The Gift of an Enemy

This is likely the 25th or 30th time I’ve tried to put something of my story into words. I’m unsure of why or even if would want it read, but there is an unknown need to satiate. I cannot ignore it any longer.

In truth, the reasons to not write this are far easier to find. Fear is always the first one, as it has so many components. Fear of being judged or disliked roots itself deep in my earliest years. Fear of exposing oneself, which I suspect is strongly tied to the previously mentioned fear, has been ever present.

There was also an internal conflict that seemingly could not be overcome. For a long time, the motivation could have easily been claimed as anger. That anger and the message it wanted to send was in direct conflict with my personal growth. Truth be told, I used that anger from a very young age as motivation to get as far away from the source as possible.

That was flawed plan from the start, as you cannot outrun that which you carry with you.

Such viewpoints and considerations are not granted to a youth who is trying to cope with a reason to be fearful in most any direction. Fear becomes fight or flight. When it is impossible to fight, flight remains the only option. Both responses being fuelled and justified by fear, it becomes a singular all powerful drive with no sense or direction beyond just escape.

I met a friend recently whose flight response resulted in him basically running away to university. Never let it be said the power of diversion is a weak force. His journey lead me to wonder how many post graduate students are there for similar reasons. Likely more than we would care to realize. For others, I suspect taking the fight path came about in much the same way, with the only real difference being a choice to stand instead of run.

So, how to tell a story without needing to tell the whole story? The last thing I wish to do here is create a list of traumas and crises. It neither serves me or the reader any benefit to endure the process of reliving any of it.

In fact, that very unwillingness — something I see as a crucial step forward — is a hinderance in finding a way through this with help from the medical community. How truly beneficial is it to force someone to relive all the most terrifying moments they can recall, for the sole purpose of giving a clinician a ‘complete’ picture of what they live with on a daily basis? It makes as much sense as reopening every cut and rebreaking every broken bone a patient endured to get a complete picture of their overall health.

While that description may sound extreme, anyone with PTSD who has interacted with health professionals in the course of treatment will agree 100%. Barbaric is how I would honestly describe it.

This, however — whatever it is — is not about the failures of the medical system. In fact, perhaps through an unwillingness to waste my time or theirs, I cycled through enough individuals to end up sitting in front of someone who was truly helpful. An old Irish hippie GP and my current nurse practitioner. So if we are not here to bash the medical system or lay bare all my scars, what the fuck are we doing here? Wasting your time? Wasting my time? Maybe.

I’m certainly not here to make any claims that anyone should ‘just do as I do/did and you’ll be fine’. Nor am I here to entertain any delusion that my path of healing is complete. It is a journey I will walk with gratitude all my days. So the only real story I guess want to tell, for now, is where I was in the time before it all collided and how that collision in turn changed my life. Let me reword that: How that collision forced me to change my life.

By my mid-40s, I had run the medical gambit of therapists, god-complex, “I can heal you” doctors and resident psychiatrists and I had had a few good years with the afore mentioned Irish hippie doc. There was also a new relationship in my life that proved to be an incredibly grounding force. Unconditional love seems like an empty platitude until you experience it for yourself. May you have the ability to offer it and recognize it in those around you for there is little in life more rewarding.

Things should have been perfect. On the surface, they were. Burying anger becomes so normal that even when rooting it out over time, there will be areas that get missed or overlooked.

I knew it was there. Its own cycle kept it fed as it would anger me that I had not been able to identify the source and deal with it. I had gotten pretty good at getting past triggers through identification and clear choices to leave whatever that was behind and move forward without it. That is easy to do once you start to take ownership of yourself, claim what is yours — good or bad — and toss any rocks packed in your bag by someone else.

Easy isn’t the best word, but it fits. The viewpoint on that word in that context is vastly different depending on where you are in your own personal journey. For me it was still not enough; there was still something deep I couldn’t quite find. I sure as hell was not expecting it to be revealed in the manner it was.

Gratitude was not something strange to me. There was much around me to be grateful for. Life brings to us many gifts. Some we ask for; some are more of a surprise. My gift, at a time when needed, was an enemy. Someone who went out of their way to be abusive to others had decided I was worthy of their negative attention.

Four years of numerous and consistent incidents had served well to fuel the remaining anger I sought to bury because I couldn’t kill it. I did not realize at all how closely tied that anger was to the current state of affairs. One particular day, there was another incident. I sat down, frustrated, having tried everything within reason to simply keep the peace. Yet this person was having none of it.

Something inside me switched that day. As I sat there, I told myself that enough was enough. Living like this was no different from parts of childhood I fled so many years ago. I remember thinking, “I thought this shit was behind me”. And then, “I am putting a stop to this once and for all”. That thought had no sooner appeared to me when here was this person once again in my face.

