I smoked weed until I couldn’t anymore. It was that simple. My lifestyle change was about as ceremonious as taking off a shirt. I didn’t binge myself into disgust or somehow hit rock bottom on THC. My bleary eyes facilitated no hardship, my insuppressible giggles yielded no tragedy that put everything into perspective and forced me to reevaluate my choices.
I just did it just as you remove a splinter when it’s embedded in your foot. In a quest for comfort, I cut it out of my life. Refraining throughout 2018 has been as easy as not going back to a food that I’ve lost the taste for.
Quitting a drug I’ve ingested regularly for more than 20 years wasn’t the goal, it was a byproduct of excruciating weed-induced anxiety that began creeping in a few years ago. In 2014 I lived by myself for the first time in my life—no family, no significant other, no roommate. Since my earliest days smoking near the end of high school, I enjoyed the communal aspect of weed. It was a social drug, one that I rarely enjoyed in solitude. But as a result of living alone, I picked up the habit of smoking before I’d go out to a bar, as I’ve always preferred to be high instead of drunk. It wasn’t a big leap to go from socializing while getting high to getting high and then socializing with people on their own various substance-manned trips. I would smoke and then head out to whatever party or bar or thing that was happening that night, which created a fairly substantial window between getting high alone at my apartment and meeting up with friends. I think it created too much time to be alone with my thoughts. The imperious voice in my head often drowned out the music I put in my ears and the extreme human behavior happening on the subway before my eyes.
What are you doing with your life? I’d ask myself. What is the point of all of this? You should be working right now instead of fucking off and getting high. And just what is the point of writing, anyway? Do you actually think you’re going to change the world? Would you even want that responsibility if you were good enough to make it possible? (You aren’t.) And shouldn’t you be further on in your career, anyway? Wouldn’t you be involved in more by now if there were actual interest in what you have to offer? God knows you’ve been doing this long enough. Isn’t every day, then, a reminder of your failures as a writer and shortcomings as a human, which are directly responsible for your failures as a writer, which certainly are not helping your shortcomings as a human? And aren’t all humans failures anyway for not being able to penetrate space beyond our own planet? Isn’t the idea of earthly importance one big cosmic joke since no one else in the universe is counting on us for shit? If the earth overheats and we all die, isn’t the universe just going to keep on going? And doesn’t that make failure on earth even more pathetic? Huh??? Answer me!
The bombardment of self-minimizing came in waves when I was high. They were isolated periods, generally lasted 10 minutes and occurred once per high. Though brief, they were brutal. My head was left ringing from the bruising crash of existentialism and masochism. I’m still not sure whether weed was implanting false and dangerous ideas that were based on mutated speculation and distorted self-consciousness or if it was allowing me to confront myself with certain truths that I’d tuned out while sober.
Maybe those thoughts were like those parts of songs—the talking in Prince’s “How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore,” the off-key chimes in Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature”—that I’d been overlooking for years until weed made me sensitive to them. Maybe life is easier lived when not examining every detail regarding what your life could possibly mean or look like from the outside. Maybe selective ignorance is a form of self-preservation. Even the most absorbent brain can’t take everything in; awareness is also formed by what you don’t pay attention to.
Regardless of how trustworthy those voices were, they started to terrorize my sober life. I got anxious thinking about the anxiety I knew I’d endure while high. Even now, I’m gritting my teeth recalling and recording this stuff. When I hear anyone talking about getting high, my skin starts to crawl. It’s as though my body has revolted, and quitting has meant merely going with the flow of what feels right. I haven’t intentionally ingested weed all year. I never thought I’d see the day.
In college, during my early days of smoking, I remember thinking that it would be impossible to get through a weekend without getting high. That roundabout declaration of dependence scared me a little bit, but not as much as the prospect of enduring leisure time without weed. I was never a daily smoker. I smoked through my 20s, and then in my 30s, I started regularly using edibles. I averaged a few times a week, mostly on weekends.
I get sooooo fuuuuucked up, I’d say to myself sometimes on my commutes, when I was convinced that I had nothing better to do than beat myself up. Why do I feel like I have to get sooooo fuuuuucked up?
I don’t have a good answer for that, nor did my therapist seem particularly concerned when I mentioned it to him. I wondered if he wanted me to come back when I had a real problem. My ardent use of weed wasn’t a response to any pronounced trauma, and I don’t even think it was a way to cover pain. I liked weed because it was fun. It enhanced life, like 3-D glasses that really work. It was a way of making movies a little easier to get lost in. It could make something as banal as dining out and attempting to be “normal” for the server one of the most hilarious experiences of my life. I think I got very high because I am a person of extremes—I always said I’d rather be sober than half-high. I don’t want a taste, I want a feast. If I’m going to do something, I like to do it right, especially when doing it right is as easy as smoking a pile of weed and laughing so hard that I can hardly breathe and somewhere in the process decide that this must mean I’m actually dying oh my god, help I literally can’t get my lungs to take in air and it’s not even funny anymore.
