Sarah, thanks for speaking with me about this. I guess I feel like we need to talk more openly about pot. We don’t, you know, because it’s not scary and urgent. It’s more slow motion. It didn’t make me careen out of control. But one day I woke up and I’d been smoking dope for 20 years and I hadn’t even noticed.
Tell us a bit about yourself!
I’m Erica. I’m a writer and I work with young writers. I teach creative writing. My goal is to teach in places I can bike too, but I teach all over the Bay Area now.
I have a terrific stepdaughter and wonderful girlfriend and two dogs, and we all fit into a tiny house in Berkeley with no storage. So, a lot of my time is spent taking the dogs to the dog park and impromptu dance parties in the kitchen. It’s pretty great.
Growing up, how did you feel about drug use?
I don’t remember a DARE program. All the messages about drugs I remember were on TV. After school specials and the like. My friends and I used to act out that TV commercial, “this is your brain on drugs…”
When did you first start smoking?
It would have been around 14. It was the mid-eighties and I was hanging out in downtown Portland with the goths and the punks, which meant I was around drugs; pot and LSD and mushrooms, mostly. There were other drugs, but I was pretty naive about it.
Especially in those early years, 14 and 15 years old, pot felt romantic. It filled my time with a kind of dreamy, bohemian reverie. It went along with the Anais Nin and Henry Miller and Tom Robbins I was reading.
All I wanted to do was be a writer and smoking felt so poetic. I made friends with other girls who were misunderstood young artists and we would smoke together and dream about our future.
In the event that someone reading this has never smoked weed, how does being high feel?
I expect it feels different for everyone. And I think you must build up a tolerance, because it’s really quite strong. I think for me, I felt dreamy and content for a little while and then sleepy. I also felt tongue tied and awkward.
You smoked for 20 years. How often did you smoke?
I quickly started smoking every day. I smoked nearly every day from about 15 to 35. I bought it from people I knew.
The funny thing is, if you knew me then, you would have had no idea. I only smoked in the evenings, after work, and on weekends. I excelled professionally, was widely respected in my field, managed large teams and large budgets.
Pot was how I unwound outside of work. I rarely had a cocktail and I didn’t do other drugs.
Did it affect your life/health at all? Did anyone in your life have Feelings or Opinions about your smoking?
The effects were insidious: it arrested me emotionally and creatively and socially; it kept me from reaching for a life that was more vivid, a life where I took risks; and it kept me from having deeper connections with people. It kept me from trying new things. Worst, it kept me from knowing myself.
I understand that sounds a little abstract, but I can be more concrete: it kept me from writing.
How do you feel about the claim that marijuana isn’t really a drug?
I think for some us, marijuana is addictive. It’s a habit. This article says it so much better than I can.
I know plenty of people who smoke occasionally and others who use it to treat very specific medical conditions. But I was not one of those people.
How do you feel about the claim that it’s a gateway drug?
Gateway is a blunt word, but definitely using any drug puts you in contact with people who are doing other drugs. And drugs have a way of smoothing out the rough edges.
So if you’re struggling, in any way, but especially with depression, drugs can feel like a shortcut to feeling better.
Do you think you were addicted to it?
What made you decide to stop smoking?
I wanted to write again and began to see a therapist. He suggested I quit and it was a revelation. It had never occurred to me to quit, it was so mixed up with my identity.
I didn’t replace pot with anything else, but I did suddenly have huge swaths of unfilled time. Time that I used to spend smoking. Having that time back changed my life. I read voraciously. I wrote. I went back to graduate school. I started volunteering with young writers.
Do you think you’ll ever smoke again?
What advice would you give to anyone who’s trying to quit something?
Something? I don’t know. But pot, it’s this: I wish I had asked myself earlier, what if I didn’t smoke pot? What would I do instead? Where would I go? Who would I go with?
Because I knew what I wanted, even then—I wanted to write hard and love hard and be brave—and I wish I’d asked myself if pot was helping me do any of that. Because the answer was always no.
Thanks so much for sharing, Erica! Do you guys have any questions for her? Do any of you smoke on a regular basis? If you do, do you think it affects other areas of your life?
P.S. I do a lot of teaching around habit change – if you have a bad habit you want to break (pot-related or otherwise), this free Masterclass might help!
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