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Bananas In The Forest

Posted by Storm_3.1.14 Feb 16, 2018

I'm an avid outdoorsman. (Like, seriously, I'm always in a forest somewhere. Look up "woodland creatures" online, and you'll find my mugshot right next to a raccoon's.)


For years, I would tuck a banana or two in my backpack. That's a healthy snack, right? It's natural, it's unprocessed, and it can even be certified organic. Packed with vitamins and minerals, bananas make for a smart snack. A good choice. A safe bet.


For years, I also tossed away the banana peel into the bushes. After all, it's natural, right? Biodegradable.


Not so fast!


Bananas are not native to my region. They do not grow in the wild here, so are not a part of the natural ecosystem. Woodland creatures have never encountered bananas; therefore, they are unnatural to them. A discarded banana peel might be edible matter that will decompose, but it's mostly a foreign object that could be a poisonous choking hazard for a deer or possum.


When I read that, I was, like, "Duh! Why didn't I think of that before?!"


Now, I tuck my banana peels into a zippy bag, and trash it properly.


So, tobacco is a natural plant, right? But, is it natural for you? And, by the time it is processed into a manufactured cigarette, exactly how much "natural" is left?


Makes you think, eh?


Also, when you're thinking of the tools in your quit plan, or when you're experimenting with cravebusters and alternatives to smoking, ask yourself: "Does this feel natural for me? Will this nourish my quit? Is this tool a sustainable resource for years to come? Or is this new thing actually a risky stumbling block? Should I even put this in my mouth? If there are other options easily available to me, which ones could be healthiest and safest for my emotional ecosystem?"


Just wanted to pass along a little something to think about this weekend.


Make it a good one out there! (And if you need me, I'll be slogging through a swamp somewhere...)



Greetings, fellow EXmates! It's been months and months since I've been here! If you don't mind, I'll compose this blog first, then write a personal message at the bottom.



Quite some time ago, I saw a television news story about parents struggling with picky eaters. One mother was in tears as she described her frustration with trying to get her daughter to eat breakfast. For the first few years, morning after morning, Mom tried to serve oatmeal or cereal, ham or bacon or sausage, scrambled eggs or hash browns - any and all of the typical breakfast foods. Her daughter was having none of it! She squirmed and fidgeted, Mom begged and cajoled, a tantrum would erupt, and both would end up crying and exasperated.


At her wits end, Mom finally pleaded, "You have to eat breakfast, but you won't eat anything I serve. Please, tell me, what will you eat? You have to eat something!"


The daughter sheepishly answered, "Why can't I have ravioli, Mom? I like ravioli. And hot dogs, too."


It was a light-bulb breakthrough for both of them! If Suzette had no problems eating typical lunchtime foods, and enjoyed typical dinnertime entrees, then why not just serve all of these familiar foods for breakfast?!


The next morning, Mom threw some ravioli in a pot of boiling water, drained them, put them in a bowl, dolloped on some marinara, and - voila! The daughter happily ate breakfast! She ate food!


Building on this success, Mom started experimenting with whole grain pastas, organic sauces, kosher hot dogs, turkey burger patties...all sorts of healthy alternatives to traditional breakfast foods.


It worked like a charm!


Mom had to let go. She had to let go of her own childhood memories. Her own upbringing. Her own expectations. Mom was locked into the patterns of the past, and needed to unlearn and rethink the typical normal.


This story really hit home with me, because I don't much care for a traditional breakfast foods, either. First thing in the morning, I'm not all that eager to chow down on salt, or fat and grease and butter, or pork, or breads. And sugary oatmeals and cereals don't strike me as having any nutritional worth at all. So, for many years, I simply skipped breakfast.


Well, after seeing that story, I had my own "ah-ha moment". What if I deconstructed the age-old breakfast rituals, and created something new that harmonized with my likes and preferences? What if I let go of expectations and patterns, and just played to the proven strengths I already had?


So, that's what I did. My breakfasts stopped looking like "breakfast", and that's been a good thing! In the morning, I now choose a hearty soup, or vegan hummus, or veggie dogs rolled up in a whole grain wrap, or a bowl of brown rice and pinto beans. I've even had a salad for breakfast!


Here at EX, I had to learn to unlearn. To rethink. To deconstruct. To undo. To let go of the addictive patterns that kept me smoking. I had to smash up my old morning routines, and rearrange the pieces into a new lifestyle that not only didn't involve cigarettes, but also didn't agitate any of the triggers and trapdoors that would make me hunger for the act of smoking. As I was flirting with new ideas and new coping strategies, I was mindful to play to my strengths. What things did I already like? What new steps called to me? What new ideas sounded too foreign and odd? 


I replaced all my smoky morning rituals with a brisk, meditative walk - no matter the weather! And after dinner at home, it was a double-feature movie night of free DVDs I checked out from the library. (These are just two of the most effective changes I made. Jigsaw puzzles and bubble baths and yoga in the living room would not have appealed to me, so I never bothered with them. I played to my strengths: outdoors, walking, fresh air, and movies.)


In my experience (very nearly 4 years worth now, by the way), one cannot give up cigarettes by simply giving up cigarettes. No, you have to give up smoking, and the lifestyle choices that enabled smoking. All the daily patterns that made smoking so easy, and all the excuses that made smoking so automatic and acceptable. And a newbie can do this by playing to the strengths they already have.


