The First Time…
The first time I made a mistake with my pain medication, I nearly passed out in my mother’s kitchen. The disorientation was so bad that the visual of her beige floor tiles against the beige wall paint created this looming bubble of nothingness. Fixation is a funny thing. I didn’t want to be looking. I could feel it overwhelming me. I couldn’t blink no matter how much I willed myself to.
Just blink, Erica. Blink and it’ll be gone. Just. Blink.
Pilots and sailors talk about a rare, and sometimes fatally overwhelming, moment when you can’t differentiate sea from sky; there’s just blue. Surfers and SCUBA divers have similar experiences under water. You can’t tell up from down, you’re fully enveloped – almost amniotic. Surfers say the best thing you can do is relax until the blue sees fit to spit you out. Everything in your mind is screaming at you to panic in that moment, but it’s important to ignore your brain and just let go. I’ve never been pulled underwater like that, but having seen Surf’s Up, I’m confident in my level of expertise on the matter. (See also: None.)
Overdoing my pain medication was like that. I was an animated penguin bashed on the seafloor. I was a scuba diver sucked backwards into the big blue. I was caught in a tumble with my mind racing to orient itself while my body went limp. Instead of the majestic and terrifying blues of the ocean – I was drowning in oatmeal. I was confused sludge. I wobbled under the weight of my mother’s Dapper Tan paint. God I hate that paint. It seemed then – and still does now – like wasted effort. A non-color color.
Seriously, this paint is like morally offensive to me and my love of color.
My opiate overdoses – and that’s exactly what they were – always start at the top of my head. It’s oppression. It’s the crushing heaviness of ten thousand disapproving mom-glares. It’s that feeling when someone you love says, “I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.” It buckles my knees and compresses the vertebrae until finally, there’s a burst. It’s in that moment you know you’ve gone too far. When the pressure gives way to the feeling of floating five stories above your body. It’s in that moment the Captain comes over the loudspeaker and announces they are no longer in control of the vessel. On that day, I sunk to the ground, quite literally, in slow motion. I knew I was in trouble, but I couldn’t find the energy to care. Thanks to the opiates, all I could think was:
I hate this paint and this shit is going to be the last thing I see.
Hating your mom’s paint choices is a weird thing to think about while you float like a zombie in between awake and away. I’m not going to say “asleep” because opiates don’t put you to sleep. They put you away. I was convinced in that moment that I was being sent packing from my body. I wasn’t worried that I would die. I knew I hadn’t taken anywhere near enough to be fatal or cause lasting damage to my organs. I was just incredibly, unintentionally, dangerously, high and I was positive that I was going to stay that way forever.
Sure, my body would go on breathing and being – Erica just wouldn’t be in it anymore.
Opiates were supposed to dull my constant pain – and my god there is constant pain. My scoliosis wasn’t caught until I was an adult, so my spine might as well be a curly willow. Oh, and there’s the whole glitter-rots-your-eyeball thing. Opiates did not do what they were supposed to do. They did not dull the pain while leaving my bubbly personality intact. What they did do was suck my mind out of my body long enough that I no longer cared about the twisted spine or lack of an eyeball.
(Note: This isn’t the experience everyone has. For some people, opiates are wonderfully helpful.)
It’s important to understand the reality of chronic pain. My spine will never be better. I’m not going to re-grow an eyeball; so my headaches and vertigo will never go away. This will never stop. No new mattress, essential oil, superfood “they” don’t want you to know about, or fitness craze will fix this. Ever.
I will be in pain for the rest of my life. Barring illness or tragedy, I still have a lot of life to go. I am sentenced to approximately fifty more years of daily pain.
So I got my prescription. It was the only option doctors ever gave me. Usually I outright refused to take the meds. But sometimes I would overdo a good day and send myself spiraling into five or six bad days. Opiates offered a “break” on the days that being trapped in my body was unbearable. It wasn’t a pleasant break, but it was a break nonetheless.
My bottle of pills became something of a coworker. I never really liked her, but whatever she got the job done, I guess. I called her Suzan – every office has a Suzan. She’s perky and the new hires like her, but the longstanding employees know there’s something not-right about her.
The pill bottle wanted to be my friend. Suzan was always there, always ready to “help” however she could. Every bad day meant having to deal with her. Every time I broke down and took a pain pill I was visibly annoyed by the fact that I had to do it.
