There comes a moment when you know that they way you’ve been doing something no longer works. Sometimes, you can change the behavior right then and there. Sometimes it takes a good long time from that moment of realization to actually taking action to do it differently. The biggest factor is, how do you treat yourself during the transition.
I don’t remember the first time I smoked pot, but it was some time during my sophomore year in college with friends. I liked the silliness, the laughing, and how ideas just exploded, especially when we were brainstorming together.
I started smoking regularly in the late 90’s, after many years of discovering and writing about my deepest secrets of loss and sexual abuse. I just needed a break from the trauma and depression. I remember going to an art store where I’d heard the owner sold marijuana, and asking, “So do you have anything to inspire my creativity?” He had no idea what I was talking about until I asked straight out, ” Can I get some pot?” He took me into the back room and sold me my first ounce.
Every time I went to pick up a two month supply, I’d tell Marika, “So if you get a call that I’ve been arrested, please come down and bail me out.”
The pot was cheap and harsh on my throat, so I put ice cubes in my plastic water bong to cool the smoke. I’d spend great hours in my studio in the garage writing fiction, and making art. And spending less and less quality time with Marika. I moved out in 2004, telling people that we still loved each other, but we were no longer bringing out the best in each other.
I moved into a friend’s guest house, with a living area and a huge room for my office and studio space. I was now lighting up as soon as I was done with my working day. I’d change into my comfort clothes – sweat pants and a t-shirt, and fill the bowl of the bong and take a few long hits. I’d turn on some music and dance barefoot on the Saltillo tile. Just one five-minute song to ground me and loosen me, and move everything out of my head and into my body. Then I’d dive into the art piece waiting on my work table.
Life was sweet and simple and enough.
And then in 2007, I had emergency open heart surgery to remove a benign tumor that was encapsulating my left atrium. Smoking had nothing to do with the tumor, so after the surgery, I continued to smoke regularly that first year of recovery.
A year later, I quit cold turkey. Because I wanted to connect with the bigger world, and smoking kept me isolated and insulated in my own little utopia.
Over the next four years, everything in my life ramped up to amazingness. I worked with a high level coach to grow my Mac training business, I became a life coach, I started writing the Heart Sparks blog, and in August, 2012, I realized my biggest dream of living at the beach. I sold most of my stuff, left the rest in storage at my dad’s, and, for the next 3 years, I lived in the 24-foot motorhome that Marika and I owned together, spending part of the year in Marika’s driveway and the rest in Central California in a sweet mobile home park across the street from the beach.
But it was so lonely. I had no community, no in-person clients, no dinners with friends. Just me and my dog Laddy. I checked out some local groups: Kirtan, yoga, 50+ meetups… but found no connections. I missed Marika and wished she would join me. But she still said no.
And then at the end of December in 2012 I went to dinner with a new artist friend and, being in her company reminded me how much I missed my creative self. She sent me back to the beach with a joint, and I smoked a little the next afternoon. I felt like I was saved. I had new creative ideas. I loved the ocean even more. Everything seemed enhanced. Even the sadness and missing Marika. But at least I could face it, work with it, not feel stuck in the grief. I hooked up with a friend from yoga who also smoked, and have been smoking ever since.
For a while it was just in the evenings. And then it was all the time, because pot made my dream life even happier. I was writing, creating prayer flags, making friends with my neighbors, feeling very happy in my little beach world.
I’d go back to Phoenix every few months and reconnect with friends there, but the gap was long enough to lose touch, but not so long that we really missed each other. And so every time I returned to the beach, I was even lonelier, and glad for my best friend, Mary Juana.
I have never denied that I am, again, smoking. But I also haven’t proclaimed it. Partly because, in many states that I’ve traveled, it is illegal. And partly, because of some shame.
For a long time I felt that, because I was smoking again, it meant that my book, Heart Sparks, was a lie. Because in the book I share that quitting smoking marijuana changed my life. But then I realized that it was true when I wrote it, and that smoking again is just another chapter of my continuing story.
In an interview last summer, a woman who wrote a book about her gambling addiction asked me to talk about how quitting smoking helped me feel my feelings more.
And I told her that, in fact, I was smoking again, and that I was also staying with all of the feelings as they arose, that pot actually helped me feel my real feelings. We discussed the differences between substance use and abuse. And we talked about the stigma of marijuana, how it was unregulated until the 1930’s, and then was hastily grouped with heroin and cocaine in the 70’s as a controlled substance.
New studies are coming out every day proving the medical benefits of marijuana. Even Dr. Sanjay Gupta, a practicing neurosurgeon and media reporter, publicly announced his support for the use of medical marijuana.
Some people take anti-depressants and tranquilizers for anxiety and depression. Others enjoy a daily glass or two of wine. Some people shop, or do yoga or hike their troubles away. I smoke marijuana.
And it has helped me in profound ways. Three years ago, I suffered a five-month bout of severe sciatica, followed by full-on menopause. The depression that came with it was paralyzing. Some days I felt weighted in my chair. My breath was short, stuck in my throat, my ribs felt like they were caving into my belly. I had no desire, no inspiration, no motivation. I wasn’t sad or angry. I was nothing. Even if I took a walk. Even if I laid down and practiced deep breathing. Even if I wrote and cried.
