Dear Hip Sobriety,
After one false start, I've managed to quit drinking and my life has improved in massive ways that would have been unimaginable to me just a few years ago. I stayed completely sober for 9 months but pot has snuck its way back into my life.
I smoke pot for a variety of reasons-- out of habit, to relieve stress or boredom, and because I often feel I have some very creative thoughts when I'm stoned. Lastly, smoking weed "softens the blow" for friends and family who seem to be uncomfortable with the fact that I've quit drinking-- so, at a social gathering, rather than being the only sober person I at least still smoke and am therefore viewed as less of a party pooper. In other words, I smoke at parties sometimes because it's easier than being completely sober.
I've rationalized my behavior with the (mostly true) belief that alcohol was clearly the truly evil force in my life that was causing me so many problems. In comparison, smoking a little weed seems benign. I don't wake up the next day after smoking pot regretting things I said or did for example.
So my questions for you are 1. Can you speak a bit to the difference in the quality of life that you gained when you stopped smoking? (I know like me, you'd quit the booze completely and were still smoking weed for awhile.) And 2. How do I really truly eliminate pot from my life once and for all?
With huge respect and gratitude,
Still Clinging to Weed
A few weeks in to quitting drinking the first time, in October 2012, I got on the phone to call a friend to break the news that I had stopped drinking alcohol, most likely forever. It was a big, scary deal. She was one of the most important people in my world at the time, and our relationship had gelled over beers and bars. She was supportive, curious, receptive - all the good things. Some fifteen minutes into our call, I told her to hold for one second while I lit my joint. "Oh thank GOD." she said. "You're still smoking pot! All is not lost!" I laughed and said "Of course I'm still fucking smoking pot. Who do you think I am?"
I started smoking pot when I was fifteen, and by the time I entered college I was a daily smoker. There were many times throughout my life that I had attempted to quit it, but by the time I was in my thirties, I had almost resigned myself to the fact that it would be in my life forever - especially living in San Francisco where it was more socially acceptable than my American Spirits yellow.
When I first attempted to quit drinking that fall of 2012, I didn't have an intention to quit pot. Pot remained. Just like you, in those early days of sobriety from alcohol, weed allowed me to roll to a party or a bar and feel like I was part of things - "I'm going to get stoned and have a cigarette, want to come?" Pot also allowed me to deal with the increasingly unappealing aspects of the bar scene - "These drunk asses are annoying, I'm going to get stoned." Most importantly and notably, it balanced me out. I was a Type A perfectionist workaholic stress case, and as the meditation, acupuncture, massage, yoga, and spirituality were working their way through my system to pull me down to earth, smooth me, and center me, pot got me there instantly.
It didn't take long into full sobriety from alcohol for my relationship with pot to become a big concern (I had yet to learn about addiction transference - the act of substituting one addiction for another - I recommend Pleasure Unwoven to understand more). I stopped being able to go places without it. I found a second drug dealer to hide the amount of pot I was smoking from the first, and eventually, a third to hide from the second. If I was out in the evening, I would inevitably find myself making an excuse to leave early so I could be at home in bed with a book and a joint.
Part of this pull to nest with a bong was due to my need to turn in and heal, and I honor that (as I honor all steps on my path). But the irrefutable truth was that my life was increasingly being controlled by pot the same way it had been controlled by alcohol. I needed it to work, to watch movies, to go out, to meditate, to read, to shop, to cook, to be. You ask about how it affected my quality of life. Needing a substance to get through life - regardless if it is as benign as pot - is not living. End of story. And I could not settle for not living anymore.
In June 2013, I told myself I would quit when I got back from Italy, in July 2013. And then I got back from Italy and I told myself I would quit a month before Kundalini training, in August. When that quit date came and went, I committed to myself that I would quit the night before Kundalini training, in September. And then there I was, rolling into an Ashram, wearing all white and a turban, explaining that I was there to learn how to use Kundalini to break addiction, stoned out of my fucking mind.