Need help doing this? Lucky you! There's a village of successful quitters here who can help you with that, every step of the way!


Sincerely ---




**** One quick note before I get on with my day: When I joined EX way back in 2014, I noticed that certain Elders would only make an appearance on the anniversary of their Quits. My newbie mind had newbie opinions about this, of course, and I never thought I'd become one of "those". Ummm, well, here I am, back again, at the lead-up to my 4-year anniversary! Never thought that this would end up being my "comfort zone", but...well, there it is. (And, to all the "anniversary visitors": I totally get it now! I apologize!) So, over the next couple of weeks, I'll post a few more blogs, track down my cherished Mentors and Elders, and I'll definitely respond to all the individual messages I've received since I walked away from JIVE. Until next time, NOT ONE PUFF EVER!

It’s been 3 years now since I chose the right path, and stopped getting lost. 3 years! Oh, what a life-affirming journey this has been! The trail that lead to this moment today was flat and easy, yet steep and hard. It was both, and it was doable. All of it. And, it was especially doable because I didn‘t do it by myself. I had pathfinders beside me, and trailblazers ahead of me. With a team like that on my side, it was a joy to walk away from smoking, and to stay true to the right direction.


I’m so grateful to have had this adventure. Truly. Today, though, the time has come to pass along my compass to some other explorer; hopefully, one who will also strive to be the eloquent “warrior poet” I wanted to be for any traveler here who needed one.


Now, this is a day of celebration, my friends! And, I have some bright news to share: I’m going to be a Quit Coach! Working through two local agencies, I’ll soon be teaching quit-smoking classes in the community, and providing outreach at health fairs and civic functions. I’ve made it clear that I want to focus on our rural areas and under-served neighborhoods, because these folks don’t have the kinds of access to resources that many take for granted. They need someone to come to where they are, and to sit down with them. Someone to talk with them about the truths (and myths) of cigarettes and nicotine. Someone to assure them that quitting is possible.


I’ve decided that that someone can be me.


This is the start of a next-phase journey that I never guessed was waiting for me. So, while I may be leaving EX, I am not leaving the mission that began here.


Now, before I go, it’s customary for a departing Elder to share a Final Thought. Here’s mine: “There’s nothing behind you that you don’t already know.” When you showed up here at EX, you brought with you the stinking baggage of your smoky past: shame, embarrassment, regret, “slips”, relapses, excuses, doubt, anxiety, fear, guilt. Now that you’ve quit disrespecting yourself, and have stepped through the gate, don’t ever look backwards over your shoulder - as if there’s a magic answer you somehow overlooked in the ashtray, or an easier way out at the bottom of “just one more” pack of smokes. There’s nothing new back there in the luggage you leave behind. No, this new life that you want - more than anything else - is not to be found behind you, and that’s a promise you already know. Everything new that will save your life now is ahead of you, and that’s a promise you need to believe. Swear to yourself that you won’t repeat the same old mistakes yet again, and then honor that promise. No…matter…what.


Finally, now, to my Mentors, my Elders, my 2014 Classmates, my friends: Please know, in your heart, that I’ll carry you with me, always. No one can come this far, learn this much, bond this strongly, transform this profoundly without being deeply and humbly blessed at having shared the honor with others who truly understand. Thank you, so very much, for helping me save my life.


Goodbye, and go live forward, my friends! Live forward!


With sincerest gratitude…


STORM: 3 Years of freedom...and a lifetime yet to go!




February 19, 2014

I have smoked for nearly 28 years, and have tried to quit 8 times. I always seemed to fail on Day 4. I am a "secret smoker", so I have been smoking and quitting all alone. No one to encourage me, to listen, or to offer advice. And I have been unable to listen to others and offer encouragement. I genuinely feel that if I were more connected to an interactive community, I would feel more connected to my quit. And that's why I'm here.

I've gifted myself with 10 days to complete the program here, to read and study the material, to practice my quit ahead of time, and to gather up my supplies. No shortcuts, no skipping ahead, no rushing. This is my Quit and my Life we're talking about here, so skimping is not allowed.


MARCH 1, 2014




March 7 - 9, 2014

"Hell Week" is over, and I turned 46. Celebrated with a weekend in the wilderness of The Blue Ridge Mountains. Wild, untamed, natural and free!


March 21, 2014

Made it through "Heck Week" and progressed into "Hero Week", which is what I call passing the 3-week milestone and entering into that 9-day period of prepartion before No Man's Land.


April 1, 2014

Officially transitioned into No Man's Land, and will journey there for 100 days.


May 1, 2014 (May Day!)

Ended my Nicotine Replacement Therapy (lozenges) after 62 days. I will be forever grateful that I chose to medicate myself while I focused on breaking free of the poisons, pollutants, and incessant cigarette rituals. I chose to use NRT, but not abuse it. And it saved my life.



June 8, 2014

100 days and membership into The Triple Digit Club.


July 8, 2014

130 days, and I exit out of No Man's Land.


August 29, 2014

Day 182 & halfway to One Year.


September 16, 2014

Day 200


December 25, 2014

Day 300 on Christmas Day (what a special gift!)


MARCH 1, 2015



August 13, 2015

After 531 days, I'm taking an extended break from the blogs. Gonna give other voices a chance to be heard.


MARCH 1, 2016



November 24th, 2016 (Thanksgiving Day)

1,000 Days!!!! I earned "The Comma" and entered The Quad Squad.