But with just a few puffs on my pipe, my mind loosened, my belly relaxed, and I could breathe. I felt hope, sometimes even excitement for the day. And if uncomfortable feelings arose, the marijuana helped me move into the emotions and work with them, without them paralyzing me.
I wasn’t smoking to escape my life. I was smoking so I could show up for my life. And with the variety of marijuana strains now legally available with my medical marijuana card, I was able to choose a blend that wasn’t about being high and wired, or so mellow that I just wanted to veg out in front of the TV or sleep.
But even though I knew it helped me, there were days when I chastised myself for smoking, because, in the future life that I see for myself, I am definitely not smoking. Because smoking makes me tired. And gives me the munchies. And sometimes, after the rush of getting stuff done, I am lazy to the point that it is easier to stay home, than to get out and explore my world.
And so I tell myself it’s time to quit.
When we were in Montana in August at the Merry Widow Mine, I stopped smoking for 7 days. I figured, we were already in a kind of rehab, breathing in small doses of radon gas to relieve inflammation 3 times a day for 11 days, and the rest of the time just watching Hulu, walking the dogs and laying low. It seemed like the perfect time to stop smoking too.
The radon treatments made me tired, and, without the pot to lift me, I let myself be very lazy. The first few days, when I felt the desire to smoke, I talked about it or read my book, or took a nap or watched TV. Over the next few days the cravings lessened, but I was irritable and cranky, and when I’d lie down, I couldn’t sleep.
Marika made me chicken soup, and we played dominoes, and watched a new detective series together. We even found a new trail that led to the reclamation ponds where the dogs played stick and Marika watched the ducks in the water.
But by the 8th day, I was so edgy I thought I was going to explode. My skin was tight. My breath felt like dragon fire. And I just wanted a break from myself.
I walked. I cried. I wrote about it. And then I asked Marika where she had stored my pipe. As soon as I took a puff, I felt a sweet and instant relief. I cried some more, wrote some more, shared some of the anxiety with Marika, and then she said, “OK, so quit bawling and at least enjoy it.” We took a walk with the dogs, and I could finally breathe.
And then I was smoking every day again. Just like that. Saying, I’d stop when I ran out. And then we were in Colorado, and Oregon, where it is legal and readily available, and I gave myself until Labor Day. Then to the end of the year. And then I finally realized that this was about more than just the role of pot in my life.
Smoking or not smoking was only one of many things that needed to shift between this life and my future visions of my life. So if I wasn’t willing to quit right then, fine. I needed to let it go and quit beating myself up about it. I needed to embrace my choice to smoke, give myself a tender hug and shift my attention to something that I WAS ready to change.
By letting go of the self-abuse, I could lean into what else is in my next dream, where else I wanted to focus my attention. And by shifting the energy, I knew the habit would change, the anxiety would dissipate, the need to smoke would lessen. And life would open up again, bigger and deeper and richer than I could imagine.
I knew. Because that is what happened the last time.
Back in 2008, when I started to think about quitting, I remember NOT trying a yoga class, NOT going to fun events because I wouldn’t give myself permission to go if I had smoked. And then I realized I was living an all or nothing existence, depriving myself of anything that might finally give me an alternative to smoking.
Once I gave myself permission to go out into the world even if I was slightly stoned, I began a weekly yoga practice, exhibited my art, and curated art shows. And eventually, all of those things and all that came from them, brought me to a place where I was ready to quit. Cold turkey.
And so, these past few months, as I have been wrestling with quitting again, I’ve been less hard on myself. I’ve been smoking without guilt, knowing that I have been shifting toward the Big Quit.
And now, finally, after being around good friends this past weekend, in person, feeling their life force, compared to my own, dulled, disconnected self, I’m ready to quit. Cold turkey, just like last time. Because I’m no longer depressed, and I’m not in pain. Because being stoned keeps me insulated, encapsulated, like the tumor in my heart ten years ago, and I just don’t want to keep doing it like this.
As I talked to myself about quitting, I heard myself say, “I’m quitting and I’m terrified.” And I thought, terrified of what? Or is that just a knee-jerk cliché response. AM I terrified? No, not really. More, I’m just not looking forward to being uncomfortable and not having a quick fix to feeling happy and energetic.
And my first response to that was, yes, but look at all of the support I have to provide other kinds of happy and energetic: good friends, in-person hugs, favorite restaurants, a yoga practice, and places in town that I’m looking forward to visiting.
So this past weekend I cancelled my next pot order, finished the stuff I had, and packed my smoking accoutrements in one of the RV storage cabinets.
I am looking forward to waking up clear headed, staying present for longer than two hours at a time, and not eating everything in sight. I am ready to move from the safety and security of my quiet inner world and reconnect again with life outside of myself.
Yes, it may be physically and emotionally uncomfortable for a while as my body deals with the cravings and the letting go of the habit, but I am focusing on all of the reasons that this is such a big YES for me now. And I cannot wait to see what unfolds.
Are you struggling with quitting a behavior that no longer serves you? Please share in the comments! We can all benefit from hearing each other’s stories!