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Compelled to kick bad habits

Jacquie Petet's smoking days are numbered.

She recently decided to toss out her cigarettes and launch a nicotine-free new year. Petet, a 30-year smoker, knows it won't be easy. But this year she won't have to go it alone.

Petet stumbled upon Quitting for Good while browsing in a Christian bookstore last month. The book is part of an eight-week program of the same name. It combines Scriptures with weekly lessons to help folks kick the smoking habit. Petet decided to use it to help her quit. Then it dawned on her: Why not encourage others to join in? After all, there's strength in numbers, she said.

"I love to drag people along with me," Petet said with a laugh.

She recruited a few members from her church. Then she called on a friend, an ex-smoker, to lead the group.

Now, on Monday, folks will gather at Christian Social Services in Land O'Lakes for the first Quitting for Good meeting.

"This time of year, people are thinking about making changes," said Petet, 57. "With all the new year's resolutions . . . it's just a time of new beginnings."

Folks in Hudson also are beginning anew, with the help of Celebrate Recovery. The program is the brainchild of John Baker, pastor of ministry at Saddleback Community Church in California, whose founder created the Purpose Driven Life.

Celebrate Recovery has been a hit across the country. And www.celebraterecovery.com notes support groups in England, Portugal and Australia. The program "ministers to the hurts, habits and hangups of life." Hudson Wesleyan Church's weekly group attracts those struggling with a variety of compulsions, from shopping addicts to alcoholics and drug users.

They all have one thing in common: They've made the choice to quit.

"A lot of people struggle with addictions," said Vicki Durshimer, program director. "It's a matter of whether they are willing to do something to rise above it."

The church adopted the program last fall with only five participants. Now they have 20 participants and another group begins Sunday.

The tight-knit group gathers each Friday for a barbecue and worship. Members laugh, talk and learn to lean on one another. They stay connected by phone. Men and women split up into separate groups each week.

Celebrate Recovery combines workbook lessons with Scriptures to help participants learn how to let go of addictions. The program's eight steps are based on the beatitudes of Christ.

Similarly, Quitting for Good encourages participants to commit a weekly affirmation to memory. Folks can chat and share stories of experiences with quitting. Each person decides how he or she wants to quit, Petet said. They can use the patch or gum or go cold turkey. Whatever they choose, the group tries to help them stick with it.

"As Christians, we are supposed to uplift each other, support each other and admonish each other," said Petet, executive director of Christian Social Services. "The Bible tells us that we are not alone in this journey."

Quitting for Good uses 12 steps and teaches participants to trust in God to help them through. While addiction has long been a taboo topic in many churches, these programs set out to help folks heal their emotional wounds.

"Christians want to keep on these perfect masks for all to see," Petet said. "We keep the less pleasant things about ourselves to ourselves. I know a lot of closet smokers. They just don't smoke at church or around church people."

Petet admits to sneaking outside between church services for a quick smoke.

Durshimer, of the Celebrate Recovery group, used to be a closet addict herself. Nearly two decades ago, she secretly struggled with drugs and alcohol. In recent years, she has had trouble with anger and relationships. She always used something to self-medicate, she said. Celebrate Recovery has helped her deal with it.

"Two years ago, I felt hopeless. I was consumed with shame," said Durshimer, 51, who leads the women's group. "Then one day, I just felt that shame lift. I'm forgiven. That's in the past."

Now she is proud to share her testimony. She tearfully talks about it at church, and to anyone who will listen. Durshimer is both a Celebrate Recovery group leader and group member. Three colored chips dangle from her purse as a reminder of the "road to recovery." A commitment chip was given at the start of the program. The other two, encouragement chips, were handed out every 30 days.

The coming fall, participants will receive medals for completing a year. They are encouraged to continue to share their stories.

"We draw strength from one another," Durshimer said. "And when you hear the struggle of another, it helps strengthen yours."

IF YOU GO

Celebrate Recovery will start a new support group at 7 p.m. Sunday at Hudson Wesleyan Church, 7208 Terrace Drive, Hudson. The program is free. Participants are encouraged to buy the workbook series for $24. Books will be provided for those who cannot afford them. For information, call the church at (727) 868-9285.

Quitting for Good, an eight-week program, will meet from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Monday at Christian Social Services, 5514 Land O'Lakes Blvd., Land O'Lakes. The program is free, but the workbook is $14.95. Arrangements can be made for those who cannot afford to pay. For information, call (813) 995-0088.

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