Taking Toking Too Far
“There are long stretches of my life I will never get back because I put them in a glass pipe.”
By Amelia Williams, City College of San Francisco
It was while I was sitting in a mental health clinic in downtown San Francisco, talking to what felt like my own private psychologist, that I was first told that I was self-medicating.
I was a bit surprised, mostly offended. I was only sitting there in the mental health clinic because my friends told me I was losing it, and losing them if I didn’t get my act together.
Second semester freshman year had gotten away from me: my friends were little more than aliens, my classes were attended through a film of apathy and I was crying all the time with no tangible, artistic byproduct.
I was here to settle their concerns and maybe learn some new breathing techniques, but I had no intention of a lifestyle change. I just wanted to be told I was okay. Instead, the counselor told me I was smoking way too much weed and that that was an equal inhibitor to my happiness and academic success.
Everyone knows that college students like to have fun, and for some that means popping every pill under the sun (at least once, right?), but what do you call it when you start depending on these drugs to get through the day?
Self-medicating is often taken, by professionals and students, as over-indulgent partying, but I disagree. Sometimes a joint is the only thing that’s going to dispel your insecurities long enough to take all our finals. Sometimes you have nowhere left to go but the bar. People don’t do things they know damage them unless they want to get hurt.
I had three functionally-alcoholic dorm mates freshman year. My roommate ate ecstasy like tic tacs. I was spending all the money I saved on textbooks on weed and wine. I was smoking everyday after class, before and after every meal except breakfast and I was sitting in tutorials dumb and mute.
My friends noticed this new clamminess by the time midterms rolled around in the spring. There were two reactions: Go see help, or Take care of it yourself. Since option #2 had proved moot, I bit the bullet. I’m pretty sure I went to the consultation high.
She was nice. She went over my questionnaire with me (Was I really not having suicidal thoughts? I wasn’t drinking or was I just rounding down? How did I feel about the school, University of British Columbia?) and I welcomed the guidance.
I felt like I could finally disclose to her how sad I was and how depressing it was to be in a foreign country with no family, only to find myself in a friend group that had no legs for me to stand on: they were academically losers, socially self-isolated and had no room in their own survival to help me with mine.
No. Instead she held up all the repressed anguish I was carrying to my face. The weed had to go. The weed was dulling my ideas and blunting (no pun intended) my motivation. I didn’t have it in me to tell her I didn’t think I could do it, not here. When she asked to schedule a follow-up session I smiled, gave her a date and never went back.
I kept smoking weed. I made it through first year and came home and smoked weed all summer with the second year posing like a looming darkness in my midst. There are long stretches of my life I will never get back because I put them in a glass pipe.
Fast forward to now. I actually work in a cannabis club (irony?). Day in and out I see hundreds of people who need pain relief, seizure relief, sleep aids, mood stabilizers, a reprieve from Crohn’s, cancer, IBS or just a toke to get them through the rest of their work day. I see (mostly) the positive effects it has on people, and myself.
My relationship with weed has evolved, transmogrified, mutated. What was so bad about Vancouver was the WHY. Why was I doing drugs? Why does anyone do drugs? While I can’t speak for that, I know why everyone in the smoke circle was there.
Daily marijuana consumption has tripled amongst college kids since 1980, and now smoking a doobie is actually more common than smoking a Camel Crush.
I didn’t have to walk 20 steps out of my dorm to find the dealer on my floor, or even leave my building to find the kids with fake IDs and ecstasy.
The lack of supervision and adequate community-building leaves us, the barely-adults, crawl-stroking through existential crises, loan payments and the actual performance of school, with a lot of weed (among other things) and a lot of time to abuse it.
We’re stressed out. We don’t know our futures because they aren’t our parents’ futures and they could actually be harder: we have to relearn how to learn, (often) how to live alone, how to wield academia, how to make ourselves financially desirable. We are chasing anything to make this learning experience more palatable.
I built my day around toke breaks: my homework, my meals, even my social interactions were bookended by bong rips. And I knew it was bad. Throwing your money at half-ounces instead of your meal plan is a symptom of something. I smoked weed until I realized it couldn’t fix me: I had to fix me.
I don’t want you to feel like a failure; I certainly don’t. Doing drugs to stay above water is not cowardly or wrong. Addiction doesn’t exist in a vacuum.
It’s taken me almost 10 months to get back to a place where substances are not coping mechanisms, but sporadic indulgences. What a lot of people, be it peers or (worse) professionals, fail to see is what the drug abuse is shrouding. There is always some trauma, some isolation, some misery hiding in the high.