A Post About Cannabis on A Booze-Soaked American Weekend
*Disclaimer: This is a post about my own personal experience among the American Ascetics.
Alcohol was gonna kill me. Straight up. I’d been drinking socially and not-socially, on and off, for years but never managed to detach myself from the substance for more than 6 months at a go, and deep inside myself, I knew I was drinking alcohol to numb out from my feelings that could have been (and are now being) treated by mindfulness, meditation, and Modern Medication. Being social is very difficult for me, and I worried, “How will I be social and make friends if I’m not loosened up by drinks of liquor? How will I be able to get out of my own head if I don’t have this substance to quiet my thoughts, my nerves, my fears?” I worried about such things when I came to the American Ascetics – a subset that purported to traffic only in alcohol cessation. My experience was not quite this way. I joined the Ascetics in Pandemic Times, on Zoom. Only been to one in-person meeting of Ascetics in my life, though I have been to countless meetings of Ascetics on The Internet.
A sticking point with many of the Ascetics, who were fine with benzos and some pain management, and antidepressants, and chemo and all sorts of Medical Industrial products that most Modern Humans make use of, that are not “life on life’s terms” (a refrain among such Ascetics as those I describe here) but when it came to cannabis were against the plant with the same fervor I myself reserve for man-made things such as Nukes and Fascists and Meth. The belief is that if one uses cannabis, a mild intoxicant at best (unless you’re abusing it and living your life like Spicoli a la Fast Times– no shade to Spicoli, but one should avoid this route), then we will use alcohol, and if we use alcohol we die.
The latter statement in the above sentence is true for me. If I drink alcohol, I die. Spiritually. Mentally. Physically. And I do not wish to die in such ways right now. So I preserve Life and all that which supports an extension to my Life in three principle regards: spiritual, mental, physical. As I hover between jobs, in this strange post-divorcement state, I work on these Regards as I might in the past have planned curriculum, written a rubric, graded a paper: slowly, carefully, honestly. So as part of my Continued Living Plan, I do not drink alcohol, and do not wish to at any point in the foreseeable future. And I know if I ever need it, I can drop in on the Ascetics, or listen to a Sobercast, and get myself right again. Ah, The Internet. Like Shelley’s “Monster,” The Internet is vile, tender, beautifully putrid, and aggressively deviant . . .
The Ascetics view of cannabis I found to be unfounded, erroneous, true for some, but certainly not for all, and also according to this Blue Book “the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking.” I had that desire. I have that desire. Burningly so. I hope this fire never goes out, but my fire for the Ascetics burnt out for the same reasons all organizations designed to make us well, designed to teach us, designed to increase conscious contact with God, designed to connect us burn out: the sickly Egos of others.
So I left the Ascetics, joined up with the Buddhists. And I’m not a monk, but I work everyday to live by the core rules, the 5 Precepts, the rules that brought me to Love this practice, this spiritual path, above all others I’ve contacted in my narrowly American life.
And my American Life is getting better. Next week I will be back on the insurance that keeps me with my Healthcare Team at Rush. Phew. This month was rough, my hooligans. Physically, emotionally, spiritually - rough. And it passes, it passed, it passeth. My cup damn near runneth over (but sadly, not yet with money). And my stability, my health – physical, spiritual, mental – sometimes includes cannabis.
The first time I smoked pot in my American Life was Labor Day Weekend, 1993. My father had instilled in me a robust fear of all “drugs” and back then, and still among Certain American Whites now, cannabis continues to be regarded as a drug on par with what killed Elvis. And maybe Elvis used, in conjunction with cannabis, copious amounts of pharmaceuticals being prescribed to him by some bogus, money-grubbing, doctor. And so in that case it was the doctor, not the cannabis, that killed Elvis. This is hypothetical, not a post about what happened to Elvis.
I find White American Fear of cannabis as absurd as it is racist. That’s just my American opinion. That’s what I have noticed based on the evidence I have gathered by living as a White American among many White Americans for most of my White American Life.
