Freedom's History, Policy & Staff
HISTORY - One of our wonderful new arrivals has asked if we could share a bit about Freedom's history and the expectations that we have for our members. We've never done this but it does seem like a fair and reasonable request. Maybe we can get our other co-founder, Joanne, to chime in and share her perspective as well : ) Well, here it is - the good, the bad and the ugly. Where do we start?
Freedom from Tobacco had its birth on September 8, 1999. Today, as far as we know, we stand alone as the only on-line nicotine free "Cool Turkey" (cold turkey) support group in the entire world. Why cold turkey? Isn't that discriminating against folks who want to quit using nicotine replacement therapy (nicotine gum, patches, sprays and inhalers)? No, there are scores and scores of on-line support sites that advocate or make welcome the use of NRT. No one is being forced to be here. We don't dispute those studies that conclude that NRT's gradual nicotine reduction method is "EFFECTIVE" in helping 1 in 10 NRT users remain tobacco free after one year. We do dispute leaving 9 of 10 behind.
Here we admit that we are nicotine addicts. As nicotine addicts we also admit that any future use of nicotine will cause us to relapse, regardless of how long we remained nicotine free. We've come to understand that there is just one rule that we need to follow to forever remain free from our addiction - NEVER TAKE ANOTHER PUFF ! Here, self-motivation, in-depth addiction education and the caring support of fellow nicotine addicts, offer hope to all in need. Freedom, like NRT, has never made a single smoker quit smoking. Only strong desire can do that. Instead, we feed desire, we educate desire, we nourish desire and then we stand back and watch desire take flight.
Last September, Joanne and I, whose quits were both born at another on-line site (Blairsville), co-founded Freedom for one simple reason - we thought we could help others. Looking back, I don't know who we thought we were, thinking that we knew enough to help others, yet still we ventured far from the nest. My cold turkey wellbutrin assisted quit was not yet 4 months old. Joanne, my mentor, had 8 months of cold turkey under her belt and to me she was one of the most experienced and caring quitter that I had ever met. Joanne brought along her loving heart, those big hugs and the sincerest genuine compassion that you're ever going to find. I brought my "power of positive thought" message that I "thought" would cure the entire smoking world. With such a team, how could we miss? Well, little did we know, just how little we really knew.
Three months earlier, on June 15, 1999, a story written by Sue Landry, a newspaper reporter with the St. Petersburg Times, was published. It told of the final days in the life of Bryan Lee Curtis, Jr., a two pack a day smoker who had just turned 34. It contained a powerful picture of Bryan on his death bead that was taken just 64 days after he was diagnosed with a quick spreading form of lung cancer (small cell) that is reserved almost exclusively for smokers. Having been quit for just one month, I read Bryan's story and it hit me hard. "That could of been me!" "That could of been me!" I just couldn't get his picture out of my mind.
I e-mailed Sue Landry and thanked her so much for sharing Bryan's inspiring story. To my surprise, Sue wrote back asking if she could interview me (a recent on-line quitter) as part of a follow-up piece. Two follow-up stories were published on June 22nd and I found myself referenced in both (John R. Polito). These links to the two stories.
All of the sudden Bryan's death took on even more significance in my life. In that Sue inked Bryan's story with the promise that it would be retold and shared with the world, I immediately started construction a web site to ensure its preservation without any commercial involvement. By July 15th Bryan's story was being featured and shared at http://whyquit.com. I've shared this as background for my motivations and continuing involvement. In listing on-line support groups at WhyQuit, I put Freedom's link first in hopes of attracting new members.
Back at Freedom, things were pretty slow going for the first month or so. I remember Joanne visiting chat rooms across the internet where she stood upon a soap box and begged smokers to pay us a visit. I just covered my eyes. Believe it or not, she did it! Between her efforts and those who arrived via WhyQuit.Com, smokers started showing up! At first, running a new support group seemed like an extremely rewarding way to invest our time. A simple thank you every now and then was all the fuel we needed to keep us rolliing along. Although we didn't known much about quitting, we sure did know how to hug a smoker to death. It didn't take too many months before we started realizing that we were hugging many into relapse.