In October 2013, I started launching my glass pipes out of my window at night onto the street below (I get you, Amanda Bynes). I flushed pot down the toilet, I poured water into my packs of cigarettes. But there was a headshop in my neighborhood, a liquor store across the street, a marijuana delivery service. As quickly as I would throw it away, I would purchase it back.
"Next week." "Next month." "Not yet."
I met with a doctor regularly at this point, on a weekly basis. Each week I'd tell her of my failed attempts and my desperation to quit. She'd ask me why, and I'd tell her "because I'm supposed to be clean" and she'd always answer back "'because 'I'm supposed to' is not the answer. It will happen when your answer is 'because I want to.'" I remember thinking "I will never want to."
But I kept working towards it. I bought books (none of which helped, by the way). I repeated my mantra "I am calm, clean, balanced, and strong". I did my meditation and I upped my Kundalini practice. I used pranayam techniques to achieve that same depth of breathing I seemed to only get from spliffs. I asked for support and help from whoever I could, including my Kundalini teachers at the Ashram. I talked about it and spoke my intention to be 100% clean. I began to draw in my mind a picture of a life where there wasn't a hacking cough or drug dealers or fuzzy thoughts. And I kept on smoking.
As I moved into 2014 and my 35th birthday approached, things started to shift. My Kundalini practice was a daily ritual and meditation was something that happened more frequently than teeth brushings. My sobriety from alcohol was entrenched and more part of me than alcohol had ever been. I was half way through yoga teacher training and I understood things like what Om actually meant. I felt like I was growing up with the fast forward button on or taking the accelerated life course. It was no longer a matter of "I should stop." No. It was much more than that. It was a matter of complete dis-alignment. I was not a girl who needed pot anymore. I was not a girl who even wanted pot anymore.
Because my cigarette addiction and pot addiction were so intertwined, I knew I had to leave them both at once. And because I had been doing these two things for a combined total of 40+ years at this point, I knew I had to go fucking nuclear on them. So I planned for it. I chose my 35th birthday as my quit date. I made a detailed plan of action that involved a "pre-quit" and "quit" regimen that called on all the tools I had found along the way to support my sobriety from alcohol. I also invested in it - both time and money.
And this time - this zillionth time - I succeeded.
As of this minute, I am 1 year, 6 months, 7 days, 13 hours and 31 minutes tobacco- and THC-free. By the numbers that is 3,322 foregone cigarettes, 12,459.19 saved dollars, and 21 ounces of unsmoked weed. But those are just numbers. Clinging, what has mattered the most to me is this: there is nothing holding me back anymore. NOTHING. I am a free bird. And being a free bird is exactly as good as it sounds.
How I quit pot (and cigarettes).
Quitting pot was different than quitting alcohol.
First, there were zero social ramifications for it. I didn't run around at first and say I was a weedoholic or pot addict and later have to explain why I no longer identified as those things. I didn't have to break it to my family and my social circle. I didn't lose friends over it and I didn't have men tell me they didn't want to date someone who didn't smoke pot. I haven't had to turn down joints in restaurants or at weddings, and no one ever asked me if I was pregnant. No one asked me anything, period. Socially speaking, quitting pot sounded like this: "meep."
On the other hand - emotionally/physiologically/psychologically speaking - I found quitting pot MUCH harder than quitting drinking. It took me many more failed attempts to do it, and when I finally did quit, I had to work harder at it than I did when I quit drinking. I think there are a few reasons for this. For one, as you mention, the downside of pot wasn't that bad - it was NOTHING compared to the horrors I'd faced at the end of my drinking, and relatively speaking, I was doing pretty fucking good in life at this point. Second, because of addiction transference, it was just that much harder. In April of 2013, when I removed the alcohol, I still had binging and purging, shopping, pot, cigarettes, coffee, work, and co-dependent relationships to relieve and balance myself. By the time I quit pot, I was down to coffee, cigarettes, work, and pot. My naughty tool-box was getting very tiny, and the last tools left in it were much more impactful, and that much harder to remove.