I’m not sure what lasting effects weed has and will continue to have on my brain. I suspect the worst, as I started using it regularly while my brain was still developing. I fear that it has helped dry out my brain, effectively transforming it from a sponge to a piece of coral. But it would be impossible to detangle the effects of weed from those of, say, daily internet usage and poppers, even. Sometimes I feel like the world I live in is set up to make our brains fail. I read this report that said weed ages your brain by three years... but what does that mean? In middle and old age, it doesn’t seem that would ever be a noticeable chunk of time. What is the difference between a 40-year-old brain and a 43-year-old brain? How about an 80-year-old brain and an 83-year-old brain? Or a 100-year-old brain and a 103-year-old brain? Or is it that the years of weed use are preventing me from grasping this concept?
I talked to my neurologist about this but she didn’t seem too concerned, either. I see her annually after she helped diagnose me with rickettsia a few years back, but I’d made an appointment specifically to discuss my fears about my memory’s decline. Prior to going, someone had mentioned that French movie from a few years ago about twins and a bandaged-up mother and I couldn’t for the life of me remember what it was called, despite having spent a lot of time thinking about it when it was coming out. (It was Goodnight Mommy, I eventually relearned via Google.) I’m confronted with things like this more and more: It’s hard for me to retrieve certain names and other factual information if I haven’t thought about it for a while, as though my brain is set to automatically “Empty Trash” regularly and I have no way of reversing that feature.
In fact, when I met with my neurologist in August, we were talking about my migraines (which these days are rare, compared to about 10 or 15 years ago when I was getting migraines with aura almost every week, resulting in regular periods of partial blindness). I couldn’t for the life of me remember which medicine she had prescribed to help stave them off.
“See?” I told her. “This is exactly what I mean! My brain is broken! My memory just has these holes in it.”
“It happens,” she shrugged before refilling my prescription. She also told me that regardless of weed’s neurological effects, anxiety can certainly affect memory (especially when said anxiety is over memory). If weed wasn’t getting me one way, well, maybe it was getting me in another. If this is true, anxiety has an almost comical level of power of a person’s reality. Not only does it interfere with your ability to live in the moment with its distracting whine, but it can obstruct your ability to retrieve, relate to, and apply the past. Clearly, neither bode well for one’s future. I started taking CBD shortly after seeing her.
I can’t be certain of the neurological effects weed has had on my brain, but I know what it did to my habits. Predictably, it made me lazy. Rarely the creative stimulus that some claim (unless you count Pot Psychology as creative), weed invited my brain to sit on the couch and take a load off. When I was in high school, I’d come home from a night of smoking and attempt to pick up whatever book I was reading at the time. “Haha, I’m not going to remember any of this,” I chuckled to myself a few times before giving up the endeavor of serious reading while high.
But I got used to thinking that way. I made peace with the notion that I wasn’t possibly going to absorb the finer details of whatever I was experiencing. So why even try? I think that trickled into my sober-life reading—today I have a hard time paying attention to names in articles and books that I read, having to go over them again and again to have even a shot at being able to recall them when I put the tablet or book down. I feel like I got too used to stupid and effectively cursed myself.
Being okay with finer points slipping through unnoticed is a way of taking life less seriously, which I believe is essential for coping with an unfair world. But when it gets to the point of practicing ignorance regularly, of shrugging one’s shoulders because, “I’m not going to remember this and don’t really care anyway,” the disservice being done to oneself is so great, it’s another form of self-abuse.
That’s not to say that my (mostly) weed-free 2018 has been a year of self-care. Stopping smoking is the non-event that keeps non-eventing. I just... don’t smoke weed anymore. I don’t miss it. I don’t really think about it. It’s now just another thing I don’t do, like complimenting people out of obligation or playing the violin. It’s funny how such a staple in your life can one day become something that not only doesn’t matter but something that couldn’t possibly matter for how infrequently it enters your mind. I suppose the cessation of thinking about such a presence is a sign that you’ve truly gotten over a breakup. Consider me over it. For now, at least.
I’m not smarter as a result of cutting out weed. I’m maybe, maybe a little clearer maybe a little less anxious (using CBD oil regularly might help with the anxiety, too, although its demonstrable positive effects on one’s mind are about as hazy as weed’s negative ones). I still fuck up regularly. I think whatever damage weed has done to me has been done, and I think the best I can do at this point is not make it worse. That’s kind of how I feel about the planet and humankind, as well, so there’s me being egalitarian and kind to myself.
I say my year has been (mostly) weed-free because for 10 months it was. And then on the night of my birthday dinner in November, I got really, really high, by accident. This sounds like I’m making up an excuse, but I have no reason to lie about really being this stupid: I was already drunk, a friend had handed me some butter he brought to dinner in a small jar (once used for and still labeled as apricot butter). I thought he was just being twee and offering me a small trinket in the form of a condiment. Taken by his gesture, I spread it on my biscuit. It was only after I’d taken several bites that I realized what I had eaten.
What happened after is a blur, but I do remember clearly is the paranoia and anxiety that waltzed in and took a seat at the table, like a frenemy I hadn’t seen in ages while I was blazed out of my mind. I worried people didn’t really want to be there, that they weren’t having a good time. I wondered if I was talking too loudly about things that I shouldn’t be. I felt like the entire meal was one grotesque overindulgence, my own little Grande Bouffe. I was too fucked up to go out after, so fucked up that I threw up when I got home. Twice.
My boyfriend, a regular smoker, loved it. As he sat next to me throughout the duration of the meal, he experienced my high differently. He said it looked like I was having fun. “It was nice,” he told me later. “It was laughter I haven’t heard in a while.” I don’t remember that at all.