Can I Use Cannabis and Still Call Myself Sober?
A few weeks ago, I told my therapist that I would not have been able to get sober without using cannabis. She chuckled, gave me a funny look, and asked if I thought cannabis use equaled sobriety. Caught off guard, I couldn't help but wonder if she had a point. Were my years of sobriety erased? Did I need to go back to day one? Can I use cannabis and still call myself sober?
My Cannabis During Sobriety Story
Marijuana was not a part of my story until my early 30s, just before it became legal in Michigan. During childhood, the government and the criminal justice system taught me that marijuana was something to be feared, a gateway drug. But now, I know that rhetoric came from a place of racism and stigma.1 Personal experience has proven that alcohol is, in fact, the most dangerous gateway drug.
When this stretch of my alcohol-free journey began in 2020, I didn't even try to stop using cannabis. One of my favorite recovery sayings is to "kill the shark closest to the boat" or eliminate the behavior causing the most harm. For me, that behavior was alcohol consumption. Cannabis didn't lead to blackouts, ruined relationships, pancreatitis, or three-day hangovers that left me bedridden and jobless. I could still go to therapy, pay my bills, and function in the real world while using cannabis during those early days of my alcohol-free journey. Marijuana was not the shark closest to my boat.
With time though, after about 18 months alcohol-free, my relationship with cannabis shifted. Last year on October 10th at 10:10 a.m. (10101010 for my numerology pals), I had a tooth pulled and could not smoke for five days as a part of my follow-up care. Five days seemed impossible, but I did it, gained momentum, and ended up going two whole weeks cannabis-free. When I finally did smoke again, it was a terrible experience. Now, I don't enjoy cannabis because it leads me down a mental rabbit hole of rumination and catastrophizing. Simply put, cannabis served a purpose on my alcohol-free journey until it didn't.
Does Cannabis Help Me Build a Life Worth Living?
After contemplating my therapist's question for a few weeks, I've decided that the word sober doesn't quite fit my journey, and that's okay. In today's world, everyone uses different addictive behaviors (overspending, overworking, caffeine, nicotine, pornography, disordered eating, Netflix binges, doom scrolling, etc.) to take the edge off, making it nearly impossible to claim perfect sobriety. In my experience, harm reduction by killing the shark closest to the boat was life-saving.
Perhaps asking if I can use cannabis and still be sober is the wrong question. Instead, I can take a more nuanced, less judgmental approach by practicing compassionate curiosity. Gently asking myself if certain behaviors, like cannabis use, are helping me build a life worth living is the birthplace of healing.
Resing, C. (2023, February 27). Marijuana Legalization Is a Racial Justice Issue | ACLU. American Civil Liberties Union. https://www.aclu.org/news/criminal-law-reform/marijuana-legalization-racial-justice-issue
Cronkright, K. (2023, April 2). Can I Use Cannabis and Still Call Myself Sober? , HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, June 2 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/debunkingaddiction/2023/4/can-i-use-cannabis-and-still-call-myself-sober