It took a big fucking list of things to get it gone. The steps I have laid out below are ridiculous and time consuming. But I'll tell you what. It fucking worked. And it was worth it. It was worth it in more ways than there will ever be words.
I've split it up into two categories. Pre-Quit and Quit. I think the Pre-Quit part is just as - if not more - essential than the Quit. Over the course of 2014, I reactively broke 6 pipes, submerged 20 packs of cigarettes, and flushed over an ounce of pot in my toilet. Only to return to the habit immediately the next day or sometimes that night. To successfully quit something, while you might need those 20 failed attempts to get there, you can't just up and say "I'm done", and expect that to stick. Rash quits lead to rash returns. To ensure as much success as possible, you need to plan for it the way you would any major undertaking in life. And then, of course, you have to carry it out.
1. I was undivided in my decision. For a very long time, while I wanted to be free of my pot and cigarette addiction, there was still a perceived benefit. Part of me wanted to be clear of it, and yet part of me still romanticized my relationship with it. Evenings with friends sharing a joint, the deliciousness of sinking into my bed with a bag of popcorn and a season of Girls, etc. My mind was deeply, deeply divided on it. This division would lead to me hurling a glass pipe off a seven-story balcony ("Fuck this I'm done."), and lead me hours later back to the liquor store for a pack of rolling papers ("I'll quit next week."). From a course in miracles, "The strength to do comes from your undivided decision. Only your mind can produce fear. It does so whenever it is conflicted in what it wants, producing inevitable strain because wanting and doing are discordant. This can be accepted only by a unified goal." The reason my last quit stuck was because I finally escaped this love/hate/want/don't want loop - because I finally only wanted to be free of pot. This isn't to say that I 1,000% didn't want it - of course not. It just means that I finally gathered all of me behind one decision - the decision to not smoke pot - and I didn't entertain other thoughts about it. I didn't allow the grieving thoughts ("oh, pooottttttt"), didn't allow "wouldn't it be nice" or "just this once" threads in my mind: when these thoughts came up, a steel door snapped closed - "NO, girl." And so, there was no-infighting, no angel on my left shoulder and devil on my right - because that scenario always yields a loser, and eventually, the devil wins. There was just one decision: I wanted a life free of pot and cigarettes.
2. I got EXCITED about it. I can't stress enough the power of flipping it from "giving something up" to "adding something more". The former gives us the feeling that we are being deprived, but the latter gives us a feeling that we are gaining and gaining big. I was giddy about the prospect of having natural energy, of waking up in the morning with the same zeal I had when I first stopped drinking. I was excited about the money I would be saving (over $12,000 to date), the time I would gain, the health benefits, the vanity benefits, the fact that I would no longer smell like a Michael Kors flavored cigarette. I could finally say goodbye to that hacking, phlegmy cough . No longer would I find myself out of pot and desperately typing out a code-text, "do you have any cupcakes?". Never again would I have a conversation and wonder if the other knew I was stoned. I could finally truthfully post I was a non-smoker in my online dating profiles and tell my doctor the same (the first time I answered I didn't smoke, didn't drink, and didn't do drugs on a doctor's intake was one of the best fucking moments of my life). The list goes on. Focusing on the good stuff and seeing it as a gain over a loss is a game changer in moving forward from all addictions - and the excitement sustained me through the very real, very rough periods of the quit.