When a member made their first post after relapsing, we showered them with so much comfort and so much affection that it made relapse just a normal and acceptable part of the quitting process. It almost seemed like some would relapse just to feel the tremendous support and warmth generated by their act. Our relapse rate far exceeded our success rate. Oh it wasn't any worse than what we witnessed at all the other boards, but this our board - this was FREEDOM - and the hurt slowly grew as by March over 100 members had been left behind. Although many felt that we should be happy about the few who were making it, our frustrations grew. Our hugs and positive attitudes were simply not cutting it.
The body count was frightening. Going back through old posts almost felt like walking through a grave yard of deceased friends. For every success story around here there were at least seven or eight relapses. Was quitting some sort of race were there was only 1 winner for very 8 losers? It sure seemed like it. When God finally sent us Joel back on January 20th, we were starving for truth. I knew that I didn't have the strength to continue to watch this much longer and I felt that Joanne growing discouraged too.
It was almost like Joel picked-up Joanne's bleeding heart and my dying spirit, as he cradled us both while feeding our hunger and nursing our wounds. Why was this guy here? What was a professional smoking cessation instructor of 30 years, with a wonderful on-line library that was filled with years and years of wisdom, taking us under his wing? Why did he care? Why?
I quickly learned that all of Joel's thousands of clinics had been cold turkey but I still didn't see the harm in NRT and he didn't push his ways on us. We took from his library want we wanted and he was always there to answer our questions. When Joel arrived our motto was "Smoking Is Not An Option" and it appeared at the end of hundreds of posts. I remember the day when Joel mustered the courage to correct us. His post told us that we were wrong, that smoking again was ALWAYS an option for every quitter. He told us that the only way to quit and stay quit was to "NEVER TAKE ANOTHER PUFF." I thought about it and I laughed. How corny can you get! It seemed he was missing the entire point of our mantra. It only took watching a dozen or so more relapses before all of us saw light and discarded the "OPTION" in favor of NEVER."
One thing that was starting to become a bit more obvious to us was the pattern of nicotine withdrawal pains being experienced by our NRT users at three and four months into their quits. Their posts were usually labeled as some sort of "terrible day." Often they were associated with attempts to stop using the nicotine delivery device. These, "I'm having terrible craves," posts were devastating to the moral of cold turkey quitters in the middle of "Hell Week." Imagine the thought of "Hell Week" lasting for three full months instead of physical withdrawal peaking at 72 hours and then beginning to gradually subside. Still, we were not making the connections nor were we asking the right questions.
I think it may have been subtle hints by Joel in reply to our continuing frustrations and/or some of his clinic articles that briefly mentioned high cold turkey success rates, but I began to silently dig into the literature so as to not offend Joel, as I still didn't see any harm in NRT. The first thing I did was to use the "Quitting Aids" links page we'd put together to visit the official home page of all the NRT quitting aids. I was searching for the studies that they used to show the long term (one year) success rates of their products. I was shocked to find that NONE of them shared any study data whatsoever, nor did or gave any specific success rates. They just kept echoing the t.v. commercials in saying that NRT was "effective" and that it doubled your chances of quitting. But doubled what?
What we found blew us away. When Joel was confronted with all this he simply said that he waited for us find out for ourselves, as too many of our members were playing with nicotine and he didn't want to make waves. I've attached below a a quick summary of what we learned. The only thing I'd add to it is that we adopted a tough love approach to relapses that teaches rather then cuddles and that challenges rather than hugs. I hope this gives you some perspective on how Freedom came to be and what led us to "Cool Turkey."
STAFF - Let me briefly discuss our Staff structure and tell you a little about what each of us does behind the scenes. Freedom has three managers who establish group policy and select assistants - Joanne, Joel & Zep. Joel has taken responsibility for making sure that we have the literature necessary to give each of us a well rounded addiction education. I have responsibility for the keeping our links current and for putting together and updating our Start Date Page (with help from Joanne : ))). Joanne, by far, has the most responsibility. Joanne is responsibility for our daily updating of our Home Page, in supporting members support, in keeping track of each of our quit dates, including historical posting data, and in trying to track down long term members who sometimes disappear.