Yeah. Whatever, Suzan. Just do your job.
I never struggled with an opiate addiction – but make no mistake, it’s only because I am one of the lucky ones. I don’t like the feeling of a body I am no longer piloting. I live big, I live bold. I’m an almost obscene splash of vibrant, but it requires me being in control or it all goes a little splatter-painty. Some people treasure no longer being behind the wheel – and I have such a visceral understanding of why.
Living with chronic pain and disability is like being inside of a burning house that you know you can’t escape. Daily dread. You know what you’re waking up to. You know you can’t stop it. There’s searing pain and the constant urge to jump out of a window to freedom, even if it means breaking a few bones. My body yells at me constantly. Get out! Run! Um … Ow!? How are you not doing something about this right now? This is killing you! Why are you just sitting there doing nothing?!
I would jump if I could, body, but the call is coming from inside the house and I’m not even sorry for that mixed metaphor.
For years I lived half-present. Muted by pain or opiates or both on the really “fun” days. For years I was beige. For years I was my mother’s Dapper Tan wall paint.
I hate this paint and this shit is going to be the last thing I see.
No Weed, No Way
I had given up cannabis in college. I wasn’t really looking to be stoned out of my mind watching “The Box” and eating a 50 pc. order of hot wings… again. My waistline still hasn’t forgiven me for my Freshman year. My parents were (are!) both ministers, can you imagine the scandal I’d cause for them? My siblings were all annoying as hell when high. If I had to tell the “stoner-kid” at work the same thing ONE MORE TIME I was going to have to eat him as a matter of principle. I refused to be like them.
There was nothing in me that wanted to give cannabis a try for my pain. I didn’t want to be “stoned” trying to take care of my kids.
The thing I didn’t see at first was, when I took my prescription medication I was absolutely stoned out of my freaking gourd attempting to care for my children. I could hardly form coherent sentences and my motivation might as well have been on mute. But nooooo! No weed! Reefer Madness, people!!!
I’m exaggerating. I’ve always been interested in science as well as herbal medicine. My education was focused on scientific study. I understood the racist roots of the entire idea of “reefer madness,” I had just decided that cannabis wasn’t a viable thing for me. I remembered being stoned in college and I let that idea block me from further researching and testing.
My preconceptions stole years from me – but I’m getting ahead of myself.
First, I want to talk about fat babies. I want to sing a song about the glories of wonderfully fat babies; babies with wristrolls and thunder thighs, babies who you nickname “Cheeks” because really, what else could you call them? Genetics and grandparents who love with food meant that I had two beautiful bouncing butterballs for babies.
Pictured: Butterball 1 and 2. These pictures are 5 years apart. No, that’s not the same baby, I just have strong genetics.
Picking those babies up was hard for me. Both of my children were tall and heavy. I am short and have a spinal deformity. Parenting has definitely been a “lift with your legs, not with your back” situation. There were days, particularly after losing my eye, where I couldn’t even be near my children. I couldn’t cuddle them. I remember laying alone in the dark crying because I wanted to play with those precious little loves – but I had just lost my eye and sound gave me crippling headaches and their laughter was physically painful for me. I felt like a monster, not a mother. When my spine acts up and my hips lock, I can’t bend down to them.
Chronic pain kept me distant from my babies. It wasn’t until my youngest was four that something changed. I hate what I’m about to type, but had it not been for a dude I was REALLY into, it would have taken me a lot longer to figure out that cannabis makes me a better mother.
YUP. I SAID IT. CANNABIS MAKES ME A BETTER MOTHER. I WILL NEVER APOLOGIZE FOR THAT.
“How The Fuck?”
He would come watch the band I was in. We had smoked together a few times at his place. Not normally my thing, but not something I was opposed to if I had nothing else to do for a while.
This night was different. This time, in the middle of conversation with the rest of the circle, the joint found its way into my hand. College brain must have kicked in because I hit it. Just like that, I was in the rotation.
I was a goddamn rock star killing my little stage that night – but I never once felt high. I felt loose. I felt present. I felt unafraid. My moment in Joplin-hood was awesome since I have pretty bad stage fright – but it wasn’t the important part. The important part happened when I got home, some time around 3AM.
My fournado was awake. She’d had a rough night. My poor little needed some mommy time. Instinctively I squatted down.
I can squat?
I wrapped my arms around her little feverish body.
I can move my shoulder like that?