A student once asked me if I knew I was White. “Gruber, you know you’re White, right?” He said. He was a little kid. A Black kid, and he asked because sometimes I went off on American Whites. I think about race/racism in this country a lot. This is a matter that concerns me because it hurts me, and it hurts you, and it hurts you, probably not you (asshole), and also it hurts you. So I think about it because I want there to be less hurt in the world, and I want to help deflate as much hurt in this world as I can in this little life I’ve been given.
My blessed life includes cannabis. And the first time I got “high” on cannabis (I try not to “get high” these days because 1. I’m not crazy about that specific feeling and 2. Who has time to be “high” on any sort of regular basis? I got shit to do, yo.), I freaked out. And there is a funny story I often tell because it is a good story for socializing. I don’t wish to tell it here, because I myself have grown a bit bored of the story. I think the story might be in my first book, You’re Not Edith. Contrary to what some might believe about Published Writers, I do not stare at my books all day long. In fact, their existence sometimes frightens me. I haven’t even read my newest book, Transference, all the way through since my final edits; edits made in a fog of fear, Ibrance exhaustion, and emotional burnout.
Anyway, the first time I felt the effects of overindulging in cannabis, I was a teenager. Freaked me out the first time, but then I learned how to use it so I did not get “stoned,” but instead got lifted. I never liked the taste of alcohol. I preferred always to smoke (which was the only method in the 90s because who the fuck is gonna be cooking cannabutter in their parents’ house or dorm room?) than to drink. Drinking, however, was more prevalent. Drinking was the primary social lubricant. And cannabis was rare, harder to get; had to enter into a literal, actual criminal underground to score weed in the 1990s. We’re talking “commit federal crime” shit. At sixteen years old.* And I was White, and most of my friends were White, so we never paid the Totally-Against-the-Law-of-the-American-Land price at sixteen years old. Such is not necessarily true for so many of my Black or brown or Indigenous American peers . . .
*I do NOT endorse teens using cannabis. Period. Shouldn’t even touch that shit ‘til you’re 21. Maybe even 25. I am old and cranky now, and I know for a fact how drugs and booze fuck up the young mind. Seriously.
Anyway, we were often “scoring” weed from the guy who also cooked meth or crack or sold droppers of acid . . . you know what I’m saying? Ditch weed, and sometimes also “accidentally-on-purpose” laced with PCP weed. I had a bad experience with cannabis in the late 1990s, and never touched it again until I was in my early forties, newly re-dx’d with metastatic breast cancer, and struggling as a public school teacher with great changes in my life brought about by The Pandemic, and a close friend told me that the medical cannabis was “different” than what we had in the 90s. Though I was hesitant, I was intrigued by the touted benefits of the plant (it does not, contrary to the hypothesis of countless Comp 101 papers I had to read pre-legalization, “cure cancer”) and so I did what every good person of my persuasion does: I read like a motherfucker. I read it all. I read the whole Internet. I bought books. Friends mailed me articles on the subject, per my request. And only then did I dip my toes back into the proverbial bong water.
Here’s a little of what I have learned in my re-entry into the world of perfectly-fuckin-legal cannabis:
Corporate oversight, in this case, is a benefit to the consumer. Cannabis is now a Capitalist Product. If a can of Pepsi made people flip the fuck out, hallucinate chattering skulls, and see blood tracers on blades of grass, Coke would have a fucking field day. Cannabis growers are the same: if the product makes too many people paranoid, anxious, too fucked up to function, their sales will drop, or they will lose competitive ground in The Market, which is good for us cannabis users because it means slightly greater certainty in knowing what we’re getting.
Cannabis is science. I have learned so much about terpenes, and trichomes, and lineage. I know now what works for me:
Indica dominant hybrids help me sleep (great because I’m a lifelong insomniac who is also Part Hippie - dad’s side - and would rather take a plant than a pill).
Sativa dominant hybrids help me focus on tasks. I struggle with ADD, so this is preferable to adderall or whatever I have been offered in the past, but steered clear of because I wasn’t yet ready to face the Facts of my very real Mental Health Issues.
