I am in recovery, and I use marijuana. I want to place a “but” in between those two statements, because I feel like I should. I feel like I should use the word “but” because the box labeled “Recovery” I was given on the very first day I didn’t get loaded had a disclaimer on it. Someone told me recovery was when you, “just don’t use,” and practice “complete abstinence.” They told me I was “gonna die” if I got high.
I’ll admit, I needed that disclaimer in those early days, months, and years. I took those warnings and I made them mine. I repeated them, rewrote them, and etched them into my very recovering soul. Seven years later, that disclaimer has become something that has filled me with shame and guilt. Those recovery stipulations have become the things that eat at me until getting wasted seems like the only way out.
The shame and guilt I have felt since deciding to try marijuana as a recovery tool has changed me. I have become silent, sullen, and full of fear. I started hiding again. I refused to be honest with people I have learned will never turn on me. I stopped speaking out about inclusive recovery because I was afraid if I did, I would be cast aside by the recovery community that saved my life. I internalized and perpetuated the stigma that I have always wanted to smash.
I could list the myriad of physical and mental symptoms that drove me to seek marijuana as a solution, but I won’t. I don’t have to. Not to myself, and especially not to the 12-step Billy Bob reading this, deciding my recovery doesn’t count. I am exhausted from hiding. I am exhausted by the belief that I must justify my recovery choices.
I appreciate those in the rooms of 12 step programs who have shared wisdom and experience with me, but I do not appreciate the shame I’m asked to feel because I am on a different path then they are. I left the rooms because they no longer served me, and that is okay. I hid in shame because I was afraid of the shunning I’ve witnessed firsthand when a person gets honest about practicing non-abstinence-based recovery.
That is not okay. Instead of risking being shunned, I hid in the dark. The end result of isolation and shame was exactly the same, and in the process, I lost myself and started to believe my voice was no longer valid. Even worse, I convinced myself that I don’t get to have a voice in the recovery space.
I am not responsible for the planting of those seeds of shame and doubt. They were given to me by others who encouraged me to water and care for them. What grew was a toxic weed that smothered my own garden. I could not prune back the weeds without ripping out the taproot under the surface.
I cannot sit back anymore. My recovery and the recovery of other people using marijuana is as valid as anyone else’s. Period. If people need to distance themselves from me because of it, so be it. I feel like that would be a perfect example of the universe doing for me what I cannot do for myself. I need your support, not your condemnation. Every recovering person deserves that. Every human being does.
My idea of a Recovery box is gone. The disclaimer has failed me. I know I’m not alone. I know this because my friends are dying trying to squeeze themselves into the imaginary box alongside me.
It’s time for us, as a larger recovering population, to admit there is no recovery box so we all have room to breathe. I used to think that box was crafted from steel. It’s not. It’s just plain old cardboard. I’m ready to turn it into a mat I can breakdance on 1980’s style. I am ready to pop, lock and spin on the street for all to see — to be proud of my recovery path and encourage others to do the same.
Many in the audience will turn and walk away. I have to be okay with that. I’m absolutely confident that their place in the crowd will be taken by someone else who just wants to dance alongside me.