by James Whitely -
SGN Contributing Writer
It is 6:37 p.m., I awake slowly and realize I hadn't set an alarm. In a matter of seconds the bed goes from a place of peace to an incomprehensible shit storm of trying to find my glasses. I have to be at my first smoking cessation course at 7 p.m. at Gay City Health Project on Capitol Hill. It's twenty minutes till, I can't see two feet in front of me, and I'm in North Seattle - I'm stressed the fuck out!
Traveling 15 mph over the speed limit, speeding south on the I-5 with NPR booming from the radio, I know I'm going to be late - I hate being late. I park near Madison St. and immediately light a cigarette as soon as I leave my car. This is why I'm going to this program. I've got to quit this habit.
As I arrive in front of Gay City at 511 E. Pike St., at 7:07 p.m., I notice a makeshift sign that reads "Out 2 Quit upstairs" in black permanent marker. "A laid back place," I think, which relieves a little bit of the stress of not being timely. I take a few more drags of my menthol American Spirit and head through the door.
I ascend the stairs and enter the bright room. Thirteen people are seated at a large table. I sit down and create a nametag for myself at the behest of Lark, who appears to be in charge of the six-week smoking cessation program, which from now on I will refer to simply as "The Program."
As my eyes adjust to the bright fluorescent lights in the room, I find out that this is the orientation. Everyone is very welcoming, not just the staff, but the participants as well. For some of us, like me, it's the first time we've done anything like this. Others are veterans of similar programs. I now find myself in a good mood, borderline excited, and thinking, "This program is completely free. I know I'll leave tonight feeling grateful towards Gay City, with a stronger desire to quit."
Lark begins to tell us a little bit about "The Program." We're told that we'll have homework, that we'll get free patches, that we'll be offered small personal video cameras to create a video log and that at the end of the six weeks, we'll have a celebratory dinner at a restaurant of our choosing, paid for completely by Gay City.
We're given a chance to ask questions - I promptly ask if we will get smoke breaks.
Surprisingly, Lark says yes. Lark says that we will be in control of "The Program" on our own terms, and that it's really an individual program in a group setting. "There are people here with different goals," he says. "Some of you are here to quit, others are here to cut down." One man says, "I just don't want to rely on it so much."
We talk about how tobacco companies target LGBT people and marginalized communities. The advertising campaign, colorfully referred to as "Project SCUM" or "Sub-Culture Urban Marketing," works to identify smoking with certain minority groups, thus making smoking more desirable to them.
Someone suggests that LGBT people may be more susceptible to depression and stress. True or not, I certainly have a lot of straight friends that smoke for those reasons, as well as Gay friends that don't smoke at all, and appear to live relatively stress-free lives. Lark mentions that we may also be more brand loyal as Queers, which is often the case with our alcohol, as we tend to pick the cocktails we like rather than hitting the wells.
About fifteen minutes after my arrival, a tall man dressed in dark clothes stumbles in. His name is Ryan. This brings the total in the group to 15. I feel relieved that I'm no longer the late one. We learn that he is from Free and Clear, a smoking cessation phone line that people can call when they want to light up.
Lark tells us that "The Program" is constantly evolving. We throw out ideas for the group, like exchanging phone numbers and creating a buddy system, competing with each other in seeing how long we can go without a cigarette, sharing tips and success stories and looking for our triggers in order to develop a plan.
The last, I expected. I already feel like I know my triggers. I'm most definitely a social smoker. If any of my friends decide to smoke, I'll almost always go with them - and I have a lot of friends that smoke.
I also smoke when I'm stressed out, or to clear my mind. I tend to smoke more here at work, when I'm writing articles. It helps me to remember the details, subtleties and nuances of whatever I'm writing about. I've taken two smokes breaks to get this far.
Lark says that a few weeks in, we'll collectively decide on a "goal date" for the group. The goal can be individual, whether it's quitting or reducing, but we all have to strive to meet our goal at the same time.
I get the impression that Out To Quit is a quality program, but do I think I'm actually going to quit smoking because of it? Let's just say I'd certainly like to.
This is Part One of a multi-week series about going through Gay City Health Project's "Out To Quit" program.
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