3. I planned the timing of it around an environment change. Because pot smoking was so ingrained in my evening ritual (literally get home, roll spliff, meditate, laptop on, work, smoke more, meditate more, bathe, smoke still more, NetFlix…). I didn't feel as if I could successfully quit it while being in my home. So I set my quit date on my 35 birthday, and planned an extended work trip to Manhattan for the two weeks after. I also upped the ante, and bought tickets to Gabby Bernstein's live course, Re-Ignite, which ran in the West Village for the two Monday evenings I was in New York. And I did other self indulgent things during those two weeks away, like getting massages and cupping and lots of in-studio yoga classes. Yes, this cost money. The tickets to Gabby were about $300, the cupping and massage and yoga was another few hundred dollars, and I splurged on juices and fancy spring water (and of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't point out I was fortunate enough to have access to a business trip.) But smoking pot and cigarettes cost me a hell of a lot more money than that. The money spent to help me quit was an investment - and one with a very big return.
4. I envisioned it. For a few weeks leading up to the change, I envisioned what it would be like to be smoke-free in my mind. As part of my meditation practice, I would take a few extra minutes to see myself coming home from work and skipping the joint. I saw myself in meditation, I saw myself at my laptop sans spliff, I saw myself doing yoga in the evenings, I saw myself going to bed with herbal tea instead of a bowl. I also saw myself waking up in the morning to a clean, smoke-free environment. It was nothing fancy - I didn't see myself running marathons or climbing mountains. It was much more realistic - this is my life off of weed and cigarettes, minute by minute. This pre-conditioning made it much more real for me when I was actually doing those things after returning from New York.
5. I wrote a letter of intention. I actually wrote my letter of intention out in September when I started to train to become a Kundalini yoga teacher. But it set the intention of what I wanted to create, of where I saw myself going. In June 2014, some five months after quitting pot, I read it and was astonished of how much of my intention had come true. I now regularly write letters of intention to myself when starting out any new venture, and have my clients write them as well when they are starting out coaching. You can write your own letter to your future self at futureme.org.
6. I created a new night routine. This is SO IMPORTANT. Most of us who are addicted to chemical substances use them at specific times. I used pot mostly at night when I got home from work (and generally smoked through the night right up until bed). I knew that I'd need a new routine to replace the one I had been using, so I created this and practiced it while in New York and kept it up for a few weeks when I returned. My new routine was similar to the one I had before, except I incorporated EFT (see #8 below) and yoga (see #10 below). It looked like this: get home, turn on spa music (here is my favorite mix), make calming tea (I used Yogi Tea Honey Lavender Stress Relief), meditate (I used this Kundalini meditation for breaking addiction during this time), re-heat tea, do EFT/tapping script on pot addiction, re-heat tea, do some yummy calming yoga practice (see #9 for suggestions), take bath, take melatonin, read something spiritual, bed. It was a lot of work. A hell of a lot of time-consuming work. But guess what? So was addiction. The amount of time I spent procuring pot, smoking pot, smoking cigarettes, being high, thinking about pot, thinking about cigarettes, thinking about quitting pot, thinking about quitting cigarettes, etc., was a lot of fucking time and it was a lot of fucking work. This was a drop in the bucket compared to that, and I only kept it up at this pace for about 5-6 few weeks.
7. I upped my meditation practice. I generally meditate as little as five and up to 30 minutes a day - it varies. My standard is some 11-minute Kundalini meditation, or a 20-minute vipassana, or 5 to 10 minute guided meditation. For the month of January and some weeks into February, I increased this, adding in specific Kundalini meditations. In the morning, I did an 11-minute chant (the Siri Gaitri) which is a healing chant, and most days I also did the Tattva balancer (so 11 to 22 minutes total). In the evening, as part of my new night routine (see #6), I added in this Kundalini meditation for breaking addiction. I also listened to a TON of guided meditations for the message (meaning, I listened to the words but didn't necessarily get into lotus position to do it).
8. I added in EFT - both ritually and reactively. Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) is a great way to deal with any sort of craving or urge or any state where we are stuck in a story or an old pattern. EFT is a method of moving energy and trauma out of our bodies - we tap on specific energy meridians and say a specific dialogue to release it from our system - it's similar to acupuncture, but including the dialogue allows for a neurological repatterning as well. I will go into more on this later and why it is important, but for now you can watch this great video by Gabrielle Bernstein she did for breaking her sugar addiction and replace the word "sugar" with "pot". I did this as part of my evening ritual, and actually found I didn't need to do it reactively (while in craving) more than once or twice. But you can use it either way - as part of a daily or nightly ritual, or when you find yourself being pulled to smoke. You can also check out Nick Ortner's book, The Tapping Solution, or find an EFT practitioner in your area.
