I took the month of August to camp and hike and travel alone in Ireland. Part of my intention was to quit smoking weed, which I’ve previously written about as being my go-to strategy for connecting to the sacred, for accessing presence and immanence.
To be clear, I pass zero judgment on anyone who chooses to smoke weed. I’ve mostly used weed in beautiful, supportive ways that expanded my sense of connection with the natural world, and lots of folks can use it without any downsides. That’s just not my experience.
As part of my weed-retirement process in Ireland, I took lots of pictures, enacted rituals to talk to the spirit of the plant, and communed with the elemental forces of magic that I’ve been relying on weed to access since I was 15.
Ultimately, in quitting weed, I discovered that I’ve spent almost 40 years convincing myself, in one way or another, that what I’m feeling in a particular moment is wrong and that I should feel another way.
What I’ve realized is that if I allow myself to really honor what I want in each moment, much of my need for weed seems to dissolve. The desire for it is gone as long as I’m doing other things to access the magic and sense of connection with the natural world that I crave.
So, really, quitting weed wasn’t hard while I was in Ireland. I had moments of anxiety and uncertainty, but I was traveling alone with no itinerary. I was empowered to choose what my body and spirit really wanted in each moment. Since I returned home, however, I’ve been thinking about weed approximately every 23 seconds.
I’ve spent a lifetime policing my emotional landscape, pushing away certain feelings because they aren’t comfortable.
In the past, I’ve mostly used weed to help me tune into a particular frequency of reality where there is no separate self, which I’ve written about in other articles. What I didn’t realize is that I’ve also sometimes used weed to push through the (perfectly reasonable) resistance I feel in certain moments.
Essentially, I smoked weed to force myself to do shit I didn’t actually want to do; to push myself to do things I ultimately wanted to do, but at the wrong times; and—the most insidious—I smoked weed to not feel certain types of feelings that I deemed unsavory. I used it as a way to resist whatever challenging emotional experience I was feeling.
The fact that I’ve spent a lifetime policing my emotional landscape, pushing away certain feelings because they aren’t comfortable, isn’t a new realization.
I’ve used all kinds of strategies to escape my own inner landscape, whether that be snorting heroin, bingeing on alcohol or ice cream or pizza, swallowing prescription opioids, or taking a prescribed SSRIs and mood stabilizers.
I’ve worked hard to heal and reclaim my capacity to fully honor whatever I’m feeling. But I wasn’t tracking the full truth of just how often I was using weed as a strategy for pushing myself through resistance, whether to force myself to do something I “should” be doing or to get away from a feeling I “shouldn’t” be having.
And it’s not just me. We all have our moments of wanting to escape.
People have written extensively on this idea of a “Great Escape,” this very human, biologically hardwired thing we do, pushing away the mundane, resisting the circumstances of our lives, always looking for an “escape” of some kind.
But these implications that we are “hardwired” for anything can be dangerous, and they only tell part of the story. For me, the idea that we’ve got some biologically hardwired tendency to run away from our lives, to escape the contexts we find ourselves in, is a downer that quickly leads me down a disempowering and reductionist path.
I advocate for a wider lens where, when we talk about human tendencies, we include the deep, empowering ramifications of the latest findings in neurobiology and trauma healing, where our brains are neuroplastic and massive shifts and consciousness evolution are, in fact, possible.
A parallel story to the idea that we’re wired for escapism, and one that is more accurate for me personally is this: We receive varying degrees of obedience training from the time we are born.
Truly, deeply, honoring what is true in each moment — for ourselves and for others — is one of the most radical acts we can take to reclaim our inner authority and well-being.
We are enculturated into hierarchical domination. Our cultural institutions create and reinforce systems of oppression where we have to fight and contort and conform to get closer to the center of power (white, male, able-bodied, straight, etc.) in order to get power for ourselves. We all internalize that thinking (including white able-bodied straight males), and we turn those patterns inward, where we begin a lifetime habit of controlling ourselves, doing shit we don’t want to do, sublimating our own impulses and uniqueness in exchange for external validation, status, belonging, love, and survival.
