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Out to Quit: Going through 'The Program' - Week 2
Section One
ALL STORIES
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Out to Quit: Going through 'The Program' - Week 2

by James Whitely - SGN Contributing Writer

I arrived at Gay City about 10 minutes early. I made a point of not being late this time. I stopped in Kaladi Brothers, got a drink, and waited in the short line for the door to the upstairs to open. At 7:00 p.m. we were promptly welcomed in by the smiling faces of the Gay City staff and all seated at the large table where we all met for the first time last week. Altogether there were 13 of us, staff included.

The staff of Gay City began filming us for Gay City TV this week. Our group's videos will eventually be posted at www.youtube.com/gaycitytv. The cameraman moved all around the room for the duration of the meeting like a sly voyeur. Every five minutes, I found myself taking quick 360s around the room each time I lost track of him.

We were also given our personal video cameras this week. It's a neat, easy-to-use little piece of technology. Only five members of the group volunteered to keep video logs, myself included. (I'm a total publicity whore; it's why I'm in the news business in the first place.) I'll likely post a video log sometime this week on SGN's Facebook page.

We kicked off the meeting by simply sharing stories of our week. Not everyone's were related to smoking. Someone was pickpocketed at R Place. Lark, the facilitator of the group, was ill all week, and read several dystopic science fiction novels (or something to that effect) while he was bedridden.

I hadn't anything to say about my habit, but I told the group that I had moved over the weekend, and helped a friend move on Sunday. This particular friend is a smoker, and in the two hours I helped him move I smoked maybe four cigarettes. Like I said last week, I'm a social smoker.

After the reports were over, Lark announced the topic of the meeting: Why we love smoking. Well, I could just go on and on now, couldn't I?

As a group, we threw out the obvious reasons we, and people in general, enjoy smoking, and we began listing them on a whiteboard. We separated everything into three categories: biological and physical, psychological and emotional, and social and environmental. Naturally, some overlapped into more than one category.

So why do we love smoking? To take a break; to relieve stress; to wake ourselves up; to connect to our heritage; to reward ourselves; to get high; to be creative and connect with the muse; to be sexy; to suppress our appetite; to meet new people; to connect with the people we already know; to relieve boredom; or just for the hell of it.

We were told that these were all needs, needs that are supposed to be satisfied in every human being. The trouble is, we've let smoking fill those needs, rather than letting non-self-destructive behaviors fill them.

We then shared stories of why we started smoking in the first place. I was the third person in the group to be asked. I prefaced my tale with the decree that I had begun smoking two years ago this month. With a surprised look on his face, Lark immediately asked me how old I was. "Twenty-three," I replied. He then promptly took a poll of the room.

"How many of you started smoking before you were 21?" he asked. Everyone in the room raised their hand except for me. Needless to say, I was taken aback a bit. Bear in mind that this is a group of people of all ages.

I had no idea that according to the American Lung Association, 90% of American smokers begin smoking before the age of 21.

I then went on to tell my story. I began smoking in January of 2008. I was enlisted in the United States Marine Corps at the time. I was being forced out of military service for a diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I've found that the complexities of the situation can be difficult to explain to civilians, but I'll give it a try. Suffice to say, the military just has its own way of doing things.

The Marine Corps, unlike other branches of the US military, does not have medics or doctors of any sort. It falls under the department of the Navy and the Navy takes care of those duties for us. In my case, what this meant was that I was being seen for a psychological disorder, and even though I was a Marine, I was being evaluated by Navy personnel.

Herein laid the problem. The Navy doctors wanted me out of the military altogether, and the Marine Corps didn't - it was really that simple. I was a good Marine, a motivated Marine. I got shit done and I didn't ask questions. My commanding officers knew me personally, having served with them in Iraq, and they weren't keen on the idea of signing off the forms to let me go home.

So there I was, stuck in an eight-month, heavily bureaucratic back-and-forth between the Navy and The Marine Corps. One day I would be told one thing by the Navy, the next day another by the Marine Corps. It simply became too much. I'd never been the kind of person to drown my problems in alcohol, and smoking had been this oh so glamorous thing for just too long. One night, I bought a pack of unfiltered Lucky Strike cigarettes, and the rest is history.

For some, our stories were related to our Queer identities. Rebellion was also a common theme. Members of the group recalled when they were given their first cigarettes as minors, when they were too young to buy tobacco themselves. One member of the group smoked his first cigarette to strike up a conversation with a boy he had a crush on, and has been hooked ever since.

After we shared our stories, we began to wrap up and Lark gave us our first homework assignment. It's a log called a STAND (Situation, Time, Attitude, Need, Doing) worksheet. We write down the situation we find ourselves in, the time, our attitude, our need level on a one to three scale, and what we're doing, every time we feel like we want a cigarette, whether we smoke one or not.

Now, since I think about cigarettes about as much as the average man thinks about sex, I have resolved to fill it out every time I actually have a cigarette.

The worksheet is supposed to detail patterns, and frankly, I'm already surprised with some of the results. Like I said last week, I feel as if I know my triggers, and they certainly are there in front of me on paper, but some of the patterns that have already emerged have revealed things I wasn't expecting. I'll go into greater detail next week, when the worksheet is completely filled out with a week of nicotine-filled escapades.

This is Part Two of a multi-week series about going through Gay City Health Project's "Out To Quit" program.

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