Weeding Out The Fear: Confessions Of A Former Closeted Pothead

It's time to come out of the canna-closet.

From the first time I smoked pot until my late twenties, I was consuming it like everyone else with conservative parents: in secret.

It was one thing to toke up at night, parked under a broken street light dubbed “the dark spot” when I was 20; it was an entirely different thing to, at 29, be huddled in a corner of my mom’s backyard, secretly inhaling and hoping the wind blew away from the open kitchen window nearby.

Before it was legal, hiding your stash and all evidence of it was a natural part of the routine. You “aired off” before going inside, carried Clear Eyes and body spray, and hid your weed in not-so-inventive places like your sock drawer. When I moved into my mom’s house last year, I knew I would have to take extra measures to hide my pot passion. And I have to say, there’s a lot of teenage-era déjà vu that comes with blatantly lying to your parents.

It wasn’t until she knocked on my door one day and found me freshly baked that it first occurred to me something had to change. Whatever her reason for knocking was, she forgot it immediately. She sniffed the air and looked around the room.

“Are you smoking weed?” she asked point-blank.

“No,” I casually lied. “I was working out.”

Image via VSCO

We stared at each other for a moment, me in my pajamas and not a drop of sweat to back up the lie. Clearly confused, she left without saying much else. And just like that, I’d perpetuated our habit of politely lying to one another. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder, what was I actually hiding?

To be fair, my mom is a devoted, practicing Christian who believes in the Bible as much as I believe in National Geographic. Everything I love she tends to disapprove of and her favorite way of dealing with unpleasantness is pretending that it doesn’t exist. After many years of trial and error I figured out the only peaceful way to deal with my mom was to not. We’ve never talked much about relationships, sex, friendships, drinking, or the mental health issues that circled my late twenties. She only knows the most basic aspects of my life. Why fill her in if she’s only going to disapprove?

I knew if my mom was opposed to marijuana it was most likely based on the incorrect stigmas and assumptions she’d learned growing up.

I’ll admit I seethed with jealousy when I found out one of my lifelong friends started being open with her parents about smoking and even got them to toke up with her. I wasn’t ambitious (or naïve) enough to think my mom and I would be ripping bongs together anytime soon, but I knew I wanted to tell her.

I knew if my mom was opposed to marijuana it was most likely based on the incorrect stigmas and assumptions she’d learned growing up. I’d heard her make negative comments about the drug before, but I wanted to prove to her there was nothing wrong with partaking and that you could be as busy, driven, and responsible as anyone else if you did. My time to own who I was, whether it was mother-approved or not, had arrived in the form of a smoky, pine-scented haze.

But first I had to panic for a week.

I spent most of that time stewing in elaborate, multi-stepped plans about the best scenarios in which to drop a truth-bomb. I Googled “how to tell your parents you smoke marijuana” and read through the same stale advice, none of which seemed to fit my specific situation.

When the internet failed, I turned to the people I knew. While a lot of my friends agreed that their parents probably knew that they smoked, most of them had never come out and said it. The most common situation I heard was one where everyone knew but nobody acknowledged it and it was still done in half-secret.

I couldn’t help but wonder why that was. I understood why people might not want to toke up in their living rooms while the family watched a movie, but I thought it was strange that no one was talking about its benefits either.

Sure, I smoke for the traditional reasons of getting high and relaxing, but over the years, my marijuana use took on a different meaning. It got me through a torn ACL, a death in the family, and the everyday stress of full-time school and work. One of the reasons I could handle the heavy load I constantly juggled was because I could always take a mental health break in the form of green goodness. It had taught me to slow down and take things as they come. I’m a detail-oriented, obsessive person who needs constant reminding that I can’t control everything and that that’s okay. Weed helped me do all of this; it wasn’t so much a recreational habit as it was a form of therapy.

That’s what made me realize I had to do this the old fashioned way; I just had to tell my mom the truth.

I couldn’t comprehend the level of calm exuding from the woman who once told me, at age 13, that I couldn’t dye my hair because it would lead to premarital sex.

We sat across from each other at Panera Bread one Saturday afternoon and I anxiously listened to my mom talk about her job, all the while waiting for her to mention something—anything—to open the conversation to the topic of marijuana. Even when she mentioned obvious things, like plants, my insides quietly exploded and I remained silent, unable to take the plunge. I changed my mind a few times sitting there, but eventually our plates emptied and the time started slipping away from me. Facts about marijuana, the war on drugs, and health benefits bounced noisily through my brain.

I looked at my mom during a lull in the conversation, took a breath, and told her that I’d been looking into an internship at a cannabis lifestyle magazine.

She nodded and took a last bite of her salad.

I waited for a condescending look, an eye roll, a lecture, a scripture, any one of the responses I’d gotten in the past. She just kept chewing.

“Did you hear me?” I asked.

“Cannabis? That’s marijuana, right?”

I nodded. She shrugged.

“It’s legal now. You’re an adult. I used to smoke weed too,” she said simply, taking a sip of her tea.

I couldn’t comprehend the level of calm exuding from the woman who once told me, at age 13, that I couldn’t dye my hair because it would lead to premarital sex.

“Besides,” she added, “I already know. In fact I’ve been wanting to ask you to sweep up your ashes.”

Fair enough.

It took a minute to wrap my head around what was happening, but what followed was the first honest conversation we’d had in years. She told me stories about smoking with my aunt, about feeling paranoid sometimes, and how she once gave up weed for Lent. I told her marijuana had changed a lot since she was young and that it was used for a wide range of physical and mental issues now and that I personally used it to quell my anxiety.

“Really?” she said, smiling. “Wow. We just did it to get high.”

As we sat there trading stories, it became clear to me that in all the time I spent preparing for this moment, building my defense, doing research, asking opinions, I’d never readied myself for an accepting conversation. I’d been so scared about the potential backlash it didn’t occur to me that I might be the only one making negative judgment calls.

It can be scary being open about my marijuana use in places where I’ve been conditioned to hide it, like at work or around my religious family. But acceptance or open-mindedness can’t grow if I keep the conversation in the dark where anyone can make whatever assumptions they want. It’s a disservice to the herb and all the hard-working people I know who use it to hide its benefits and treat it like it’s something to be ashamed of. I’d gotten past the hardest part, telling my mom, and I wasn’t planning on stopping there.

Now, when I find myself questioning my choices, I ask myself, what am I hiding?

I’m hiding the best way to unwind after a long day of school and work. I’m hiding the only thing that levels out my anxiety quicker than any pill ever has.

I’m not doing much hiding anymore.