The guy sat in front of us, blowing back marijuana smoke that twisted in the air and headed directly for my nostrils. I plugged my nose, trying to blow the smoke away through my lips. Thousands of fans milled about in the stands, cheering and drinking and chatting. A couple was making out a few rows down, stopping periodically to rock out to the band. Their bodies contorted as they expressed their love of the music that blared from the speakers.
My husband and I were at a Smashing Pumpkins concert. I knew people would be smoking there, though I wasn’t worried because it was an outside venue. But when this guy plopped his wavy locks of cascading brown hair down in front of me, I regretted my decision.
Aside from being in recovery, I also have a mental illness that requires me to take psychotropic medications every day. Without these medications, I would be dead. Period. No question. There would be no more Rachel. So I was distressed because both alcohol and THC cause my medications not to work. I found this out the hard way when I innocently tried to drink kombucha a few days in a row and ended up with voices in my head telling me to jump into the Columbia River.
At this point in my recovery, I can be around alcohol.
The scent of stale beer, though annoying, doesn’t trigger me the way it used to when booze-soaked bar stools called me home.
As my husband and I trekked around the concert grounds, we passed 20+ stands selling alcohol. Maybe five sold food. So we decked ourselves out in sandwiches and lemonade and soft-serve ice cream. My husband contemplated getting a mixed drink, and I said, “Go for it. I’m cool. I just won’t kiss you.” He decided against it, but I was proud of myself. I was finally comfortable enough to enjoy something without drinking.
Back to the guy smoking in front of us. My husband was concerned. “I think we should go. This isn’t going to be good for you.”
I googled “THC and psychosis” and showed him the article, which stated that consistent use of marijuana can cause psychosis in some people. Consistent. Some people. Maybe not me.
“I think it’s going to be fine,” I said, waving away yet another plume from this guy who still wasn’t stoned yet.
The first band finished and the opening band for the Pumpkins started up. We sat through an hour of it, reminiscing about opening bands we’d seen at past concerts. Once they finished, I suggested we stand up and walk around. After all, it would be 45 minutes or so before the Pumpkins came onstage. My husband agreed.
I should note here that I’m incredibly careful with food. I know exactly how many calories I need per day to function and not gain weight, and like a lot of moms, I gain weight a LOT more easily now than I ever did before. I had already eaten dinner and ice cream, and yet I was starving.
“Let’s get a soft pretzel,” I said.
“I want nachos,” he replied.
So we stood in line at one of the food buildings. As we were waiting to order, we heard the crowd in the stands begin to go wild.
I side-eyed my husband. “Shit,” I said. “We totally missed them coming onstage”
“It’s cool,” he said, taking his cheese-drenched nachos. “Let’s head back.”
We found our seats and listened as the band that was an integral part of our teenage years crooned to the audience. The smoker took a short break before lighting up again. I felt warm. I felt calm. The raging clamor that is my brain was quiet. I didn’t feel stoned. I just felt… peaceful.
As the band started into “Bullet With Butterfly Wings,” I was transported back to the sloping hill of eighth-grade lawn where we ate lunch as close to the speakers as we could get. The music would crescendo and then quiet, lulling us into a state that nostalgia barely touches.
Being the thirty-somethings we are, we left early. The drive back was nice, and we connected in ways that are difficult when you’re raising two tiny humans. Though we were both wrecked the next day from lack of sleep, I felt fine. No effects. No psychosis. I camped out in security, sure everything was going to be fine. That was Sunday.
By Monday, my brain was in turmoil. Paranoia set in. Work. Children. The noise. Insanity. Inside my head, the tiny Rachel was clutching her temples and slumped in an upright fetal position, eyes squeezed shut.
There were no suicidal thoughts—but the reaction was violent, and it took days to come down from it.
I struggled not to make rash decisions, like changing my career. I was sure I was going to get fired at work, even though I hadn’t done anything. Depression set in. There was no point. I was nothing. Worthless. My body felt like it was made of lead, and I dragged it through the days.
And through it all, it didn’t once occur to me to blame it on secondhand smoke. Not once. I wanted so badly to experience that concert that I was willing to put my sobriety—and my life—at risk. Stupid decision, maybe. But it’s done. And I’m okay.
I don’t want to put my life on hold because of this. I’ve been through enough heartache, and I deserve to be happy and to experience things that bring me joy. I’m still questioning myself about whether it was worth it and whether I can ever go to a concert again. And yet still when I think about it, I’m there again. I’m sitting in that audience, that same smell of stale beer, watching the smoke curl upwards into the stars. And I’m wondering if I need to go home.