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south carolina


adventure travel, openwater kayaking, action movies, and exploring foreign cuisine




The Jukebox In Your Mind

Posted by Storm_3.1.14 Jan 17, 2017
  Last week, while digging through one of the storage trunks in my attic, I came across a shoebox full of compact discs. These had not seen the light of day in almost 7 years! Tingling with nostalgia, I dusted off the box and secured it on the passenger seat of my truck. I pulled a plastic jewel case from atop the stack, and I instantly recognized the artwork to the last-ever album by one of my favorite artists, who stopped making music in the 1990s. I cranked up the engine, headed out to find a long and winding country road, and I slipped the music disc into the smile-like slot-thingy in the dash.
  Now, I hadn’t actually heard the songs on this disc in about 7 years, but when the music started,   I instantly remembered the essence of the entire album! As the songs played, one after the other, I was automatically able to call forth every word of the lyrics to each song. Notes, melodies, guitar riffs, background vocals, lyrics…every second of the album was reborn in my head. What had once been hibernating was instantly waking up in my mind, and coming alive for me…vivid and bright, as if by magic!
  The human memory is a remarkable thing, huh?
  I got to wondering about how our brains can memorize entire albums full of poems (song lyrics), and can recall every single word of all that text, even after years and years and years. Well, it turns out that the musical notes of a song stimulate a select set of neural pathways that are totally different from the other pathways that store other types of memories, such as places and faces. The notes and melodies and lyrics of a song get “bundled together“ in our minds as a specialized unit of memory, and are strongly “encoded” to one another. This is why, when you hear lyrics being spoken, you can instantly hear the music that your brain expects to hear accompany it. And, when you hear an instrumental version of a song, your brain automatically supplies the missing words (and you start singing to yourself in the elevator).
  Because they are encoded in our brains in this unique and specific way,   it’s highly unlikely that any of us can   ever truly forget a familiar song, even after not hearing it for a decade. 
  Funny how cigarettes work in much the same way. 
  So, we smoked for 10 years, right? For 20 years? For 30 years? For 40 or 50? 20 times a day. 30 times. 60 times. Over the course of so much incessant repetition, cigarette-smoking got memorized. How? Well, the nicotine in those cigarettes stimulated very specific “more, more, more” nerves in our brains, and the more and more and more we smoked, all that nicotine hijacked more and more of these nerves. Nicotine “recorded” our smoking cycle onto our receptor nerves, and our years of addiction got “pressed” onto our brains, like the grooves that get stamped onto a vinyl record. Smoking got repeated a looping tape. Lasered onto a spinning disc. Craves and urges, and flashbacks, “phantom smoke” smells, and seasonal cues all live within these grooves inside us, and can be fully recalled by any number of things from our daily lives  : the smell of coffee, a rainy day, driving a car, tasting beer, a long phone call, an argument, seeing someone smoke on TV…just like every stanza of a song’s lyrics gets recalled in your memory, by just hearing the first set of notes from the piano.
  Now, I’m not a neuroscientist, but I do comprehend that nicotine commandeers specific nerves in the brain, and I believe that the encoded smoking memories inside us will never be fully forgotten. Never be wiped out completely. 
  Never be   cured.
  So, we’re doomed, right? Doomed to feel hungry in our heads, for the rest of our lives? Because we’re hardwired to crave a puff? Because we’re permanently programmed to smoke?
   NO WAY! That’s absolutely  not what recovery is about! 
  See, once we stop habitually using cigarettes every waking hour of the day, the neural pathways that cigarettes and nicotine burned through our brains…well…they get “cold”. As they go unused, they shrivel and fade, they droop and get weaker, and get sluggish, and go dormant. These addicted pathways will not always be sizzling and crackling, like a red-hot wire shooting sparks into the meat of our brains. No, my friends  : The hope - and the truth! - for us is that all of it really does get better with time! The triggers get toothless, the urges get dull, the flashbacks get foggy, the compulsive voices turn to feeble echoes. As our healing strengthens, it intensifies enough to U-turn our lives back to a state of normal living that’s more closely like that of someone who was never hooked on smoking at all.
  You just have to hold on long enough to reverse it for yourself.
  (And, to not sing and dance to the broken record in your head, every time you hear that ol’ familiar tune.)
   STORM: 1,000+

