Ryan Berg, a U.S. Marine Corps Veteran deployed twice in Iraq. In 2004, he was an infantryman with 2/24 Echo Company, Weapons Platoon, in the Triangle of Death. In 2006, he served in various roles with 1/14 Task Force Military Police and deployed to Fallujah. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in rhetoric from UC Berkeley, a Master of Arts in leadership studies, and is a current student in the Ed.D. program at Saint Mary’s College of California. He’s married and lives in the SF Bay Area.
Editors note: The opinions expressed in this commentary are the author’s own. You might also be interested in this article: How to Stop Smoking Marijuana
Ever since I stopped smoking marijuana, I’ve never felt better. Marijuana was a habit that began when I was an adolescent. My mother provided me with the drug when I was a very young teenager as a way to cope with hard times we were having. We grew up without a lot of money, and were constantly moving around. One particular day, it was insufferably hot, and the house we were living in was a complete dump, and without air conditioner. My mom came down the stairs and offered a small bud to my brother and I. We accepted, and the next few hours were pleasant, in a dreamy, numbing kind of way.
That was not the last time I smoked pot as a teenager. Of course, I stopped alltogether when I joined the Marines. For one, I couldn’t smoke or I would get kicked out, and second, I didn’t really feel those urges – not to mention the moral indoctrination the military provided to stay away from illegal activity.
After getting out of the Marines in 2007, I was still strongly personally opposed to doing it – instead I preferred to do things like run and lift weights to ease my stresses. However, once I transferred from junior college to the powerhouse institution of UC Berkeley, something changed within me. I gave myself permission to smoke marijuana, and smoke I did. The environment was stressful, competitive, and high quality weed very accessible. I remember falling in love with it again the same way I did back on that hot day in Omaha, Nebraska as my youthful teenager self laid out on the couch, smiling, and wandered-off.
So I smoked in college, after I graduated, and off an on when I entered professional life. I would periodically quit because I felt ashamed, and then fire back up again. It became a vicious cycle. I realize now that this viciousness was a result of my unconscious desire to avoid difficult emotions – not to mention the fact that the habit was engineered into my brain as an acceptable response to life-difficulties by my mother who provided it to me at an impressionable young age.
I was addicted to numbing this way, yet truthfully unhappy with my life. I loved marijuana. Literally, it was how I felt better about myself, life, my feelings, and everything in between. Even as I entered psychotherapy a few years ago, I would show up stoned, pretend I wasn’t, and act like I was doing the work I needed to be doing. Perhaps I was in some way – you know, manifesting my issues in front of a therapist – as a way to resolve them.
Even after many months in therapy, I still didn’t quit. Sometimes I would drive directly to the dispensary after a session, as a way to reward myself for having gone, and light up. It wasn’t until I left my corporate job, and came face to face with all that I had been avoiding in my life, that I finally decided to quit, forever. I realized one particular day that I needed to grow up and get serious about life. Get serious about feeling joy and happiness again. Get serious about a career that I can fall in love with.
So I stopped.
All together. No more. The emotional work is more important I said to myself. I will state now: quitting was one of the most psychologically and emotionally difficult things I have ever done in my life. All of the pain that I had never felt because I was either busy working or numbing came oozing forth. At first slowly, and then overwhelmingly – punishing waves of grief, fear, and sadness took me under. “Help me. I’ll smoke a little, it won’t hurt.” “No, I can do this. I’ve been on 20 mile hikes that nearly killed me, I can do this.” At last, I made the connection that my next mission was purely emotional. I directed the turret gun of my soul on connecting with and feeling internal pain – and a month or so later, something changed. Something big.
I actually began to feel happy.