9. I used Amino Acid Therapy (AAT). Amino Acid Therapy or AAT is a term used to describe the use of supplemental amino acids to help balance the brain chemistry - or in other words, a very strategic supplement plan. This is something I haven't written too much about, because I don't know enough about it to write intelligently, and because I believe you need to work with either a nutritionist (I recommend Mary Vance, NC) or a medical professional trained in AAT (my MD at One Medical Group was trained in it, and I know that most Naturopaths are as well). But I cannot talk about how I quit pot without mentioning the role amino acid therapy played in it. I was turned onto AAT by my doctor in July 2013. I was severely addicted to sugar (I'll be writing on this soon - sharing advice from Mary Vance - as most of us tend to switch to sugar after we ditch booze), binging and purging regularly, and my pot and cigarette use was escalating. She put me on a specific protocol for bulimia, sugar, and pot, and I adhered to it from August until December of 2013. It broke the sugar cravings, it aided in breaking the bulimia, and it prepared me to break the pot and cigarette addictions. When I quit pot and cigarettes in January 2014, I used the Diet Cure's recommended protocol for Bulimia (I knew enough about it at this point to do it myself). To get started on AAT, if you are lucky enough to be in a city where there is a One Medical Group, you can call the main line and ask to work with a doctor who is trained in it (I believe there are a handful including Dr. Jenny Viva Collisson). You can also get in touch with my nutritionist Mary Vance and work with her, or go to Julia Ross's website to look into working with a specialist virtually. If you are just curious about it and want to know more, you can pick up a copy of the Diet Cure (which I recommend to everyone, anyway.)
10. I got creative about getting to sleep. I had used pot to fall asleep for years, and in the 9 months since quitting drinking, I had become even more reliant on it to sleep. I didn't wait around to see what would happen if I couldn't fall asleep. Instead, I was proactive and I used a few different tools. I practiced yoga in the evening that was aimed at bringing me down and turning me in (try Prepare The Mind And Body For Deep Rest (45 minutes, vinyasa), Pre-Sleep Prep (45 minutes, vinyasa), and Unwind At The End Of The Day (30 minutes, vinyasa)). I took super hot baths with lavender after my yoga. I used Yogi Bedtime Tea and popped a Melatonin pill about 30 minutes before I wanted to fall asleep. And if all that wasn't enough, I would do a Yoga Nidra practice (literally "yogic sleep") in bed (try this one by Kia Miller or this one by Jo Tastula).
11. I never looked back. I took to a life free of pot and cigarettes much quicker than I thought I would. It's been one and a half years today, but it felt like one and a half years just a month into it. Today it feels like another life time. And it was. That doesn't mean I am never hit with pangs of missing Stoner Holly (like when I watch Broad City), and I'd be lying if I didn't say that there are times I inhale a little deeper if I walk through a cloud of pot smoke on the streets. I've told friends that if I'm 90 years old and I still want to, I will. But for now, life is too big and beautiful to think of living in a cloud ever again. For now, I want freedom and to eat the full spectrum of the rainbow that is this world. I can't settle for that half-baked existence any more and I cant settle for taking the short-cut. I know too well from this side, that the short-cut always means you miss the real views.
So my dear love, my beautiful sister who is Still Clinging to Weed, there you have it. My very long story of why, and my even longer story of how. But here is the thing, the twist at the end: I can't tell you how YOU quit weed once and for all. Because I'm not you. How you will quit is a story that is as unique to you as is your DNA. What I can guarantee you is that you will. We don't ask such questions without intention. And intention is the first step on the path to where we are going. Always.