Balancing The Voices

Posted by Storm_3.1.14 Jan 10, 2017
  Take a moment now to think back on the last few years of your active smoking lifestyle, those couple of years leading up to your quit…
  Remember how embarrassed you felt when passersby scowled at your smoking in public?
  Remember how uneasy you felt when the sickly and frail lady on the TV   directly begged you to quit smoking…and you went outside to smoke, to soothe your shame?
  Remember those times when you inhaled deeply on that cigarette, and you swore you could almost   feel the inky tar and poisons clogging up your throat?
  Yeah, I remember, too.
  Let me introduce you to a psychological phenomenon called   cognitive dissonance. That’s a big sciency concept that, for our purposes here, we’ll translate to mean “  bad noises inside your mind”.
  Cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who struggles with two (or more) contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same. 
   “Cigarettes killed Aunt Bessie, but I‘ll be lucky.”
   “My kids hate it when I smoke, so I‘ll whip them good if they ever start.”
   “Cigarettes are bad, but not as terrible as ___________.”
   “I know cigarettes are poisonous, but I‘m too _______ to quit.”
  This is the classic “battle inside your head” that keeps you agitated and frustrated, fearful and fretful, unsettled and scared. When we were smokers, we were constantly trying to weigh the unknown against the proven. Bargain, compromise, sacrifice, wheelin’, dealin’.
  That’s no way to live in peace. Cognitive dissonance is a very real and very important reason why smoking stressed us out so dang bad! Always hagglin’ with the truth of our mistakes.
  Now, watch this…
  We know that when our beliefs (  cigarettes are poison) get out of whack with our actions (  I’ll smoke a cigarette), we experience a lopsided inconsistency, and we tend to become psychologically uncomfortable. Well, the theory of cognitive dissonance, fortunately, states that   it’s human nature to strive for internal consistency. We really would prefer to be comfortable with our thoughts and actions, and we humans often get motivated to reduce any imbalance by actively avoiding situations and information and behaviors that wobble the scales.
  Did you catch that? We humans are designed to   fix the internal conflict that’s warping our beliefs with backwards actions. How about that  : We are designed to quit!!!
  So, what’s the solution? What’s the opposite of “the bad noises inside our mind”?
  The answer is   cognitive consonance, and that translates into “  good voices inside your mind”.
  Cognitive consonance sounds like this…
   “Cigarettes are toxic, so I will not poison myself today.”
   “Cigarettes killed Aunt Bessie, and I don’t want the same fate for myself.”
   “My kids hate it when I smoke; I gotta love my kids more than tobacco.”
   “I promised my Quit Buddy I wouldn’t smoke for the next 30 days, and I want to feel the pride and strength of honoring my word.”
  See how that works? 
  Cognitive consonance is, basically, finally reaching a stage in life where you   believe that you can act in ways that stay true to what you know is real. It’s that motivation to explore all manner of new ways to finally get things right.
  Now, here’s one final thought, and I think it’s important to mention: Cognitive consonance is not the absence of work or stress, or temptation. No, maintaining that equilibrium between strong beliefs and strong actions still requires a   thoughtful and vigilant process. When we Elders tell you to nurture your quit, and protect your quit, and guard it, what we’re reminding you to do is   keep cultivating your cognitive consonance, those "good voices inside your mind". We encourage you to keep reading and studying and exploring, so that you can   keep modulating your quit, and harmonizing your truth with your actions.
  Why isn’t cognitive consonace a “one-and-done” decision where you “set it and forget it”? Why isn't a Quit a one-day event? Well, because   Life is out there, waiting with surprises and tomfoolery…
   “I can always just quit again in a few days.”
   “I haven’t smoked in 4 years! I deserve a little ‘treat’!”
   “I thought I could handle anything without smoking, but _______ pushed me over the edge.”
   “Oooooh, that cigarette smells so good! I’ll just bum one…”
  Life will always be full of triggers, both expected and unexpected. And, our crafty ol’ addiction seems to always have a hidden ace up its sleeve, ready to cheat and scheme when you thought the game was won long ago. So, like it or not, cognitive consonance requires upkeep and sharpening. And, honestly, that is pretty much the definition of both Quitting and Recovery: Keeping it sharp and keeping it smart.
  Frankly, I’d much rather work at staying in balance than struggle along being split in half.
   STORM: 1,000+
  (Let me tell ya, I just skimmed the surface of the all the material there is on cognitive relationships. If you’re the kind of person who also draws motivation from digging down to the roots of why we do the things we do, then I’ll pass along just one “  homework assignment” for you to consider this week.

200 tickets!!!!

Posted by Storm_3.1.14 Dec 29, 2016
  I “collect movies” as an ongoing reward for staying quit -   seriously! As of last night, I have treated myself to   200 movies since my Quit Date, just under 3 years ago! (I save all my ticket stubs, and I’ve kept count.) That’s   63 Oscar nominees (3 of them winners), and dozens and dozens of other good flicks. Sure, there were some duds along the way (I‘m looking at you,   Suicide Squad…), but it’s mostly been a very entertaining way to reward myself (or, is it a   rewarding way to   entertain myself?).
  Anyway, it’s kinda pitiful that I used to rarely go to the movies, because of the cost. (“$9?! That’s outrageous!”) And yet, I was freely handing out   3 times that amount every week for poisonous cigarettes. Now, for less than the $28 dollars a week I was throwing away, I treat myself to the latest blockbusters…  and sometimes that overpriced sack of popcorn, too!
  Turns out movies are affordable after all…once I ditched my money-gobbling addiction. 
  And, visits to the theater are much more enjoyable, too  : No more chain-smoking outside the theater before trudging off to a smoke-free auditorium for a couple of hours  ; no more stinking like an overloaded ashtray, feeling embarrassed that the folks seated nearby can smell the dirty habit  ; no more fidgeting halfway through  ; no more springing up from the seat the moment the credits start to roll  ; no more scurrying out the lobby doors to “hot-box” a cigarette in the parking lot.
  Nope, all of that squirrelly twitchiness is gone! I can relaaaaaax at the movies now, even all the way through a double feature! What a way to reward my quit!

