Jodie Sharp’s days were all broken up the same way. “I smoked to go to work, smoked to do the washing-up, smoked for chill time.” Smoking marijuana “was a totally regular habit and every time I did it, I was smoking in exactly the same way, getting the same experience all over again.”
Sharp used a little metal pipe, and she often ran her tongue over the hard skin on her lip where the pipe sat. Her lungs hurt, her gums bled. She slept poorly and had no dream function. “I thought, ‘This is crazy. Why am I doing this at this time of my life?’”
She was 60, a self-employed market researcher, and had been smoking marijuana for most of her adult life. But one day, waiting on the corner for her weekly £60 bag of weed, she saw herself from the outside, and felt “sick and tired” of what she saw. Later that week, she typed “weed withdrawal” into a search engine. The questions on the Marijuana Anonymous homepage were confronting. Has smoking weed stopped being fun? Do you smoke alone? Do you smoke to deal with anxiety?
At her first meeting, Sharp explained that she wanted to stop. Although the meeting felt good, she wasn’t ready to give up, believing marijuana eased her arthritis. She bought CBD oil but after three weeks “was back on weed”.
This was not how it was meant to be. At 17, when Sharp and her friends crumbled cannabis resin into their joints, marijuana felt countercultural, a “rebellion against our parents’ way of life”. She became “a stoner”, travelled. But then weed became “ubiquitous, nothing to do with counterculture. You smell it everywhere in London,” she says. Her horizons narrowed.
When did she realise she was addicted?
“That’s tricky, because somewhere inside I knew – probably after I’d been smoking for 10 or 15 years. I knew how I felt when I didn’t have it.” In her early 30s, she says, “I used to get restless, irritable, discontent. What’s missing, you know?” Each time she felt like that, her mind reached for marijuana.
Sharp thinks now that “fear dominated my life. I was so anxious. I felt I had to control everything. That has always been my drive: I have to be in control.”
That urge “comes from childhood,” she says, “from feeling abandoned. Because my mother wasn’t able to give me the love that she … I don’t want to use the word should, but, you know, would have naturally given me, had her mental health not been so poor. Here I am at 62 years old trying to deal with that.”
Sharp’s family has a history of alcoholism, and her fear was further amplified when a friend of her teenage child overdosed on a cocktail of drugs last May. “It frightened us both,” Sharp says. “I used to do my usual stuff. Pipes and things … I wasn’t really there for my child.” Now she thought, “‘What the hell am I doing?’ I just wanted to feel safe.” But instead of giving up smoking, she switched back to resin.
It was a random inconvenience two months later that proved transformational. A supply problem meant Sharp went two days without smoking. There was no conscious decision to abstain, but she accepted the accident. On the second day, she was out celebrating her brother’s eighth “sobriety birthday”. “I turned to him and said, ‘I haven’t smoked in two days.’ He said, ‘You should be getting to a meeting.’ That was the moment. It was like a switch had been thrown.”
Sharp did go to a meeting and, nine months on, she is on step four of the Marijuana Anonymous 12-step programme. Steadily, she is teaching herself: “The only thing you can control is how you react to things.” She has not touched “any mood or mind-altering substance” since.
At first, life began to change in small ways. “I was able to contemplate the whole day.” Time stretched before her, unpunctuated by smoking. “I got clearer thoughts. My sleep got better. I enjoyed food. I began to dream again.” Most of all, she says, she lives now with “an amazing feeling of freedom and happiness. We all have this presence within us – our best self.”
Jodie Sharp is a pseudonym