Long before I ever thought about getting married or having children, I had an affair; it started when I was away at college in New York, during my freshman year, the day I encountered marijuana. It was my first and only case of love at first sight.
Recovering Alcoholic-Addict Mommy: On the contrary, my relationship with booze was tumultuous. The first time I drank, I ended up passed out next to an empty bottle of red wine and tequila (not a great combo) and covered in my own vomit. Over the years, I learned how to drink to get to that yummy buzzed state, but other times I ended up passed out, covered in puke, and not knowing how I got home. Within a few weeks of starting college, I was drinking in the morning before class and hiding bottles in my dorm room. Classic alcoholic behavior -- but I didn't even know it. When alcohol worked for me, it was magical. When I overshot the mark, it was horrific. My boyfriend passed me a joint one night, and it seemed like a benign and logical substitute.
I loved everything about pot -- the look, the smell, the paraphernalia, but most importantly, how it made me feel. After a couple of bong hits, years of tension, anxiety, and perfectionism melted away and I could simply be me. For the first time in my life, I felt truly comfortable in my skin, engaged in the present moment, and joyful. Better yet, there was no nasty hangover, no puking, no blacking out and scandalous behavior. I felt like I had found the solution to my lifelong problem.
Within a few weeks, I was smoking pot all day, every day. My life revolved around pot -- scoring it, smoking it, trying to scrape up the money for it. Because I was smoking nonstop, I needed more and more of it to produce the desired effect. When I was offered cocaine at a club one night, I tried it without a second thought. And of course, I loved it.
For the next two years, I ran around New York -- drunk, stoned, and high as a kite. I did every drug that crossed my path, but I always returned to pot as my old standby. It was the gentle herb that helped me come down off of a frenetic coke high -- it was my medicine when I had a nasty hangover. I had love/hate relationships with alcohol and coke, but pot was my best friend, and one I swore I would never give up.
Inevitably, things spiraled out of control. In the middle of my junior year, I bottomed out and almost died. I had to take a medical leave from school, and I returned back home to get sober, and I stayed sober for the next ten years. I went back to college, got two master's degrees, and began my career. I got married to the man of my dreams and had everything in the world to be grateful for.
After I had my son, I had severe postpartum anxiety, which resulted in insomnia and lack of appetite. I felt so much shame because I loved my son more than anything, but I was such an emotional wreck. I tried different homeopathic and traditional therapies, none of which were effective. I had a therapist who only knew me as a sober and highly functioning woman. She told me her daughter had a prescription for medical marijuana. "It's a nothing drug," my therapist said, "Everyone does it."
This underground trend of the therapeutic and medical community promoting medicinal marijuana is eerily similar to the time when doctors pushed Valium on "stressed" women. The point is not whether it's better or worse than alcohol, because doctors don't prescribe a fifth of Jack for insomnia. And while yes, marijuana should be legal just as cigarettes and alcohol are, because people should be free to choose, it's well established that some people can't handle those things. The legal arguments are getting tangled up with people's flat-out desire to smoke weed, which is understandable, because the fact is, getting high is awesome and people like to believe that things are healthy for them. Some people CAN handle it -- good for them! It just seems like a sign of danger when someone says they're doing it because they need stress relief. My experience is that it did indeed do that, but that there was a cost to pay for suppression over a long period of time.
Within a couple of days of obtaining my prescription, I was back to smoking pot all throughout the day. Only now, I wasn't a single 18-year-old girl running around Manhattan without any real responsibilities. I was a wife, a mom, and I had a place in my community. I completely hid my pot smoking and began to live a double life.
When pot worked for me, it worked beautifully. When I was high, I could cope with the stress of new motherhood. There was something sweet about being stoned and totally in the moment with my baby. I felt like I could handle and even enjoy the relentless and demanding tasks of new motherhood. I rationalized my smoking by telling myself that I had a prescription, I wasn't harming anyone, and pot made me a better and happier mom.
Just like in college, my life began to revolve around weed -- scoring it, smoking it, and maintaining my high. Smoking wasn't nearly as easy as it was back then, when I could lock myself in my dorm room. I had to make sure my son was sleeping, sneak outside, hide in a corner, and quickly smoke as much as possible, hoping my neighbors wouldn't see or smell me.
I was totally addicted. Physically or psychologically is just a matter of semantics, but I believe I was both. This seemingly benign herb had once again taken over my life. My tolerance increased and I needed more and more pot to produce the desired effect, so I began to supplement my pot smoking with pills and alcohol. Suddenly I was back full-force in my addiction. For me, pot is a gateway drug. It alters my mood, stops working, and ultimately leads me to seek out more powerful and effective substances.
I bottomed out again and came within millimeters of losing everything, all because I bought the "harmless and medicinal" propaganda. The stakes were much higher this time than when I first got sober at 20. The fact that I evaded child protective services or any real consequences is a product of sheer luck -- there are many women who have used drugs just the way I did and have completely lost their families because of their addiction.
I am not going to lie -- being a clean and sober mama isn't always easy. There are days when I am excruciatingly uncomfortable and would give anything to check out, just for an hour or two. My children challenge me on so many levels, and without any buffers, motherhood can feel overwhelming. But I remind myself that my kids deserve a clean and sober mom who is truly present. I believe that my sobriety offers them a realistic world view, as they have the opportunity to experience my humanness without the edges being hazed by the influence of marijuana.
Do I miss it? Hell yeah! Do I wish I was someone who could moderate my marijuana usage and not let it take over my life? Undoubtedly. Weed is great, totally great, just maybe not compatible with complex tasks, like operating a nuclear plant or raising kids, and definitely not with people who tend towards addiction. Today I embrace the opportunity to teach my children healthier forms of self-soothing through example.
Photos courtesy of Michael Johnson