The Chardonnay Conundrum

Posted by Storm_3.1.14 Dec 26, 2016
   This weekend, I overheard a short comment that sparked a fuller conversation within my own mind, after I had walked away. I allowed myself some presumptive liberties to fill in the back story, so grab a grain of salt if you choose to read on.
  It seems that a sober-minded lady was given a bottle of wine as a Christmas gift, and she was telling a friend that she wanted to be rid of it. I overheard her say, “I could give it to my neighbor…he’s a stumbling drunk, anyway.”
  Now, what follows are the chain of thoughts that played out in   my mind…
  This lady could have, on principle, declined the objectionable gift on the spot, either tactfully or not so tactfully. While declining a Christmas gift rankled of rudeness, I’m sure, saying “no”   was a valid choice for this lady. And, it’s a valid choice   we have, too, as ex-smokers, when offered a cigarette: “No.” “Nah, I‘m gonna pass.” “No, thanks, I quit smoking.“ “No, cigarettes are not an option for me.”
  This lady obviously   did accept the objectionable gift, though, and even brought it home with her. In private, she had the choice to open the wine…to pour it down the drain. But, she didn’t do this, because she stated the wine was still a problem she was having to handle. So, why didn’t she dump all the wine in the sink? Was that also being rude? Was it too much of a shame to “waste it”? Was it “throwing away perfectly good money”? Quite often, we see this same dilemma played out with smokers  : “I bought this whole carton, so it’d be a shame to just waste it all. I’ll try to quit when I finish smoking the whole thing.” Or, when an ex-smoker caves in, buys a pack, smokes just two...then cannot bring themselves to “waste” the rest down the toilet.
  This lady also had the choice to give the wine to someone who’d enjoy it, in moderation, and with no issues or qualms with alcohol. But, if this lady has strong opinions against drinking alcohol, then why would she pass along an offensive gift that violates her values? In a way, this touches on the philosophical issue that many ex-smokers have to figure out  : “I do not smoke, but will I allow my guests to do it on my property?" "I choose to not be exposed to any smoke at all, so must I decline invitations from friends and family who do smoke?" "Would I ever date a smoker, or break up with someone who won‘t quit?" "How far out should I project my own values? Where are my limits?”
  From the snippet I actually did hear, this lady was considering a solution that, in my opinion, was the worst choice of all - giving alcohol to a “stumbling drunk” who’d obviously take the gift. We see this same terrible “logic” played out in nicotine recovery, too  : A non-smoking loved one buys a pack of “mercy smokes” for a newbie who is irritable or emotional or struggling  ; a spouse misses smoke breaks with their newly-quit partner, and sabotages their success  ; or a newbie keeps a pack of smokes in the junk drawer…“just because“.
  For me, our “higher recovery” revolves around that philosophical issue I mentioned earlier, where each of us must stand up for our core values - never compromising with where the lines get drawn, or with those who test our boundaries. It’s something that requires time and thought and experience to figure out, and not everyone reaches the same conclusions, as is often proven right here in these blogs.
  For those of you with less than 30 days quit, and for those of you at any point in No Man’s Land  : Stay focused on the #1 goal of breaking the ritualistic habit of needing  /wanting cigarettes.   That is your main job right now. Just know that the time   will come for you to find your convictions about where you’re going with your quit, and the only way to do that is to never lose your convictions about where you’ve already been without it.
   Keep living forward!

The Mind & The Power

Posted by Storm_3.1.14 Dec 19, 2016
  Yesterday, Google celebrated the birthday of the late Stephen Bantu Biko, one of the most influential anti-apartheid activists in 1970s South Africa. I explored his life story a bit (you can do it, too, by   clicking here), and came across this quote  : “The most powerful weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”
  As is often the case, I sometimes see philosophical correlations between our nicotine recovery and the issues of other struggles, and I delight in sharing my thoughts with you. In no way, though, would I ever seriously  equate quitting cigarettes to overcoming the brutality of racial oppression  ; let me make that perfectly clear. I’m simply taking Biko’s words to heart, in the only relatable frame of mind a First-World White man in drug recovery has.
  Allow me the liberty to wander, openly?
  So, Biko is saying that it is often the fear and forced hopelessness of the oppressed that keeps them demoralized and timid enough to be, thusly, oppressed. He saw that oppressors are often “given” power by the oppressed.
  I read that quote, and I thought about it from Biko’s perspective, of course. Then, naturally, I began to think about it from our perspective here at EX.
  Cigarettes are just objects. They literally have no power to leap from the pack and pop into our mouths. We often even give them the magical ability to “speak“, and then let them “talk” inside our brains. Well, because they do contain the mind-altering drug that we were dependent on, our minds give cigarettes inordinate levels of power and influence. Think about that  : It’s our own minds that give dried-up crumbles of weeds the monstrous power to poison us to death.
  Okay, so what about Big Tobacco?   That is an actual entity. An actual organization of death merchants and drug pushers, who actively invest multi-millions to keep smokers hooked, and to ensnare new smokers. These are actual people who wield power and influence against us - even in Congress, itself! What hope does a smoker or ex-smoker have against such powerful saboteurs? Well…
  When’s the last time a CEO from Phillip-Morris pulled up in his limousine, tackled you on your lawn, and shoved a lit cigarette into your blowhole? (That’s what I thought.) Nah, that fat cat could hand me the keys to a tractor trailer full of free menthols, and I wouldn’t touch ‘em. Because my mind is now educated and awake, my life is now skilled and resourceful, and I’m focused on breaking free of that poison and addiction. Big Tobacco could fire every seductive marketing gimmick at me, and I wouldn’t flinch.
   Only I have the power to give them the power.
  When we doubt that we’ll learn enough to fight a logical fight, we stay ignorant.
  When we   refuse to learn enough to fight a logical fight, we stay ignorant, too.
  When we fret that we’ll only fail, we never seriously try.
  When we dread that it’ll take too long, we don’t even take the first step.
  When we are scared that “the new normal” will be dull and empty, we cling to “the old way”.
  When we fear that we’ll crave for the rest of our lives, we run back to the comfort we trusted.
  When we surrender our choice to the naysayers and tempters and soft-hearted enablers who seek to undermine our attempts to break free, we stop dreaming that   we deserve something   better.
  When we believe that we’re too hooked and too weak and too stressed and too alone and too emotionally fragile or mentally unsuited to quit, then we guarantee that we are absolutely right about all that.
  Quite often, we defeat ourselves within our own heads, and the pushers who profit from that helplessness use this to their advantage.
  It’s our minds that give the   most power to the drug addiction that kept us beaten down. Even when the very real   physical symptoms send aching hungers through our bodies, it’s still our   minds that misinterpret those sensations as irresistible commands.
  Listen, you seriously have more power than you know. If you believe that you actually don’t, then maybe you just haven’t reclaimed enough of that lost power back for yourself. Some of your mind was stolen from you, yes, and more was surrendered by you, of course…but   now is the time to correct all of that and take back what’s rightfully yours.