Who the fuck wouldn’t want to escape that?
I’m a white, able-bodied, educated, upper-middle-class person who works from home and has disposable income and no children to care for. Clearly my decision to “stop doing shit I don’t want to do” is easier than it would be for many people. And yet this realization is helping me quit—and stay quit from—marijuana, and it’s encouraging me to stop and listen when my body is resisting my mind’s idea of what I’m “supposed” to be doing or feeling in a given moment.
The difference in how I approach my thinking now, compared to how I approached it with weed, is startling.
For example, if I’m thinking: “I have to do that annoying newsletter and then build that webpage. Ugh, I just wish someone else would do it. I’m so sick of this job.” Weed would suggest I get high, making the annoying thing bearable. But, really, that resistance is my body telling me it’s time for a new client or a new way of making money that is more meaningful or a reality check on things I’ve agreed to that would be done more joyfully by someone else.
Or how about those moments when I’m thinking, “Ugh—I don’t wanna unpack, reassemble my room after putting everything away for the subletter, do laundry and grocery shopping.” Weed would undoubtedly tell me it would all be more tolerable with a bong hit. But, really, that’s me placating the part of my self-critical, drill-sergeant brain that thinks right now is the only right time to do a particular task. And if I don’t, I’m just lazy as fuck.
Instead of grabbing the bong, I can remind myself there will come a time when I’m going to be excited to set up my room and fill the fridge with food. If that time’s not right now, that’s okay.
Whatever challenging thing is happening in your emotional landscape in each moment, there is a perfectly good reason for it — and feeling it is much faster and more relaxing than resisting it.
As for the big one, the “denying what is true for me in a particular moment and making myself wrong for what I’m feeling,” there’s a better way to handle that too.
If I’m feeling sad and depressed, if I’m lamenting how I should be grateful, and convincing myself what I’m feeling has no reason. I wish this feeling would go away, but the answer probably isn’t to escape by smoking a joint. Instead, I need to remember that no one is “depressed for no reason”—despite what my inner voice thinks.
Finding the source of the feelings and then peeking underneath to see what needs aren’t being met is one of the keys I’ve found to building nervous system resilience, inner calm, acceptance, and wholeness.
Truly, deeply, honoring what is true in each moment—for ourselves and for others—is one of the most radical acts we can take to reclaim our inner authority and well-being.
This is the most revealing thing I’ve learned since quitting my weed addiction (and every other addiction I’ve ever had, for that matter), and this realization holds the key to my own sobriety in the long run: Whatever challenging thing is happening in your emotional landscape in each moment, there is a perfectly good reason for it—and feeling it is much faster and more relaxing than resisting it.
After all, we know now from relational neurobiology that those of us who haven’t internalized a loving, secure, warm, and attuned inner parent can find it virtually impossible to “just be with” our feelings. If people lack a resonating, compassionate self-witness to accompany them in times of emotional intensity, they will likely be flooded, overwhelmed, and then shuttled into whatever their go-to distraction strategy is.
Research has shown the vagus nerve controls our fight/flight/freeze responses in conjunction with the emotional alarm system (the amygdala), and 80 percent of the information flow from that nerve goes upward from the body, not top-down from our prefrontal cortex. Without building fibers between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex through warm, secure attachment, our body will continue to react until we can internalize the self-soothing capacity of secure attachment that enables us to actually feel and accompany ourselves in our own pain the way a loving parent would.
fMRIs have shown that the nervous system relaxes a bit once we name and acknowledge the feelings we’re feeling. Research also indicates that the nervous system further relaxes once we consistently name and acknowledge unmet needs that are underneath the feeling. Our bodies are trying to tell us through feelings what is important to us. But we have to listen.
Acknowledging feelings and needs won’t necessarily make the uncomfortable feeling go away, but it does free up our nervous system to relax enough to come to a place of balance enough to ground ourselves to decide what to do about it.