GOODBYE TO MY OLD FRIEND, MARIJUANA

WRITTEN BY STEPHEN MCCARTY
Photos By Stephen McCarty
Goodbye To My Old Friend, Marijuana

This essay is part of our month exploring the theme of Self-Care.

Before I was a chef, I had a career playing psychedelic rock music. It was an amazing experience, traveling the world, making records, and playing hundreds of shows, sometimes six months out of the year. I had begun playing on a drum kit at age twelve with the intention of one day being in a band. When that possibility opened up to me at twenty three, it felt like a dream come true, a nearly endless epic road trip punctuated by the face melting volume of a wild improvisation in a different room each night.

An important part of the journey was the habitual smoking of ganja. Marijuana was a friend who could soften the sometimes gravely texture of travel, and a botanical shrine I entered before each show. I felt safe in her loving embrace, protected from doubt, a psychedelic warrior on a stoned mission to blow minds. Smoking connected me to my idols, the heavy psych bands of the past, and to the audience, who were happy to share their buds with musicians who had taken up the torch of a nearly forgotten but thoroughly immersive musical tradition. When not making music, I would use ganja to intensify and celebrate any pleasurable moment, or to add substance and meaning to the mundane passage of time. I had a genuine faith in its healing power.

IT WAS AS THOUGH MY OLD FRIEND HAD BECOME POSSESSIVE, DEMANDING ALL MY ENERGY AND LETTING ONLY A DULL GLOW EMERGE FROM WHAT HAD PREVIOUSLY SEEMED A BLAZING LIGHT OF EXPANDED CONSCIOUSNESS.

After eight years, the musical journey came to an end. I switched gears to pursue a life dedicated to creating delicious and satisfying plant based food, while being present in the life that my newlywed wife and I had been building in between tours. I did not abandon my belief in the benefits of regular ganja use, though, and turned to it when long hours working in kitchens left me feeling frustrated, powerless, and impatient with the process of paying dues.

The results of marijuana were less miraculous at the age of thirty one, however. Where before I had found myself making meaningful stoned connections with old friends and new, I now discovered a dense, nearly impenetrable fog settling over me after each session.  It was as though my old friend had become possessive, demanding all my energy and letting only a dull glow emerge from what had previously seemed a blazing light of expanded consciousness. Several family members passed away over the span of a few months, and I glared at the glowing roach in my hand with bloodshot eyes, not knowing why my old ally had abandoned me. Not now, when I really had something to escape, and a "real job" with all the pressures and anxieties I had been spared from in my previous life.

My wife had been sober for five years after undergoing a similar experience with intoxicants, and she encouraged me to join her. I also witnessed how many co-workers had negatively habituated with whatever their substance of choice was. I saw them, and myself, bouncing back and forth from the place they wanted to be (high or drunk and off the clock) to a place they needed to be (at work making money in order to have more time to be high.)

NOW THE TRUE MIRACLE IS THIS: AS I WORKED TO EMBRACE LIFE HEAD ON, WITHOUT EXCEPTIONS, IT BEGAN TO SHIFT INTO A LIFE THAT I DID NOT NEED TO ESCAPE.

In September 2012, a message arrived like a lightning bolt that I could no longer successfully consume anything that would perpetuate this exhausting dichotomy. I got a meditation and started doing it every day, in the evening when I used to enjoy my nightly puff of herb. As the old habit fell away, I turned further towards the reality that I had been struggling to escape. It was not easy at all, but the more I practiced, the easier it became.

Now the true miracle is this: as I worked to embrace life head on, without exceptions, it began to shift into a life that I did not need to escape. Also, the connection to a plant that I had taken so much refuge in was now being replaced by a connection to what I call the universe, the benevolent divine intelligence that consciousness itself is born from. While I am grateful for the experiences I had as a stoner, gratitude cannot describe how deeply I cherish the temple of awareness that is cleansed and renewed by each moment of life lived in full acceptance of what is. I am humbled by the beauty that unfolds here; it is glorious and delicious indeed!

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