Love Your Quit!

Posted by Storm_3.1.14 Dec 6, 2016

  Now, someone out there might be scoffing, “Yeah, riiiight, soccer legend Pele…how in the world am I supposed to   LOVE quitting?!” Well, dear reader, I believe the answers are right there, too  :   learning and   studying . I believe it because, rather than just throw away cigarettes and then endure whatever chaos ripped loose in my head,   I made the time (10 days worth,   before I actually quit)   to read and study and learn and listen . I got intimately familiar with Nicotine and Dopamine and Addiction, and I   really developed a big ol’ crush on The Grief Cycle and Self-Talk. I “fell in love” with finally understanding what was going on   inside me. Turns out it wasn’t a monster, after all, gnawing at my guts, and it wasn’t a demon possessing my mind…it was only   me, needing facts, and truth and honesty, and a new perspective, and community love - both tough and tender.
  It became easier to truly love   all of my quit, because I was learning to both love and un-love very real parts of myself.
  Whoa, I just got chills!   “I was learning to…un-love very real parts of myself“, as well.
  Anyway, over a thousand days later -   3 years coming up around the corner! -, how do I still keep the love for my quit? Well, I kinda like the answer in the picture below…
  We often say that quitting is not an event, it’s a journey made up of small moments and big moments. Can’t the same be said of a marriage, for example? It’s not a wedding day, it’s a life-time of many days. This is true of other relationships, too, isn’t it? Friendships, family, parent/child, school, career…all of these are years-long cycles of good and bad, and work and fun. And so it is with a quit. Once you study what it is, and learn what it can become, and   accept it as an evolving element of who you are now, then you can stay with it, commit to it, follow it, lead it, nourish it…  love it. And you do all that, persistently and consistently...for the love of a quit is meant to   grow with you, always.
  Ultimately, that’s why you’re here. Not to stop cigarettes, but to start loving who you will be without them.
  Find that love, EXmates. It can be done. It’s here, and it’s there. Find it. Earn it. Proclaim it. And, most of all, protect it and respect it.

Hitting The Buttons

Posted by Storm_3.1.14 Nov 29, 2016
  We’ve all heard the same wisecrack at one point or another  : “All you have to do is stop buying cigarettes!” (Really?! Eureka! The world’s deadliest addiction, solved with one click of a golden   CURE button. Hooray!)
  Well-meaning people with good intentions, I’m sure, but with near-sighted advice that hardly scratches the surface.
  So, let’s start scratching…
  When a newbie is working through the first day or first week or first month of their quit, “DON”T BUY THEM!” is an effective command that can work in a heat-of-the-moment pinch. It’s like pressing a red NO button in the mind. A buzzer squeals, and the newbie refuses to drive to the store for cigarettes. Bam! (It’s really quite Pavlovian.)
  And, “don’t buy ‘em” works… for the moment. But, it ain’t a long-term fix. Never was.
  At some point, quitting cigarettes stops being about not buying cigarettes. It stops being about the purchase of the cigarette, and it starts being about the   use of the cigarette. The   act of smoking. The  habitual compulsion to inhale the   drug. At some point, our issue moves from “why do I keep buying them” to “why do I keep   using them.” Well, there’s a yellow   WHY button for that question. Pressing it lights up a library of information, and we’re called upon to dig into the topics of drug dependence, nicotine addiction, self-medication, dopamine reward cycles, and the grieving process. 
  Some wise person once said  : “We fear most what we understand least. Go forth, understand, and fear no more.” That’s what the   WHY button is for  ; hit it.
  The next threshold is crossing over from “why I   shouldn‘t smoke“ to “how I   won‘t smoke“. This is when an educated quit becomes a skilled quit. A practiced quit. A   working quit. This is the green   HOW button, and pressing it activates cravebusters and rescue strategies and coping mechanisms  : Sit! Breathe! Relax! Hydrate! Talk! Move! Scream! Chomp! This is when knowing how turns into know-how. 
  Okay, light some candles and incense, things are about to get trippy…
  Eventually, as you move deeper into a maturing quit, things simmer down into a choice-within-an-epiphany: Quitting isn’t about getting rid of cigarettes at all, it’s about getting rid of that part of us that wants them. It’s that raw moment when we take a hard look in the mirror, without disguises or excuses. It’s honest. “Was I clinging to smoking, or was I escaping from something…else? Do I not deserve to influence my own destiny? When I removed cigarettes from my life, what did I make room for? Who am I meant to be now, without smoking? Deeper yet, who was I meant to be all along, had I never smoked at all?” This is the silver   CHOOSE button, and pressing it means we willingly acknowledge our troubled past and forsake its backwards pull on us. Pressing it means we embrace   only the forward-thinking half of ourselves that now   knows better,   wants better,   needs better…and   does better.
  I’m speaking, of course, of my own journey. The progression I’ve described here (  don’t buy them - don’t need them - don’t want them) was true for me. Naturally, I can’t say what your path is gonna look like, but I can say that you mustn’t try to skip ahead to experience someplace you‘ve not reached yet. Live in the moment given to you today, press the appropriate button that gets you through it, and accept that you’re not supposed to be the same person once you reach the other side.
   (By the way, there is also a black button that says EJECT. Press it, and you’ll be thrown all the way back to Day 1. You really, really, really don’t ever wanna push it. Doing so is a choice, but it must never be an option.)

