Discover more from Exploring Sobriety
Staying Sober in California
A recent trip to the west coast led to unexpected temptation.
I live in North Carolina, but last month I took a trip to the west coast—first to Washington for a cousin’s wedding, then to California to visit my brother who goes to school out there.
It was my first time on the west coast in over six years, and it was also my first time visiting somewhere with legal pot since getting sober.
On the east coast, we have a stereotype that Californians are potheads. It’s not as if nobody smokes weed in North Carolina, but the idea is that in California everyone smokes and they do it every day.
I’ve always assumed that there’s a little truth to this stereotype, but I also took for granted that it must be a huge exaggeration. Surely pot can’t be that popular in California, right?
It turned out that the stereotype wasn’t nearly as much of an exaggeration as I expected.
During this trip, I was truly shocked by how much pot people on the west coast smoke. In both Washington and California, I felt like I couldn’t walk a single block without coming across someone who was either in the middle of getting high or simply reeked of weed.
I’m no pearl-clutching Puritan, but I had a hard time getting over how popular pot has become. It’s a far cry from my experiences growing up in North Carolina. Although there are plenty of pot smokers here, marijuana doesn’t achieve anything close to the ubiquity seen on the west coast.
The biggest surprise of all, though, was the effect that seeing all this pot had on me: I felt tempted to give it a try.
I’ve fought two addictions in my life: I’m a recovered alcoholic and a former cigarette smoker. Alcohol and nicotine—those are the substances that I’ve always struggled with.
Marijuana, on the other hand, was never a serious issue for me. I’ve tried smoking pot—when I was younger, I smoked quite a bit of it—but I never felt the same compulsion to smoke pot that I experienced with drinking and cigarettes. For me, pot was always something that I could take or leave without giving it much thought.
When I first quit drinking, it had already been half a decade since the last time I got high. I hadn’t “quit” smoking marijuana, I had just grown out of it.
However, during my first year without alcohol, I ended up trying weed again for the first time in years. It happened during a rough week at work when I was feeling especially tempted to go back to drinking. I told myself that if I got high instead, I could “save” my sobriety.
It was a pretty ridiculous line of reasoning—I can see that in retrospect. I realized as soon as I smoked that I was just using pot as a replacement for alcohol and that it wasn’t a healthy solution.
The trouble with getting high was that it was just another way to avoid my feelings. Instead of staying sober and working through my emotions, I was smoking pot and avoiding them.
I knew that this wasn’t what I had wanted when I quit drinking. I wanted more for myself than replacing one substance with another. I wanted to experience true, positive growth.
To do that, I needed to develop positive habits to get me through rough weeks—habits like exercising, writing, and seeing a therapist. These are habits that help me process my emotions rather than avoid them.
Ever since that brief flirtation with pot, I’ve avoided all recreational substances. I decided that for me, sobriety had to mean complete sobriety, not just abstinence from alcohol.
I never thought that pot would tempt me again, but if there’s one thing I should know by now, it’s that we shouldn’t grow complacent in our sobriety. Somehow, seeing and smelling so much marijuana in California made me start questioning whether I should give it another try.
There’s actually a popular phrase these days for people who quit drinking but keep smoking: “California Sober.” How fitting, then, that my trip to California is where I was tempted to smoke for the first time in years.
Although marijuana is still illegal at the federal level in the United States, many individual states have legalized it. In California, you can just walk into a store and buy a joint or a pot-infused gummy bear. It’s no wonder pot is so popular there.
Knowing that it was so easy to access, I kept thinking to myself “Why not?” I told myself that I had never had an addiction to pot and that it wouldn’t be a big deal if I just gave it a try. I told myself that I didn’t want to escape my feelings and that I was just curious. I told myself that nobody else would ever know.
It was that last thought that finally snapped me out of it. I realized that I hadn’t even tried pot yet, and I was already thinking about how I could keep it a secret—not a good line of thinking for a recovered addict to be going down.
I’m not sure why exactly I felt tempted to smoke, but I could tell that even thinking about it was already pushing me back into the addict’s mindset. I was searching for excuses to get high in exactly the same way that I used to search for excuses to drink.
I decided then that I wasn’t going to waste another minute considering pot. I was happy staying completely sober, even if I was in California.
The truth is that I don’t know for sure what would have happened if I had tried smoking pot again. Maybe it would have been a one-off break from sobriety, or maybe it would have led to a full-blown relapse.
What I do know for sure is that it wasn’t worth the risk. I’ve been happily sober for over six and a half years now. My sobriety has completely transformed my life for the better, and it has truly been the best change I’ve ever experienced. Why on earth would I consider for one moment putting that at risk?
They say if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. That certainly applies to sobriety. My addiction to alcohol was absolutely destroying me. I managed to overcome it through full sobriety. This strategy has worked for me for years, and it’s still working well, so I’m going to keep using it.
I’m not here to condemn “California Sobriety.” There might be some people out there for whom it works well. However, I already learned years ago that I need full sobriety. I’m relieved that I was able to stick with it throughout my trip to the west coast.
Exploring Sobriety is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.