I was 18 years old and headed to Penn State. I had been accepted early decision to the Smeal College of Business and the Sapphire Leadership Academic Program. The world was in front of me but I couldn’t see it. My vision was masked by a cloud of marijuana smoke. My primary focus was on getting drunk, high, and living a party lifestyle. Instead of channeling all of my efforts into academics or other positive things in life, I channeled them into getting as high as possible as much as possible.
That is me on the right with the blue hat. My group was featured on some promotional material sent out the following year
I went to my first college class in July of 2011. It was a special summer backpacking trip for incoming freshman prior to the fall semester. I remember leaving and my parents telling me that they would drug test me when I got back. I didn’t really care. I packed some pot brownies and headed to the wilderness.
For the other students, the trip was special. It was an opportunity to make new friends and meditate on the year to come. I didn’t see it that way. I saw a chance to eat pot brownies in the woods and that is exactly what I did.
At the conclusion of the trip we were asked to write ourselves a letter. They said that they would mail it to us four years from that day. They invited us to ask ourselves questions, like; how was the college experience, where are we heading next, what is life like now, and what do we want life to be like in the future.
I recently received my letter, just weeks before my two-year sobriety anniversary.
“SMOKE WEED EAT PIZZA”
Were my goals and ambitions in life really to smoke weed and eat pizza?
The letter i RECEIVED in the mail
Truthfully, I did have lofty goals back then. I had goals of growing marijuana in Colorado or synthesizing LSD in an underground lab. At the time, that is truly what I wanted. I smoked a lot of pot. I certainly did misuse many other drugs and alcohol on a regular basis, but pot was my go-to. I swore that it was the cure to everything, that all of the world’s problems would end if everyone just got high. I remember questioning everyone’s happiness who didn’t smoke weed. I had completely convinced myself that I was unable to be happy without marijuana.
In reality, marijuana was a huge ambition killer for me. Although the physical addictiveness is usually subtle as well as the physical withdraw, I couldn’t stop smoking pot. A heavy dose of THC was necessary for everything in my life.
This idea is not new. In a 2010 interview with Rollingstone, Robert Downey Jr. calls marijuana “the biggest ambition crusher of them all” and bemoans as a singularly “insidious” substance because it’s widely regarded as benign.
Encyclopedia Britannica describes potential energy as stored energy that depends upon the relative position of various parts of a system. I can apply this to most aspects of my life prior to getting sober. I was fully capable of getting good grades and excelling, but this was just potential energy. It was impossible for me to tap into this power while getting high. Marijuana was dangerous to be because it made me unable to tap into my stored energy and ambition. I thought marijuana was manageable for a long time. When I smoked pot, stagnation was perceived as progress.
This photo was taken on the first day of my sobriety
For me, marijuana differed from alcohol in many ways. When I drank alcohol the way I smoked pot, I usually became violent and dangerous. The consequences added up quickly. The repercussions of marijuana were much more subtle in comparison. I would forget about homework, space out for a lecture, forget to apply to the honors college, forget a family member’s birthday, forget to pay rent, spend all of my rent money, burn my dinner, and/or pick up a possession charge. While I thought I was doing well because alcohol and other drugs generally had worse immediate consequences for me, I was actually missing all of my ambition. I was like an arrow sitting in a taught bow that the archer forgot he was ready to shoot… for about six years. You’d think their hand would get tired!
My drive in life was foggy. I knew that smoking weed got me high and I liked to get high so that is what I wanted out of life. Everything else seemed unnecessary. I would dream of doing all of these crazy awesome things in life but I usually just smoked pot instead of following through with them. My goals, dreams, and ambitions changed to the glorified pedestal that I had placed drugs and alcohol on. Drug culture became my identity. I thought that you weren’t cool unless you got high.
Progression kicked in and eventually it was time to get sober. Suddenly “SMOKE WEED EAT PIZZA” became run a marathon, get a job, go back to school, make the dean’s list, explore new places, make new friends, and grow in sobriety. I’ve written before about the effect student recovery programs have on early sobriety and how students in recovery seem to not only reach their potential quickly, but often surpass their peers.
A recent HEAD SHOT of mine, about two years into sobriety
Something amazing happened when I got sober. I’ve seen it happen to many other individuals, especially in young adults who pursue their education and recovery simultaneously. All that potential energy was harnessed as soon as I put down the drugs and alcohol. It was as if the archer suddenly remembered how to shoot a bow and arrow and began hitting bull’s eye after bull’s eye.
Today, I set goals and I achieve them. As cliché’ as it sounds, I usually wake up in the morning with ambition to change the world. I used to wake up in the morning and think to myself, “let’s see how f****** up I can get today. “ In two years, I went from withdrawing in a jail cell with a hopeless outlook on life to a college graduate with multiple degrees, an amazing full time job, and the world ahead of me.
I’m not going to lie and say it was easy to get where I am today. It took a lot of treatment, support, and a strong recovery program. So many times life looked like it was going nowhere and putting in the effort was pointless. I mean statistics class is hard to get motivated for, but imagine trying to do a lab when there is a very good possibility that you will be sentenced to a few months in jail the next morning. Applying to jobs is hard, but applying to jobs with a less than perfect criminal record is much harder.
The difference is when things look hopeless and the proper supports are in place and I am sober, I can see the big picture and move past the impending doom.
If only the 18 year old who wrote “SMOKE WEED EAT PIZZA” while eating pot brownies in the woods could see the person he would become.
Director of Technology
Life of Purpose Treatment
3848 FAU Boulevard, Suite 100
Boca Raton, FL 33431