Nobody touched anybody that day and no one was hurt in any way, but a clear message was sent. And received. The arresting officers could not have been nicer and they went out of their way to make the process very easy. They even drove me both ways to the station and back home again.

It started in the back of the police car with a feeling in my gut. Something was different, yet in a good way. It was something I could not reconcile at the time. In fact, it was confusing. Being in the back of a cop car means you’re in trouble. So why did I feel somehow liberated?

It was hard to even identify that sense of liberation at the time. For the entire month prior to my single court appearance it was there alongside a knot in the gut. It wasn’t that I had no idea what it was; it was accepting it for what it was. In conversations with one of the most special and influential people in my life in the immediate days following my arrest, we talked about epiphanies. The system, however, still had something to say about my losing my cool. Until I knew what the outcome was, there would be a knot.

Court came and went in a day, just a single appearance. It seems that accepting responsibility for ones actions is favoured, though I did not share the reality I had no regrets. Having that burden lifted, it was on to dealing with the fallout. It was time to sort through this mess. What came next was life-changing. All the anger and frustration I thought I held towards that person became something entirely different: Gratitude.

While I already had a nice list of people and things I was grateful for, when it came to this person, well, it was the last thing I expected. The more I thought about it, however, the more it made sense. The more I accepted it, the smaller the knot in my gut became. Before long, it was gone.

If someone said to me 20 or 30 years ago, “Life gives you what you need when you need it”, I would likely have responded with resentful anger and listed off 20 or so things I would have demanded justification for ‘needing’. But the filters change with time. My progress up to that point had been my own. I owned it. I nurtured it. I guided it. Yet I was still stuck with a ball of anger I could not root out. I likely would not have managed to do so without the gift of an enemy.

Life had put me in a position where I had to face some of my worst fears head on. Where I had to choose fight over flight. Even if only to know it was possible to make that choice.

Who knows.

I can only tell you what I do know: I am not angry anymore, though I regret living so many years with anger. It blinds you. It is not life, it is merely existence.

A lyric comes to mind, “I don’t know where I’m going. but I sure know where I’ve been”. It has special meaning for me these days. In some ways, I feel like I have only just become alive and aware. And I do not know where this life, just like this article, is going. Not knowing where this path now leads only brings excitement and enthusiasm. One foot in front of the other, I’ll go where it takes me knowing my past does not predetermine my future. I am in control.

If there is any real takeaway message in all this, it is simple: Self-empowerment equals choice. Choice is everything. My own fears were drowned because I made a choice. I made the choice to stand up and demand something better for myself, to protect myself and to heal myself.

I wish for all of you to find the strength you need. To make a choice. To heal yourself.

To walk a path unburdened.

Ending the War: It Has to Start Somewhere

Maybe it has to start with me. Or you. Us. How about everyone? Who cares, as long as it begins.

Okay, maybe I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s lay out some context. Following the lead of the United States, Canada long ago created laws to make cannabis use illegal. Since that time, a massive number of Canadians have been persecuted and faced criminal charges, criminal records and suffered all the downsides that come with that. All for the desire to consume cannabis.

This would be normally a good place to go into benefits verses harm of cannabis; however, the reality of it now being legal for recreational use makes a much stronger case on its own merit. For a long time it was clear, sort of. We knew growing up that cannabis was illegal, like theft. We also later learned, through parents or peers, that cannabis use was, well, fun, not to mention a lot more benign than the other rebel option, alcohol. Grass fit easily in your pocket and was a heck of a lot easier to carry 3 miles across town than a two-four of bottled beer.

Even interactions with law enforcement in my youth betrayed the letter of law in how those who were meant to enforce said laws almost did not want to. There were far more serious things they could be concerned with. In many ways those early interactions were as much responsible for my own skepticism of the official legal position of our government. The first of those interactions is one of the funniest: After catching me and a friend at 1 am sitting behind a building smoking hash and seeing the hash sitting in the open, he sent us on our way. He surprised us when he pulled up and rolled his window down and asked, “What are you boys doing here?” I panicked and replied, “Just smoking some hash. It’s well lit so I can see to roll”. It was not the answer he was expecting, I suspect. After asking who we were, he sent us on our way with, “Well, we had a noise complaint, so go smoke your hash somewhere else”. We did.

It was not until some years later when getting involved with medical cannabis and cultivation of same I began to really understand the division. The ‘no big deal’ attitude I had learned was in stark contrast to the reality for many. Seeing a simple plant medication being denied to the most in need was bad. Seeing those same people being punished for trying to live a healthy life was just wrong. It breeds anger.

Anger and frustration became common for many on the pro side who were fuelled by a senseless drug war with no logical reason to exist. That war was only born of hatred and discrimination. It has gone on for decades now, with two fairly clear sides.