Freedom currently has 4 assistant managers, Linda (Grumpy), Randy (Cdnguy), Joy (Zarefah) and our newest assistant Kathy Christine. Randy is our graphics wizard and Linda, Joy and Kathy are Joanne's right arm. We selecting new assistants we look for folks who appear to have the time to devote to Freedom's mission and the desire to help others. No one at Freedom has ever received a single penny in connection with any service that has been given. Talking about pennies, we just retired Penny after months of wonderful service to Freedom. We don't expect any assistant to give more than a couple of months but we're having a bit of trouble shaking a few of them " ))))
P.S. We are always on the look out a JAVA/HTML expert, graphic experts and a webmaster or two : ))
MY BIO - Last, as requested, I'll tell a little about my background and maybe some of the other Staffers will do the same. My birth name is John R. Polito and I'm the father of two wonderful daughters, Carmen 20 and Amanda 18. The name Zep has nothing to do with a rock group. I fell in love with the word zephyr (a breeze from the West - born in the Rockies and now live in SC) and I added "istic" (characteristic of) to come up with Zephyristic, my unique December of 1996 internet name. Soon everyone was shortening it to just Zep and it stuck. I served in the U.S. Naval Submarine Service for 9 years (73 to 82) making 7 FBM patrols. After sea duty I went through instructor training and taught Poseidon and Trident missile and support systems to officer & enlisted students for 4 years. During that time I was certified as a Master Training Specialist. In 1982 to 85 I attended USC School of Law where I graduated Wig & Robe. I was in private practice from 85 to 00 here in Summerville.
I've also taught as an adjunct professor in the Political Science Dept. of what is now Charleston Southern University. My greatest joy prior to helping establish Freedom was being a community activist (library expansion/parks/campaign chairman/tree ordinances/cell tower regulation/highway safety/sight conservation). Today I no longer actively practice law, I closed my law practice in February, and I have no idea whatsoever where my future will lead. I do know that I greatly enjoy seeing smokers get excited about reclaiming their lives. Enough said - sorry to ramble! Breathe deep hug hard, live long, Zep
When a person addicted to nicotine completely stops putting all nicotine into their body, physical withdrawal from nicotine peaks within 72 hours, and withdrawal symptoms then begin to gradually subside. A blood test at 72 hours will confirm that nicotine is no longer in the blood system. By the end of their first week the quitter will notice that the frequency of their craves and urges has started to ease. But even though all nicotine is out of the blood their craves continue to occur.
Although physiological (physical) withdrawal from nicotine is complete, psychological withdrawal continues. Years and years of tobacco use has conditioned the user''s mind to expect to receive nicotine upon the occurrence off certain events, at specific times or when experiencing various emotions during the smokers day and life. Examples of these triggers that generate craves for nicotine may include things like: waking-up; having coffee; reading, typing or using the internet; talking on the phone; driving a vehicle; upon encountering the stress, anxiety or worry produced by work, finances or relationships; during celebrations or other joyous times; when around other smokers; during breaks from work, upon leaving buildings, while consuming beer or alcohol; after the passage of a certain amount of time without ingesting nicotine; or even in association with funerals, births, weddings or romance. While still a smoker, when one of the smoker's triggering events is encountered, the smoker would reach for their nicotine to satisfy the very minor crave generated by the trigger.
But what happens when the nicotine addict quits using tobacco and stands up to their craves by refusing their mind's command to ingest nicotine into the body? As any nicotine addict will tell you, the triggered crave starts growing in intensity. During the 72 hours of nicotine withdrawal these craves can be very intense and feel like they are going to last forever. But, after 72 hours of nicotine withdrawal the intensity of the craves begins to gradually decline. If the craves are timed, each will be seen to last for only a few minutes at most. The hardest part of quitting is now over and the healing has begun.
When a particular crave trigger is encountered and defeated, encountering that particular trigger again will not normally generate a crave. The mind of the quitter has been re-conditioned to not expect nicotine during the occurrence of that particular event, emotion or time. Most triggers will be reconditioned with a single encounter but a few may require additional encounters before reconditioning is complete. As the former tobacco user encounters and defeats more and more of their trigger generated craves, the cravings gradually grow further apart and weaker in intensity. The amount of time required before withdrawal is substantially achieved varies from quitter to quitter depending on the number of psychological triggers they have created over the years, and how fast each trigger is encountered and reconditioned.
There is a tremendous difference between the intensity of the first 72 hours of withdrawal and the remainder of the time that it takes to recondition the triggers. When physical nicotine withdrawal is occurring at the exact same time that all of the psychological triggers are intact and attempting to induce nicotine ingestion, the hours become intense. But again, within 72 hours withdrawal has peaked, the blood is nicotine free, and the former smoker starts sensing an easing up. By day 90 the former tobacco user has encountered and reconditioned so many triggers that they should be experiencing some totally crave-free days.