Then I just, stood up. I lifted her. Easily.
How the Fuck? What!? What sorcery is this???
I was able to care for her, soothe her, comfort her. Nothing hurt. My mobility was fluid and easy. I completely understood what Pinocchio meant when he shouted, elated, that he was a real boy. I moved and felt like a real, actual, functional human body.
And it was glorious.
Education And Awareness
A boy may have opened the door to cannabis for me again, but it was a woman who would become something of my mentor. We had been friends for years, but I had never known the “Green Goddess” side of her. That’s part of the problem with cannabis being punished so harshly and being so maligned for as long as it has been. We are surrounded by people who love us, and have the knowledge to help and share with us, but they don’t speak up. They can’t speak up.
If they could do so freely, I guarantee 90% of your “stoner” friends would be posting all over social media and throwing parties the same way your friends who sell makeup, skincare, Tupperware, etc. all do. Move over, Avon Lady. You’d be replaced by a MarijuanaMama in 10 seconds or less. If people could speak freely, that is.
This friend reminded me that it’s just a plant. A plant can’t be evil, wrong, or bad. It’s just chillin’ there photosynthesizing. I love plants. I understand that different peppers taste different, and different kinds of apples taste different. It makes sense there isn’t just “weed” – there are thousands of varieties grown for tons of different things with scientists and growers working together to tweak new strains all the time.
I spent the next year doing what I was taught to do. I gathered empirical evidence. I researched and experimented. I kept notes about what strains had what effects. I documented with pictures, videos, progress reports and comparisons. I took my pain management on as a personal case study.
I learned that I think too much on heavy indicas, and my thoughts often turn to fixation on negative things. They lean hard on me in the same way postpartum depression did. I sit spiraling in these terribly vivid thoughts about unlikely but awful things. It’s almost laughable to type it now, but I have legitimately felt incredible despair imagining driving off of an overpass because of ice I didn’t see. I live in South Florida and I almost never drive. Pretty sure I’m safe on that one. The father of my children, though, uses those same strains and watches his anger and depression melt away. They pull him out of the Jekyll and Hyde life his major depressive disorder forces onto him.
I learned that potent sativas make me feel like I’m living life in a Katrina And The Waves song. I always hated the song Walking On Sunshine – but DAMN it’s accurate. The kids and I have dance parties, explore local parks, garden, paint – you name it. Creativity flows freely through me. I become ART! I also learned that maybe that’s not the best idea right before bed, cause you end up just laying there singing to yourself and giggling til 4AM. Those same strains leave their father reeling in his anxiety, paranoid and wishing he could claw his way out of skin that feels too tight and restrictive.
I learned that hybrids ideally combine the best of both worlds, but it’s important to pay attention to what kind of hybrid it is. Some lean much more one way or the other, while some like to keep things nice and balanced.
I figured out what worked for me. I figured out the right strains at the right times left me without pain, left me clear and bright, left me joyful and eager to participate in life. I could be pain free, or at least minimally painful. I could be mobile. I could exercise and play. I could dance. I dropped well over 40 lbs without trying because I could move again, I could play again, I could be the mother I wanted to be, I could work full time, I could laugh loudly again. I could be technicolor again.
Suck it, Dapper Tan!
The Problem Is…
The problem wasn’t that people didn’t already know this information. I’m not some kind of exclusive fount of cannabis knowledge. People know. Our ancestors knew. Scientists know. The problem is this information isn’t available to the general public. Even in the media, people who use cannabis are all portrayed pretty much the same way – stuck sitting on a couch with no motivation to do anything but satisfy their munchies.
I’ve never seen a media portrayal of a mom who wakes up in so much pain she can barely walk, but takes a few hits from a small bowl she keeps by her bedside in her neatly maintained home then sighs in relief, gets up and has a great day playing with her babies. I’ve never seen a media portrayal of a man who is overwhelmed by children whining and screaming and excuses himself to the bathroom to take a few puffs, then comes back out feeling calmer so he can empathize with those kids and react with compassion instead of anger or frustration. I’ve never seen a media portrayal of a Crohn’s patient who is writhing in anguish and constantly rushing to the bathroom but hits a vape pen and is able to have a few hours of relief. I’ve never seen a media portrayal of the life I know real cannabis users lead. Maybe it’s because it’s boring to portray “pot heads” as people who quickly and efficiently fold nine loads of laundry?