Sort of.

What also became clear at some point was that my experience was not necessarily representative of others. That everybody had their own unique entry and interpretation of cannabis and it’s standing in society. Much of which I did not understand was regarding its opposition.

For the opposition side there were a few different, key positions depending on context and employment. Doctors who prefer to stay inside the box, for example, claim no benefit based on no studies. Recommending illegal substances does not tend to go over well with medical boards and administrators to whom they must answer. Law enforcement? The name says it all. If it’s illegal, it is their job to enforce those laws. It is only natural that after many decades, the perception and language used would evolve to suit the goal. It was clear, however, that many really did not buy into the Reefer Madness mentality. The result was a wide range of reactions depending on who you happen to come in contact with and the scope of the situation. A joint may get dumped or ignored; a couple of pounds might present a more sticky situation.

For many in every day society who simply had no real world experience with cannabis, what they were told by authority, medical and legal, was what they believed. Why wouldn’t they? We believe many things based on what an expert or educator tells us and we are quite content to do so. Were that not true, I would be building a particle accelerator instead of penning this op-ed. Today there are many conflicting viewpoints around cannabis, even though it is a legal substance. More and more we also have an extremely diverse number of incredibly talented individuals in a wide range of careers who, for whatever reason, have an interest working in or even trailblazing in this new legal landscape.

Maybe we are getting onto the main point. Many social media interactions led me to want to write this article. There are situations where someone working in the cannabis industry, for whatever reason, does not seem to fit the perception of another of who belongs in those jobs. As a result, some people feel it is appropriate to question, interrogate and sometimes even berate them openly and publicly. It’s as though they have committed some offence for being successful or having a high profile.

Some of these attacks are made by high-profile advocates who, for whatever reason, see these newcomers — I was tempted to say ‘corporate newcomers’, but it is broader than that — as unwelcome intruders who have no right to be where they are. There are several problems with a purely confrontational approach to the emerging legal cannabis sector professionals. Not least of these problems is the stark contrast to what the entire cannabis culture and society is built around: The acceptance of those who accept cannabis, without judgement or preconceived notions as to why. That “stick together through adversity” belief permeates deeply into the culture.

When did it become acceptable to degrade someone pro-cannabis only because they are wealthy and you have never seen them smoking a joint? It makes absolutely no sense to attack, berate or demean anyone who is pro-cannabis for any reason, whether they be an executive or craft grower.

I know some of you who have gotten this far might be a tad triggered and ready with all kinds of ‘But, but, but’ rebuttals and justification for the aforementioned attitudes. Let me, however, explain why that is a dead end approach that actually hurts the progress of the current legal cannabis landscape in Canada.

First off: Quality. Let the quality of a product stand on the company name, not individuals who quite often have had little or no ability to affect end-result retail product. Over time, product quality will allow the market to determine who should survive and who should not. The barometer for any professional individual is how well the decisions and career choices see them progress based on results. The best will rise, the good will survive and the rest will recycle into something else or get out of the game. That’s how it should be with any profession.

Second: The changes we still wish to see. Consumers want good product at affordable prices. Companies want to make money. Both sides want a market that meets those needs. Consumers need products. Producers need clients. It is a very simple formula. We will have a much harder time getting the changes required to establish a stable and effective retail cannabis system when we are too busy fighting with each other to focus on where real change needs to happen. The government’s intended goal of illicit market elimination also is very much dependent on a good quality, affordable, retail marketplace.

Some things will take time. Medical acceptance is growing by leaps and bounds, as is the research that is so long past due. Schools will adapt fairly quickly, as will much of the medical establishment. The landscape in 5 years will look very different from today.

I remember vividly as a teenager smoking and pondering why weed was illegal. Even then it seemed simple. Many of us said it: “They should just make it legal and tax it. It would pay off the deficit”. Maybe 30 years ago it could have, but not today and not in its current form. That form will be much better suited to our needs and closer to our desires when we accept without pre-qualifiers. If you accept cannabis we accept you, unless you’re a pedophile or some other horrid creation.

Personally, I find many of the high-profile individuals very interesting. There are perspectives shared through curiosity and asking civil questions that provide ideas and concepts I may never have been able to consider. Perspective is a pretty major thing. Moreover, we need these leaders and trailblazers as allies. Far more can be achieved in attaining mutual goals as a united, well-informed front. Well-informed goes both ways. I am sure there are questions and opinions to be shared almost equally among all parties.

Unless we all sit at the same table, in respect and acceptance, how will we ever find reconciliation with the other side? How will the war ever end? Personally, I want to learn, engage and be active in this new green reality.

Let’s finally make it what we once envisioned. Let’s not perpetuate what was once forced upon us.