Straight-up indicas work in lieu of a benzo when I don’t want to feel the “heaviness” of an anti-anxiety medication. Again, I have actual medical dx’s that deal with anxiety/ptsd so truly “relaxing” is exquisitely difficult – we’re talking crippling anxiety.
True Hybrids stimulate appetite when the cancer drugs make me feel wonky-in-the-gut.
High THC strains knock out pain quicker than an aspirin.
If I microdose cannabis (low mg edible, vaped flower – the future is here, and when I was married I had the $$ to buy a piece of the FUTURE) when I am feeling sleepless/restless/lacking focus/queasy/anxious cannabis can make me functional again.
If I have nowhere to be, nothing to do, I will treat myself to a hit from my beautiful yellow bong, or smoke myself a joint al fresca. This is fun sometimes.
Cannabis is part of my life. I rediscovered the substance, and its uses, when it was only medically legal in Arizona, and I had a medical license. Now that it is recreationally legal in many states, I am surprised by how many people who are, say, heavy drinkers, still look with scorn on cannabis. Far as I know no families have been torn asunder by cannabis, according to most reliable sources, no one has ever died “from” cannabis, cannabis is not a “progressive disease” when misused – at best it’s a little psychological crutch on par with a klonopin or xanax or Lexapro which many people with real anxiety disorders are prescribed. At least, this has been my experience.
I quit drinking rather easily. After about 4 months, I felt in my body, mind, and soul that I was capital-D-Done with alcohol. The substance no longer served or interested me, and in fact it was making Facts of my life more complicated. I want less complicated. I work toward inner-peace. This is a life’s work, and I need to have my wits about me.
So I have left the Ascetics behind in favor of my intuition. There was a particular meeting of the Ascetics I attended every Saturday for a year and some change. This was How Not to Drink and Live in America Where Everyone is Drinking 101. And I learned a whole lot that continues to help me when I’m around people who are drinking to excess, which is very infrequent these days because I don’t tend to go to places where there would normally be excessive drinking. Choices, reader. It’s all about choices. Just like Bob Frost taught us.
And I felt sad to leave this particular group of Ascetics because they were Teachers for me, and I am always sad to have to move on, away from some of my Teachers. I felt this way about Students, too. I needed to release my Students, had to let them go into the wild, though sometimes it pained me to do so. However, the judgment (around cannabis), and certain Egos made this particular American Ascetic space unhealthy for me, and moreover, I had read the Blue Book, and I didn’t jive with some of the content and context. And it said nothing on cannabis. And that’s okay. I have also read The Bible. Beautiful text. Gorgeous and Correct messages. Not a central text for My Life, and like the Ascetic’s Blue Book, like all Big Religious Texts, an oft weaponized text.
I meditate at least three times daily. I have this time, in this crossroads, hovering space. On Saturday mornings, now that the weather is nice, I begin my day with reading – sometimes The Dhammapada, sometimes a weird book about the 14th century, sometimes Origins of Totalitarianism. I read texts that require focus, work. I drink my coffee. Today, being that it is memorial day weekend and I have nothing much planned, I threw a joint into the mix - as in marijuana cigarette.
Rarely do I “smoke” cannabis because inhalants are generally a bad idea. Usually I go for my edibles and vaped flower. This morning, though, I wanted a joint. Warning to the uninitiated: smoking a joint will make you high. This is not a microdose situation. A “microdose,” for me, is like two puffs on the Pax3 or a 5 mg edible. A joint is an indulgence, like a bong hit, or a dab (I have not tried dabs – the whole process just looks too druggie for me to handle). And I drank coffee, smoked a joint, read a book about the 14th century, in the sunshine, beneath the basil and the rosemary and the pineapple mint. And then I took a shower. And then I was no longer high. Two hours from light to snub-out.
This did not make me want to drink. This did not make me want to gobble up all my anti-anxiety pills, or take some Trazadone “just for fun.” I’ve never been interested in drugs this way. Not even when I’ve been suicidal in my past, have I conceived of “death by pills” becasue I hate swallowing pills. Always have. When I was little, my parents used to have to crush pills of penicillin into spoonfuls of strawberry jelly to get me to take them because I was that swallowing adverse. What I’m saying is that even that joint, an indulgence for sure, did not make me want “more” of anything. And I hate that heavy “stoney” feeling of being over-medicated by any substance. The joint was just right.