THANK YOU (and etc.)

Posted by Storm_3.1.14 Nov 28, 2016
  Thanks, again, to everyone who cheered me on as I crossed through the doors of The Quad Squad. To have loyal Mentors and supportive Elders and March 2014 Classmates and Newcomers all show up for a party…well, what an extra special day it was, for sure!
  Two related tidbits to share now…
   1. A few of you may remember that I treat myself to a unique “quit trophy” for each of my most major milestones. These are "tabletop décor” items (“  objet de art“, if you will), and I have 3 of them so far  : Quit Day, Year One, and Year Two. Embedded below is the picture of my newest Thousand Days “trophy”…
  The moment I saw this silvery swirl sculpture, I knew it was perfect  : It’s a stylized comma! It’s now taken its place beside the others, and is right next to the empty spot already reserved for the soon-to-be-earned Year Three.
   2. I am extraordinarily (some would say inordinately) proud of my Quit Clock and Comma. Now that I have been seeing them displayed together, I confess that something about the zeros in front of each new number makes me feel as if I’m trudging up a new staircase, for the sole purpose of getting to the next thousand days…
  1,00  0
  1,00  1
  1,00  2
  1,00  3
  1,00  4
  1,00  5
  That's not the mindset I want to carry to Year Three, and throughout 2017. Soooo, for the first time in my quit, I’m ready to stop counting. <gasp!> I know, I know…I cannot believe I just typed out those words! But, it’s time. My Quit Clock will   always be just a click away, running dutifully in the background, faithfully stacking up my truths, one after another  ; I’m just going to deactivate the pop-up reminder that greets me every morning. I’m ready now to give   all the gravity to my anniversaries on March 1st, and to just let the other 364 days of recovery orbit freely, without a numerical label. (Sootie knows what I’m feeling. And, Conductors, I‘d be perfectly happy now with just   one train ride a year.)
  Huh…just when you think your quit has no more room to explore, it pulls an unexpected surprise. Ha!
   Stay true out there, my fellow villagers, and keep living forward!

A GRAND DAY: 1,000

Posted by Storm_3.1.14 Nov 24, 2016
  It was a road of one thousand mile(stones) that led me here, and I'm thankful to have walked every last one. Each step was mine to take, but I wasn't alone when I took them. 
  My heart, therefore, is blessed with special friends following behind me, and is grateful for the mentors who stayed with me for   all one thousand days. There are fewer names on these lists now than when I started, but it just means my inner circle has gotten tighter and stronger with time.
  What a grand thing it is, the   EX Comma. For the rest of my life, my Quit Clock will need   The Comma to express the magnitude and measure of my commitment. The numbers on the meter will change daily, as they always have, but   The Comma will now be a constant that binds them together. 
  Such a small thing, too, is a comma. "Just a squiggle", to the eyes of some, I'm sure...but -   oooh! - what a grand honor it is to have earned   this little mark! (And, on Thanksgiving Day, no less!)
  My name is Storm (yes, it's my real name) and I have been free now for   1,000 DAYS!!!!

