Reward. The human body has a reward system. If I do something good for my body I feel pleasure. If I do something harmful I feel pain. Recreational drugs subvert the system. I can do as much harm to my body as I like, then have a few drinks or tokes or pills and feel fine. Without drugs harm hurts. I have to earn feeling fine by living well. If I use drugs recreationally, I disguise whatever harm I'm doing to my body. Recreational drugs let me damage my body at will.
A spiritual awakening. I'd stopped drinking but hadn't grappled with addiction head-on, deep-down, and ripped it out by the roots. In AA that happens as you work the steps. Step 12 is a spiritual awakening. I just quit drinking, leaving that crucial spiritual work undone. Leela, ever resourceful, had just the ticket: a spiritual awakening.
You will eat cannabis. In late 2018 Leela started poking and prodding me to try pot again. I quit smoking pot in the early 1970s because it interfered with my ability to think clearly. It also made me feel alienated and paranoid. Since then I'd try it occasionally but it still felt awful. I knew better than to ignore Leela's guidance, so I tried vaping. Cannabis still felt awful. Nothing in me wanted anything to do with pot. But she kept after me to keep trying it. So instead of vaping I tried edibles. I liked that better: smoother, kinda nice. I got into it. You can't get addicted to pot, right? I was beginning to get a nice buzz, really enjoying myself. Without realizing it I had slipped back into the addicted life: any life where I use alcohol or another substance to feel good, rather than feeling good because of how I'm living: diet, exercise, meditation. I was living the addicted life again, using pot to feel good. Hit it, Dorona. You'll want full screen for this one.
4 am wakeup. Cannabis is a psychedelic. Psychedelics are famously used by teachers, shamans, and other con artists to shock Grasshopper into a higher state. I woke up at 4 am on December 7, 2019 and all the noise in my head was gone. I was perfectly quiet inside, no thoughts, no conflict, no noise. Shining emptiness, the state I'd been yearning for all my life, awkwardly struggling toward. It was a breathtaking, utterly glorious spiritual awakening. And then I absolutely freaked out. My body became one huge cauldron of nameless, formless pain. I hurt like I never knew anyone could hurt. I was beside myself, frantic. I ended up going to the ER because I thought I must be dying. But it was just anxiety, a panic attack, a new thing for me. They did an EKG and observed me for a while; my vitals were rock solid, even impressive for an old fart. I was in excellent physical condition, and deeply miserable in a panic attack that lasted months, well into the pandemic.
Not a panic attack. From the vantage point of more than a year later I can see that what I experienced the first few months of 2020 was not a panic attack. A friend described my feelings that way and I adopted it. It fit, from what I could see then. I had cannabis toxicity and it felt like what I thought a panic attack might feel like. My understanding is that a panic attack is caused by runaway voices in my head, like many forms of mental illness. My voices had suddenly gone away, all of them. I had entered a new state that was extremely incompatible with cannabis. That was the source of my distress.
MA. I desperately needed to understand what was going on. I found Marijuana Anonymous right away. I made it to my first meeting the next night. I began studying the science available about addiction. I was with people who accepted me in my ruined state. That acceptance was a balm I sorely needed. By reading about cannabis and observing myself, I was able to work out that my panic was purely chemical. It slowly subsided as the accumulated cannabis cleared out of my body. Pot edibles get you well and truly pickled in the stuff. My detox from pot lasted months, not days. I went to MA meetings for a month. At first, the only time I got relief from panic was when I finally got to sleep at night or attended a meeting. But after a few weeks I began feeling like a fraud in the meetings. These people were struggling year after year. I had no craving, no struggle. I had my panic attack, but after a month I could feel it going away. I knew I'd get over it. It was just a matter of time. I didn't have an addiction to break, I just had a panic attack to get over. Leela used pot as a tool to wake me up to the truth that recreational drugs are bad for me no matter what.
The pleasure of being. Recreational drugs are robbers, crude intruders. The pleasure my body gives me when I live well is subtle: a gentle glow of well-being, quiet satisfaction with the direction and progress of my life, loving the world in all its disarray, a sense that my life here has meaning. The ever-evolving pleasure of being alive. None of that ever got through when I was getting buzzes from alcohol or pot. Those buzzes are way too loud to let the subtle pleasure of living be felt. Even the mellowest drug or alcohol high is crude by comparison with the real thing. Drugs disrupt my body's exquisitely sensitive pleasure mechanisms. Being quiet inside is not automatic; mental noise is automatic. But inner quiet, serenity, is now my resting state. It's always there in the background, easy to reach. The quiet from that night in 2019 has never gone away. Instead it's gotten much deeper.