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Cities without landmarks
Niagara Falls, U.S./Canada
I feel as if my life is falling apart, and I’m not sure of what the next step to take should be. I am in my early 30s but have been married for 10 years. Three months ago, I decided to stop smoking pot. For the first two months, this was hell physically and mentally for me, but I got through it. Both my husband and I were serious pot smokers, pretty much 24/7 for the last eight years or so. When I quit, he cut down substantially, but he still smokes.
Along with quitting smoking, I have been trying to eat healthier, meditate every day and exercise on a regular basis. Instead of feeling great, though, I feel like crap. I feel depressed and am not sure what to do with myself. I used to work part time and would spend the rest of the time getting high and watching TV. Now that I am not getting high, I feel like my husband and I don’t relate any more. I still work part time but now have energy that I don’t know what to do with, and I am depressed because during the 10 years that I was a pothead, I lost all of my friends because I would rather smoke than hang out with them.
I guess I am not sure if I should give it more time. I am lonely. I am fighting the urge to just leave my marriage, my job, my life, and move far, far away. I have a job that I love and am good at, but it could be done anywhere in the world. I also should mention that I am naturally a pretty introverted person and very sensitive, which has in the past sometimes interfered with my functioning. I am much stronger now, but I still worry that I am too sensitive for this world. I am just really confused about what to do and in a perpetual existential crisis since some of the smoke has cleared from my life.
Any advice would be welcome.
What happens in that moment when after years of habitual use a person suddenly does not light up?
Is it refusal? Or is it a new kind of acquiescence? Is it decision or surrender? Is it a moment of delivery or a moment of conquest? Is it the grace of a mystical passion? Is it a triumph of the will?
And why does it move me so to think of you in that moment? Is it because I too have hovered there in that agonizing light, wondering what will become of me if I can never stop the needle from moving toward the spoon, never keep the smoke from entering my lungs, never keep that warm enveloping liquid from going down my gullet and soothing me into oblivion? I suppose the reason it moves me is that I recognize in that moment how life itself is in the balance and may be drained away by further heedless habit or may be regained in that instant, and with it, hope for a life that might bloom with our dreams. Maybe. Maybe. Because that is only one instant. And many of us who could not string together a succession of days longer than a barmaid’s workweek had nonetheless had those glimpses of intercession, those fleeting openings into hope, those doomed flirtations with steadiness and focus that relied, unfortunately, for their endurance upon our puny will alone, a will that basically we did not even have at all and would never have. And so we wonder (don’t we?) every day we enjoy without being swept up in that raging torrent of confounding abuse and addiction, we wonder, every day we are free of it, how it all happened, how we got to breathe in this air and see this sun and not be hammered. We wonder. It kinda freaks us out. And so I reach out to you as though to consecrate your experience, although I have no such consecrating power or authority, being just another person like yourself. But I reach out to you to say you are with us now, in the great, wild, strange church of all of us who’ve been there, and we are together now in this strange temple, a great congregation of exes: ex-thises and ex-thats, used-tos and don’t-anymores, blasted out of that infernal furnace of always and can’t-stop by some unseen force to wander now in a kind of blessed OK-ness, you and me and all the rest, foreswearing now the delicious temptations that used to drag us down and get us so messed up.
And I just keep wondering: What is all that about, that moment when you stop and your life changes? I do not know. Maybe I never will. But it moves me and I salute you. And I just say keep at it, whatever it is, however weird it gets, hang in there, because there is something holy in your refusal. There is something holy in it, and that is enough to cling to for now. Something holy in you has spoken, and you are on a new road. That’s enough for now.
Or is it? What if you read this and put it down and then pick up and smoke a joint? Such is the mystery of it. But I don’t think you will. I think that you are just struggling with the discomfort and also with the lack of appropriate tools and methods. It’s understandable that you lack the tools and methods because you are still quite early in the process. A few months can seem an eternity, and yet you will look back on this time eventually and see that it was very early in your evolution and you had not yet found the best tools and methods by which to live this way.
Quitting an addiction on your own is like setting out to build a house on your own. You could maybe figure out the whole damn thing on your own by yourself from scratch, but why? There’s people that have built houses before. There’s people building houses all the time, that know all about how to do it, and you could check them out and learn from them.
I mean, of course, all the recovery groups out there.
Here is how I see you now: I see you as having been a bit lost and drifting but basically holding together job and marriage, having sold yourself short but only in a subtle way, having never really crashed and burned but just being suffused with a lingering sense that there’s more out there, that you were called to better things and somehow put that call on hold. And maybe you worried from time to time that you had traded in your early passions and dreams for a life of momentary highs that became cheaper and cheaper and eventually confounding in their shallowness, but this, for a long time, was a distant thought, not panicked but more chewed on in idle moments, sometimes when high, sometimes when not. Then, having been dimly aware of this and having thought from time to time of making a change, one day you just put down the joint.
What made that difference?
That moment. That moment made the difference. It is dramatic and telling of human bravery and resilience and hints at the presence of some divine and trustworthy compassionate force around us, the force that through the green fuse drives the flower, in Dylan Thomas’s eternally beautiful phrase, this force that is there for us, this moment when the addict does not smoke the joint.
Further: If there is an impulse in that moment then what happens to that impulse when it is denied? Does it simply disappear? Or is it an actual force that goes somewhere else and is stored up or burned differently, a new fuel for new purposes? And if it goes somewhere, where does it go? Is it like the storing up of something, a withholding for future use, like the keeping of money or desire? I do not know; it is as though in that moment the life force is channeled differently.
You know, in the future, most likely, now and then, that impulse to light up a joint will come to you. In that moment of refusal, you can call someone and say you just felt like smoking a joint and didn’t. And in that moment you can also just ask yourself, What’s going on?
What I have found is that the impulse to light up is usually connected to something, and if I am lucky I can find out what that is: some feeling I was not expressing and not even admitting or knowing consciously. It’s been a long road of learning to notice what I’m actually feeling and not joke it off or shrug it off or push it down or turn it into a phrase that makes me sound like I know what I’m doing. And here’s the interesting thing about that: You know how being high amplifies feelings and sensations so they feel more intense, sometimes to the point of discomfort but sometimes to the point of intense pleasure? This same thing can be accomplished by simply letting sensations build up instead of dissipate. This can be done through sitting with things. Which, oddly enough, is sort of like being high.
Many of us, despite having learned to operate in polite society, are mainly at heart still just kids sitting on the lawn smoking pot and playing guitar, and our life mission is still mainly to just get high and enjoy life. When we first give up the substances that were so bedeviling us we may fear that we’ll never feel high and free again. Yet we find that in the concentrating of our breath, in the abnegation and denial of easy privileges and sensations, in the communal joy of deliverance, that from time to time a new and all-encompassing high will envelop us, and we will be grateful, as we are when a little rain falls out of nowhere on a hot day and wets our lips with sweetness.
I mean, you take what you can get.
Niagara Falls, U.S./Canada
Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia
Mount Rushmore, South Dakota, U.S.
Eiffel Tower, Paris, France
Colosseum, Rome, Italy
Taj Mahal, Agra, India
Siena Cathedral, Siena, Italy
Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Arc de Triomphe, Paris, France
Lost City of Petra, Jordan
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