[DRAFT] from Ch1 “It Started in AP Bio”

Excerpt from my upcoming book (my goal is to finish writing by mid/end of September and published by mid November)!

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Getting high off my ass was the first time I felt like the world (and my existence) didn’t have to be so painful. It made me feel like I could continue on, like I had something to strive towards. “Maybe I could make my brain quieter like this all the time?” I thought to myself, “Maybe I could even like being alive.” 

I remember the swish of those branches and when I looked up at their melodic dance, I smiled for real.

“So you like it.” A clear voice from across the way asked. His voice was a new one. We had never talked before. I brought my gaze down, partly to see who it was but mostly because when people talk to you they expect you to look in their general direction or else it’s considered rude. I usually aim for the forehead, because it is close enough to be almost indiscernible from true eye contact for the other person, but sometimes I miss and at that exact moment my motor skills were pretty affected.

I missed the forehead. I was in the danger zone and I noticed he was looking back at me, too. It was going to happen. And it did.

Our eyes fully met. 

It took a moment to process that I wasn’t in pain. How unusual.

“You look surprised,” he smiled and gave a small laugh before he was the one to look down, a little awkwardly. 

I was more than surprised. I was experiencing something I never thought would happen. I was looking someone in the eyes while they were talking to me without any pain. His eyes were a stunning mix of gray, green, and light copper. I smiled back at him.

“Yeah, I really like it.”

Everyone laughed and I felt something new stirring from deep within my core. I was sharing an experience and I was clicked into it with them; I was fully in it. Those gray eyes lit on me again and I laughed and laughed and laughed at the lack of pain. I spent a lot of time looking into that first pair of eyes. He became a lot of my firsts – my first love, my first loss, and my first cannabis mentor.

On one of our early dates, we smoked in his car before walking along the cliffs by the beach. I loved the feeling of the sand and filled my pockets with it so I could keep stimming, or repeating a movement that scratches an itch on the inside of my brain. I woke up the next morning, my jean shorts kicked to the end of the bed, with my bed full of sand. He never let me live that one down.

My first time would have been a fairy tale if I wasn’t so prone to anxiety, but there’s lessons to learn from the harshness of reality. The onset of smoking is fast, usually full effects are felt in less than ten minutes, and so I felt it almost immediately when I crossed my limit that very first time. My thoughts became fragmented, disorganized, and a sharp edge had returned to all the sounds around me.

The change happened suddenly and it felt as if everything that was light and airy had turned dark and scary. My stomach curled itself up into a ball, which was a telltale sign of worse things to come. I didn’t know what was happening, all I knew was that I was not feeling good.

I struggle to name emotions and rely upon a pretty complex analysis of the physical symptoms in my body and the greater context of the situation I’m in, a phenomenon called alexithymia. Anxiety for me is all stomach and clamminess. At a certain point I turn within myself and am forced to race around in my own brain in looping circular thought patterns that repeat over and over and over. It was getting difficult to speak and I became even more distressed.

The low rumble of a panic attack was gaining space around the bottom of my brain stem, a black, inky blotch spreading itself out and waiting for the right trigger to sever my control to my brain and body. Luckily the Hillcrest Crew was an experienced bunch. They identified I had become anxious, pinpointed that I wanted to be by myself, assured me that it would definitely pass quickly, and drove me home where I could become paranoid about my dad smelling me. In the state I was in, I rushed into what I thought the only solution could be… which was to shower… with all my clothes on.

In retrospect the damp clothes hanging in the bathroom were probably more suspicious than if I had just thrown them in the washer. The higher doses of cannabis can impair planning and critical thinking, especially in naive minds and/or combined with anxiety. But after the weirdly clothed shower and finding myself in a more familiar space at home, the paranoia and panic did pass. It took around an hour, which is the average peak duration of a smoking dose before it begins to come down. 

A few more hours later and all of the impairment had slipped away. My brain’s main functionality returned to baseline, but the background humming was still lowered. I had found a new type of quietness from within that my brain lacked access to before. My thoughts felt like they were basking in a calm lake instead of being tossed around in the open ocean.

I woke up the next day feeling incredible, feeling undoubtedly changed, feeling like I had an option.

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Cannabis gave me the ability to explore social situations with a new perspective and helped me gain new abilities. Building experience with other young stoners while under the influence of cannabis helped me to go on to forge the relationships that saved me.

Community support of friends and family is the single most important factor in dictating the success of a person’s recovery from trauma. I would not be here now if it weren’t for a very large array of people who have been there to provide me with the right support at the right time. I cannot stress enough how critical the role of cannabis was in my ability to create and maintain those relationships. 

(It still is today)

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