Snake Oil

Posted by Storm_3.1.14 Nov 22, 2016

  Imagine that you suffer from migraine headaches, and you hear about a new drug that promises the fastest pain relief medically possible - 8 seconds! You’d be ecstatic, right?! Total relief in 8 seconds is a miracle!
  But, there’s a catch: The headache is soothed after 8 seconds…but it comes right back within about 30 minutes or so.
  Seriously?!   What good is it, then?! Why pop a pill that only works for less than 45 minutes?! If it does absolutely nothing to fix the major issue (migraine headaches), then it’s nothing but a temporary snake oil!
   That’s what cigarettes are, snake oil.
  Yes, cigarettes   will relieve stress…but   only the stress of the withdrawal they created in the first place! The cure created the problem!   How stupid is that?! It’s a vicious cycle! A self-perpetuated loop of cause and effect!
  Much like the imaginary headache pill I described, cigarettes provide only a ridiculously fleeting - thus, pointless - relief, making them a poor and ineffectual “medicine” for a  long-term, meaningful, lasting, and durable release from the major stress issue (the self-inflicted cycle of nicotine addiction and dependence).
  Now, imagine that a migraine specialist (continuing the example above) said, "There is a therapy program that will slash your problem by 97%, and will get you off of drugs for good. You ready to free yourself from your issues?"
  That's what quitting is, a therapy program. A lifestyle change. A personal inventory revamping. A priority restructuring. A release! Rehab! Recovery! Relief!
  Ultimately, the goal here is to quit all of it  : cigarettes, NRT, self-doubts, habits, misinformation, rituals, trigger situations, excuse-making…  all of it. That’s how you'll  create your   real relief, dear newcomer.   That is the   sustainable management   process we want you to cultivate, and to believe in.
  Let us help you get there.
   STORM: 998
  In the culture of The Congo, an   ilunga (pronounced like “ee-eye-loon-gah”) is a person who is ready to forgive any transgression a first time and then to tolerate it for a second time, but never for a third time. In a way, I feel this touches on how I felt when I joined EX. I had freely forgiven so many past “slips” and relapses, without much admonishment or penalty. Then, I started wearily tolerating “slips” because I thought it was an inescapable part of the quitting process. But, then, I reached a tipping point where I knew all the old excuses were vapor-thin shadows, and that no “junkie logic” was ever going to be acceptable again. So, in a way, I fancy myself an   ilunga, of sorts: I forgave the first relapses, sadly tolerated the next few, but then refused to cower to another one.
  That set me at the gate of the right path.
  It’s an easy thing to say, “Stop smoking cigarettes.“ But, how does one   lean into a quit? Once someone decides to not smoke again, how do they   live forward? How does one   thrive within a life-long recovery? Well, the Greeks have a spiritual concept called   meraki (pronounced like “me-rocky”). It’s described as doing something with soul, creativity, or love — when you put "something of yourself" into what you're doing, whatever it may be. It’s so incredibly crucial, my dear newcomers, that you not think of your quit as something that has   happened to you. It is not. It is a   choice you made that opens doorways into self-discovery. On the hardest days, use creativity to explore the inventive paths   through the task at hand. Embrace the love of the people who freely donate thousands upon thousands of days of experience…just to help you get one more. Find a strengthening lesson in every single day you do not smoke. Find the joy, the resolve, the passion, the liberation in what you’re doing here. A quit can be a heavy burden on the shoulders of those who feel it as nothing more than that, and few of these backs stay strong for long enough. Instead,  journey with your quit. Teach it, train it, discipline it, nourish it,…put something of yourself into this live-saving force you are generating.
  The Spanish also have a word for fiery passion, creative energy, and soulful zest  : It’s   duende (pronounced like “dwen-day”), and I promise you that it can exist within every recovery. You can be  ignited by your quit, and the Better Self that you’re striving to be is just waiting to   catch fire.
  Which brings me to the doorway of my vault of self-discovery…
  There is a psychological concept known as   metanoia. In Greek, it roughly means “beyond the understanding”, as in the fundamental and profound emotional shift that occurs after someone   finally, finally, finally “gets it“. It’s the action that lies beyond that point where we finally understand what must be done. Metanoia is often demonstrated when an alcoholic hits rock bottom, then   finally blossoms upward into the truth of living sober for the rest of life. So, look at the Exers here around you. Metanoia is on full display! There are dozens of us who finally “  got it“, and now embrace our quits with   more attachment than we ever felt for the addiction.
  Are you ready to take one step inside the vault, to walk deeper into my thoughts?
  In theology,   metanoia can be defined as "a transformative change of heart, especially a spiritual conversion." Metanoia, in this sense, suggests repudiation, a change of mind, repentance, and atonement. "Conversion" and "reformation" are the most familiar forms of religious metanoia. Now, perhaps you’re reading this and thinking that quitting is   not a religious experience. After all, it’s just about not puffing a cigarette again, right? Calling a quit a “transformative conversion” is awfully over-blown and exaggerated, right? But, for a few of us (me, included), quitting has been a deeply spiritual journey   inside our broken selves. Mastering a recovery that supersedes one of the most destructive addictions known to man…well…that strengthened my heart and soul more deeply than anything else I’ve done in a couple of decades. It was therapeutic, physically. Cathartic, emotionally. Believe me when I say to you that I feel I have been “delivered” across the wall, where quitting cigarettes -   of all things! - taught me sooooo much about choices, promises, accountability, honesty, synergy, and conviction. For me, “transformation” is not a hyperbolic flourish of fancy words. It’s a personal fact.
  So, seriously, are you ready to save your life? Are you willing to experience   everything you must work through, to reach the loftiest milestones? If you’re willing to do all the work, then are you ready to sing through the gut-wrenching craves, and to rejoice on the toughest days? (Think about that one before you answer.) And, if you tackle this work with passion and love and conviction, are you willing to accept that you   cannot end up as the same person you were when you started? 
  I was willing…not only to quit smoking cigarettes, but to quit being the type of man who smoked them. I was willing to surrender   anything to   all the elements of my recovery, from smoothest day to roughest night. I went   looking for the struggles in my quit ("bring it me what ya got!"), and I ended up finding the strength in the truth of my recovery. 
  I found the joy in living free, and it’s waiting for   you, too.