When I was a part of the American Ascetics, I learned to steer clear of this topic altogether. Got bit in the ass (proverbially) for my cannabis infraction while among the Ascetics. Called it the “marijuana maintenance program.” Now that I am no longer an Ascetic, I feel more free, because I am more free: I can speak on this topic which, in my abstention from drinking, I have given much thought to.
Early on in my alcohol abstention, some Ascetics remarked how well I “took to it” – “it” being the Asceticism, particularly where it regarded alcohol. One Ascetic even asked me once, “Did you even ever have a real drinking problem?” And I guess, compared to many, it was very easy for me to stop drinking. It was pandemic times, so I wasn’t going out. I had (still have, sadly) metastatic breast cancer, so I was only hurting myself when I drank, and then I fell and scared the ever-loving-shit out of myself and never picked up a drink again. And I have no way of numbing out, and this has been difficult to accept at times. Then I remember there is no need to “numb out” if I am living Correctly and if I have enough Health to live a reasonably happy and peaceful Life. God, the Universe, Buddha, Christ, whatever you call it – I call it the primordial connective tissue, the Primal Love (a la Dante) – will provide if you are coming to the universe in Compassion and Love. Except where it pertains to American Fascists. The Fascist has disconnected their Love and Compassion cords that once bound them to the primordial connective tissue.
What I’m telling you, reader, this is a different kind of cannabis essay than the ones we wrote in Gruber’s AP & Comp/CompRhet101 courses pre-legalization. Cannabis has not improved my cancer, nor has it helped my eyesight, and sometimes my joints ache because Medically & Scientifically Documented Reasons. I often feel great sadness. I often feel great fear. I sometimes wish I did not have to feel the feelings I feel these days as a recently (and appallingly) divorced, queer person with cancer, who may (as it turns out) have an even more complicated mind than I previously thought. I often feel so very, painfully, human as you do, also, reader.
And yet I feel the sadness, the fear, the human feelings, and they pass like all things must. I do not need any pill or plant to make an unpleasant feeling pass. I just need to recognize the feeling, understand why it is there, and treat myself with the same human compassion I always afforded those around me, but never myself.
Most nights, I cannot sleep easily. This has been true of me since early childhood. This and a freakishly good memory. A freakishly good memory is great for we storytellers, and not so great for trying to fall asleep at night. Also, when I am happy I struggle to sleep because I am excited by the ideas in my head. What I’m saying is I have Medical & Scientific Brain Reasons why Modern Medicine is helpful to me. As-needed cannabis is part of that. As-needed anti-anxiety medication is part of that. Daily anti-depressants (yes, plural) are a part of that. As-needed meditation and rest is part of that. When I was with the Ascetics, they often said “life on life’s terms” – some would boast of taking nothing more than Advil for, like, knee replacements (I exaggerate, though not by much) – and I understand why. I understand why some humans cannot even entertain the notion of a “Feel Better” medication, much less a natural medicine like cannabis and mushrooms (haven’t yet tried mushrooms) and all other psychotropic substances associated with Black folks, hippies, and Commies (even still) because it may trigger them back to their Darkness Drug be it alcohol, methamphetamines, gambling . . . This, I understand. This is not my truth.
My Truth is that I was very much compelled, dare I say addicted, to the Feeling that only excessive amounts of Alcohol could bring. Which was, of course, the Feeling of No Feeling. And now I have detached from seeking that The Feeling of No Feeling because this pursuit, as my spiritual practice teaches, is neither healthy nor fruitful. My Truth is that Alcohol is Kryptonite.
In place of my meeting of American Ascetics, I meditate. This morning, I meditated with a book and a joint. Know what I did when that cannabis started setting in? I read more of my book, I took copious, beautiful, dare-I-say masterful notes. I took a shower. I came down from the high. I cleaned my apartment, and then I sat down to write this to you, reader, on this long American weekend.
Be happy. Be free. Be good, hooligans.