I’ve never seen a major media portrayal of what I wished I would have had for my grandmother.
I watched as her colon cancer ate away at her slowly, nibbling at her waistline and her fiery personality just a bit at a time. I watched her waste away after chemotherapy sessions, I watched my mom literally beg her to just take a few sips of broth. I watched her try, only to have her body spew the warm liquid right back up. She wanted to eat. Her body did not. I watched her hope fade.
I wonder sometimes how much getting Abuela blazed would have helped. Would her pain and nausea subsided? Would she have gotten a case of the munchies? My god, a case of the munchies would have been such a blessing for her. It could have helped her feel stronger. It wouldn’t have saved her life, but it would have made the end a little bit less miserable. It would have let her pass in color.
Instead, my bra-burning, boundary shattering, unapologetic powerhouse of a grandmother left this world Dapper Tan. This woman was not Dapper Tan.
Those media portrayals, that knowledge, it just isn’t there. Most people just know “weed.” Even people who have smoked for decades typically don’t know the strain they’re smoking or what its effects on the body will be. It’s rare to come across a cannabis user who consistently knows exactly what they’re smoking and why. They just take what they have access to. The problem is a lack of education; a lack of cultural connection.
There are no medicine woman to teach anyone, and the ones that exist have been so maligned by years of purposeful propaganda that they’re fearful and often brushed off. You know how the media portrays “stoners” or “pot heads” – I don’t have to tell you that it’s never in a positive light.
But why is that? I mean, Michael Phelps is easily one of the greatest athletes of our time and he hits a bong like the champ that he is. The Charlotte’s Web strain has literally given children with seizure disorders new leases on life and then there’s me and the millions of others like me. People who live with chronic pain should not be forced into a lifetime of taking dangerous and addictive medication if they wish to try another option.
I’m not going to dissect how historic racism, specifically against latinx people, plays into this. This isn’t that article and wooooooooo that could be an entire series. I’m not going to sit here and posit myself as some kind of expert. All I’m here to do is ask why it’s totally fine to be a WineMom, totally fine to be a mom who takes prescription opiates and ends up a walking zombie like I did (believe it or not, NOBODY ever pointed out how dangerous my state was. When I asked about it later, people said it was fine since the drugs were prescription!), totally fine to be a mom who relies on anti-anxiety medication and antidepressants to stabilize her moods and cope with the demands of motherhood, but it’s not ok to be a mom who tokes a few hits and isn’t in pain anymore, so she can play with her babies? We should all have the right to do what works safely and effectively for us, so we can be great for ourselves and our babies. Why are we judging that?
I made a choice that was better for me. I made a choice that was healthier for me. I made a choice to never be my mother’s beige wall paint again. I made a choice that gave my kids their mother back in all her boisterous, playful, colorful, rebellious, mini-glory. I made a choice that, in some places, is so illegal it could send me to prison. I’m no criminal mastermind. I’m not violent. I’m not a drug dealer. I’m not hurting anyone. I’m just trying to be a better mommy for my babies, and cannabis makes me one.
I know I’m not the only one. We’re all around you. We’re your coworkers, your best friends, the soccer moms wrangling half the team for juices. We’re your sisters, your aunts, your cousins. We are your neighbors.
We are you.
Erica is the consummate cool-kid. She’s so cool that she’s been talked about in magazines, blogs and even on the radio after losing her left eye because of a piece of glitter. Nope, that wasn’t a typo. Glitter. She is still actively mourning the passing of Prince and hopes to one day do an all-iguana remake of Graffiti Bridge since iguanas are plentiful near her home in South Florida. She has yet to find one that can really nail the “ahhhyayayeaheaheah” that Tevin Campbell does in Round and Round, and everyone knows the music is the important part of any Prince film. She’s a mother, singer, writer and (if the internet is to be believed – which we all know it is) she’s also a Nigerian socialite mid-ranking member of the Illuminati. Erica prides herself on being the most popular one-eyed rock star under 5 ft tall in pretty much any room she walks into. She’s been writing professionally for over a decade, joining George Takei’s team in 2016. You can find her work on several websites; most notably Percolately, Knowable, Guacamoley, Comic Sands, and Punky Moms. She’s pretty much always down to chat open-mindedly about religion, feminism, sexuality, cannabis, psychology, empowerment, and keeping one’s eyebrows on fleek.