having no smoking on the premises and not being around smokers is because it interferes with my ability to discern the presence of the spirit of fear. Fear is a common part of the lives of those coming into recovery.
What an enlightening realization that the spirit of fear, which smells like stale tabacco smoke, has created an environment in which it can come and go undetected and most people are unaware of it! If a person continues smoking and lives in a smoke filled environment, she is giving free rein to the spirit of fear, and possibly others as well, to move in and stay.
I had attended a Christian Women’s Club meeting at Panama Country Club one day sometime in about 2000 and the speaker talked about smelling a demonic spirit of fear. As I left I told her I had had a similar experience in being able to smell fear’s presence. A friend of mine was standing nearby and she said she, too, had had the experience of smelling the presence of fear and it smelled like smoke. Here were three women in the same place at the same time with similar experiences of discerning the spirit of fear who had never discussed the topic before. The Bible says that truth is known by the testimony of three witnesses.
It’s nice to realize that God put that dislike of smoke and smoking in me for a purpose that is directly part of his call on my life and is specific to the need for the kind of healing ministry with women coming out of substance abuse addiction that I have been called to do! Most of the women coming into Titus 2 are full of fears….fear that they can never get beyond their bad choices, fear that they have permanently lost important relationships, anxiety over an unknown future, and more. As they experience the perfect love of the Lord and begin to love the Lord and others, their fears are banished. Truly, perfect love casts out fear!
I am growing in my understanding of the spiritual realm, the presence of demonic forces, and how to combat the presence of demonic spirits. I have a mentor and friend who has been part of my spiritual journey for over 20 years as some of these experiences have occurred. She has prayed with me over the Titus 2 house and has joined me in purifying the house by anointing surfaces and doorways with oil. We cannot always keep it out, as the women coming in are often under one or more demonic influences, but we can pray for protection, discern the presence of evil, and take authority to remove it when confronted with it. I am not afraid of evil spirits. I am ruthless in exposing them and claiming their victims for Christ and putting them to flight. In my experience it doesn’t require a lot of hollering or forehead hitting or “slaying in the Spirit” or anything else particularly physical. It requires a firm resolve, staying girded for battle, and absolute confidence that God is in charge. I won’t run away, back down, or be afraid. Satan knows it. So he can slip one in here and there, but it’ll eventually get exposed and dealt with. The thing is, I don’t go around hunting evil or telling people they have an evil spirit lurking around. I am only assigned to deal with those individuals whom God brings to me for healing. And even then, it can only be done if they are desiring healing and embracing faith in Jesus.