Support - Getting through the first week of a "Cool Turkey" quit without ingesting any nicotine into the body is critical. On-line group support can help provide the new quitter with the knowledge, skills, understanding and compassion necessary to aid them through the challenges of the first week. The greater the involvement in learning from the group, interacting with the group, and providing support to the quits of other group members, the easier it will be for the quitter to maintain their vigor and resolve. The positive peer pressure generated by active participation in the group setting isn''t much different than the negative peer pressure that may have contributed to the smoker experimenting with tobacco as a teenager. Although family support is wonderful, if they''ve never been addicted to a powerful substance, it is often difficult for them to fully appreciate what withdrawal is like.
Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) now comes in many forms. Nicotine's delivery into the body can occur by means of nicotine gum that slowly releases nicotine when chewed (1984), by using adhesive nicotine patches that are placed on the body and deliver nicotine through the skin at a constant rate (1992), with nicotine nasal sprays (1996), and by means of nicotine vapor inhalers (1998). The theory behind all forms of NRT is basically the same - delay physical nicotine withdrawal for up to 90 days while giving the smoker time to recondition their psychological crave triggers.
The NRT television advertisements and commercials falsely imply that MOST smokers who use a particular NRT product are victorious in defeating their addiction. Nothing could be further from the truth. An exhaustive 1999 study found that the success rates for each of the above forms of NRT is basically the same. On average, only 22% of NRT users remain nicotine free at the end of THREE months (gum 20%, patch 21%, spray 24% and inhaler 24%). It only gets worse from there. The FDA patch approval study, and most other long term studies, have concluded that 9 out of 10 NRT quitters will relapse prior to one year.
When you subtract from NRT''s 10% success rate (1 in 10) from the percentage of smokers that the studies claim would have quit without using NRT (about 5 %) you are left with approximately 5% of all NRT quitters receiving any benefit whatsoever from NRT. That's 1 in 20 smokers being helped by NRT!!! In light of the dismal performance of NRT products, new literature from the U.S. government attempts to convince us that we should not define success "on the basis of permanent abstinence" from tobacco. Nonsense - utter nonsense!
Why do 9 out of 10 NRT users fail to succeed in quitting for one year? They fail for a variety of reasons. The most obvious reason is that ingesting nicotine into a nicotine addicted body delays physical withdrawal and causes the user to endure chronic withdrawal symptoms during the entire time that nicotine is being administered. Although NRT provides users with varying amounts of nicotine, none provide 100% of the dosage that the NRT user was obtaining from tobacco.
Further, unless the NRT user becomes addicted to the NRT delivery device, they will eventually stop using the device and be forced to endure some physical nicotine withdrawal at a time when most have already spent their energy and resolve in just getting to the recommended cut-off time. By comparison, the "cool turkey" quitter defeated their physical nicotine addiction during the very first week of withdrawal.
Consider this. There has never been a single study comparing nicotine fed quitters (NRT) to nicotine free quitters (72 hours). If there was, Cool Turkey would blow NRT completely out of the water. Such a study will never be done as it won't give doctors anything to prescribe and it won't give NRT makers the billions of dollars they hope to reap. There isn't a dime to be made in cold turkey quitting.
In almost all NRT comparison studies in which a "placebo" is given to the cold turkey group, the placebo contained a small amount of nicotine. Some studies call it a therapeutic dose. I've got a nicotine patch study here in front of me that states that the placebo patches contained 13% of the nicotine that were in the nicotine patches. Another one that states that placebo gum contained < 1mg of nicotine. I can't help but think that these so called scientists have either missed the boat or have never been addicted to nicotine. If you feed any quitter a small amount of nicotine, they never become nicotine free at 72 hours, but instead are placed in serious chronic withdrawal. Why do they lace the placebos? I have no idea but it has become the norm and apparently no one is questioning it. If you feed crumbs to one group and feed the other well, which will starve to death first?
No quitter in the history of the world ever quit because they used an NRT product. They quit because they had the resolve to quit. A one in ten success rate might be deemed "EFFECTIVE" by the United States Government but it just isn't going to fly here at Freedom. as we refuse to leave the other 9 behind.