Why Feeling Good is Bad
I’m either a trailblazer or a fool. Let me explain.
In 2013, shortly after quitting a 2 year habit of nightly, alcoholic inebriation, I had my gall bladder removed on the insistence of my specialist due to pain in my right side. For those who understand sobriety or have been in a recovery program before, you will undoubtedly know that most people in recovery suggest not doing anything dramatic the first year of recovery, like moving, getting married, changing jobs; I would add major surgeries or procedures to that list. I say this mainly because there was bound to be damage to my organs from my progression through alcoholism. I gave my body no real time to recover after I quit. The aftermath of taking out my “big ole’ gallbladder” (according to the doc) has been followed by years of unexplained stomach issues ranging from gastritis, IBD/IBS, daily vomiting/nausea and pain—lots of PAIN.
Two years of daily vomiting will stretch your sanity to the limit. Among other issues, I quit drinking to stop the morning purge, yet here I was. Three specialists later, I found myself sitting in my primary care office crying to my largely sympathetic practitioner. The impetus of my tearful release was born out of 5 years of pain, procedures, medications, tests, diet modifications and specialists (one who asked: “do you ever just think that this is something you’ll have to just live with?” another one clearly frustrated with my poor response to her medication recommendations: “so, what do you want me to do for you?”). The most recent gastroenterologist implied that my issues with anxiety and depression were creating a less than ideal stomach environment. I submitted to this diagnosis. He sent me on my way.
You really find out what you’re made of when food, one of the basic necessities and joys in life, becomes a daily excursion into unhappiness. I had tried every herbal remedy that exists, studied and practiced meditation at great lengths, visited an acupuncturist and worked with a therapist doing visualizations and reframing thoughts that may have contributed to the misery, with minimal success. So on the next trip to my primary care I told her I was getting my medical marijuana card and would begin using it to see what kind of relief it could provide. Unsurprisingly, she was on board as she is one of the most empathic doctors I have ever met. She also commented that she had seen success with many of her patients who went down the same road with similar health issues. There was one problem though. I was in active recovery from alcoholism. I went to step meetings, had a sponsor and sponsored people. The overwhelming sentiment from those in recovery was that the use of marijuana, even medical marijuana (MMJ), would disqualify me as being in recovery. This was no gray area—it was a less than implicit “no” from 12 Step programs.
I began toiling between staying on the same frustrating path with my stomach issues or stepping outside of the fundamentalist views forged in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous and using MMJ to address this, regardless of the outcome. After bringing up my dilemma to those I’m close to in recovery I got several different views ranging from respectful understanding to outright concern. I am not surprised. AA is based in a world where giving up self-will and control is a basic tenant and one most agree is as necessary as giving up alcohol. Removing the drink is not the problem, because it is the addict who is the problem. On this basis of understanding, the use of MMJ is an attempt to control an outcome by using a substance that has mind altering effects. Essentially, replacing one chemical for another. Consumers of marijuana will tell you, there is resounding positive effect on mood. And for someone who has felt the ills of depression and anxiety the majority of his life, the thought of having a positive mood was enthralling, if not elusive.
There is a saying from famed brief interventionist Steve de Shazer “if it works do more of it”. Certainly if marijuana worked I would end up going overboard (one of my friends was adamant about this) and if it felt good like alcohol did at first, then I would surely become a “stoner”, given into excess, finding myself admitting defeat as I digressed into helplessness.
After meeting with the doctor, I got my card in the mail less than a week later.The word "surreal" is not one I would attach to moments in my life, but this was indeed one of those. It was intimidating too. The experience I have had in the past two months using MMJ has been subtle, the trepidation was manageable. I am not shackled to my couch with a bong and a cloud of smoke engulfing me. I realize my sample size is quite small, yet I will say the most profound part of this experience is being able to consciously take part in my physical recovery after being shuttled through different specialists, medicine and tests for what seemed like forever. Empowerment is an able-bodied challenger of my despondent sense of self-control.
I don’t believe I could have had the strength to follow through with this if I hadn’t had six years of fellowship and friendship gained in the program of Alcoholics Anonymous. Noting this is a two sided sword with equally perilous blades (fundamentalist recovery and this new, unfamiliar terrain), I knew I would have to wield this precarious weapon with care. Understanding myself within the context of a group allowed me to seek out this option for the recovery of my physical (and mental) health, which ultimately prompted this conclusion. I came into AA to stop drinking, and that has not changed. I also realized while recovery programs are of great benefit to many aspects of life, they won’t cure physical and mental ailments, they just won’t.
There is this myth in recovery (and maybe in life) that recovery is only earned if it is uncomfortable and taxing—and yes, it shouldn’t be easy! So why on earth would we do anything that would make us feel good artificially? Cigarettes, caffeine, high calorie foods, sex; are all liberally used and abused by many of those in recovery—gray areas. I don’t know where MMJ sits in that mix, but the view as I have seen from a recovery point of view is that it offers no benefit. Because feeling “good” is bad.
I have never disagreed with an ideology more passionately than this one.
I’m not publishing this to fly in the face of those who love and support me in my recovery, those who have found consistent success in AA or NA and unfortunately, those who no longer associate with me because of my decision. Yet I gave up scrutinizing others’ potential judgments of me during this process. It put me on notice that what people thought of me mattered. In most psychology theories what people think of us is “none of our business”. The mentality of living my life by the conscious of a group was exponentially damaging to my autonomy. I needed to help myself, I needed to do what was right for me even if it did fly in the face of those who disagreed with my choice. After all, this life is mine, I’m ok owning my decision.
I don’t think I’m a trailblazer, but I wouldn’t call myself a fool either. Using medical marijuana could have and still could go sideways like any major life decision (even the removal of a gallbladder). I took back control of my physical and mental health and in doing so let go of the false belief that I am free to do what I want without consequences. The consequence here may be the loss of friends and further scrutiny from an issue that is bound to be controversial for a very long time. I’m ok with that too.
I’ve allowed myself to feel good in this decision, because I’ve had enough of feeling bad.