To protect the author’s identity, RVDV has withheld the name and biographical information of this Veteran.  He served in the Marine Corps and deployed twice to Iraq as an infantryman.

Editors note: The opinions expressed in this commentary are the author’s own.

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.

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