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I have a dilemma that's pretty common in my neck of the woods, the Bay Area. A friend of mine, whom I've known for a good 15 years, wants to hang out with me and is becoming more persistent, but I've been avoiding her, because she's always high. For her, it's worse than your average wake and bake routine (which she’s carried out with a college sophomore's dedication for as long as I've known her). It's worse than getting stoned every night to settle in and watch "Always Sunny in Philadelphia" and rocket through a pint of Three Twins Ice Cream. I honestly think it’s an addiction for her. Whenever we do hang out, she literally can't go twenty minutes without taking some kind of hit from a pipe, bong, etc. I've timed her.
Like me, she's had problems with anxiety and depression going on two decades. It's part of the foundation of our relationship, and we've supported each other through some very difficult times. She claims weed is the only thing that helps her, and I don't feel right criticizing her self-medication. As a friend, I'd of course like to be supportive. I want to say, "If smoking weed works, it works. Go with it." But most of me doubts whether her habit is truly helping her. And all of me is fed up with hanging out with her while she's high. Most of the time we spend together is focused on her weed habit. If she's not asking me to drive her to 7-11 for rolling papers, she's in a steady panic to find her next pit stop in which to smoke. It's not any fun, and we lose all the depth and communication our friendship is based on.
It's gotten to the point now where I've begun ignoring her text messages and phone calls. I feel awful about it, but I also feel equally irritated at the prospect of hanging out with her or having to talk to her while she laughs at whatever her cats are doing. Overall, I value our friendship, and I want to be supportive. I want what's best for her. But if that involves smoking weed 24/7, I don't really want to be part of it. What should I do?
Irritated in Oakland
Dear Irritated in Oakland,
You’re absolutely right in your diagnosis: Your friend is an addict. I say this as someone who has spent many an afternoon perched over a bong, trying to figure out exactly what it is I’m perched over. I’m a proponent of legalization and blah-blah-blah. This isn’t about pot. It’s about the behaviors you’re describing: habitual use, inability to function without the drug, increasing ideation.
You’re also right that her habit is not helping her. What began as a way to manage very real mental health issues has devolved into a cycle of dependence that appears to mask the anxiety and depression, rather than curing them.
The much more pressing question is what you, a long-time friend, can do to help. As you note, “letting her do her thing” isn’t going to help. What she’s looking for with all those calls and texts isn’t just a friend, but an enabler. This is what you’re picking up on, I suspect, and it explains your instinct to withdraw. She’s no doubt picking up on your avoidance, and that’s probably what’s stoking her persistence. You matter to her. She’s afraid of losing you.
Abandoning her altogether clearly doesn’t (and frankly shouldn’t) sit right with you. This is someone you’ve known and cared about for many years. If you truly “want what’s best for her,” your best option is also your toughest one — to tell her what you’ve told me. That you don’t feel comfortable hanging out with her because of her excessive pot use. You might also consider talking with some of her other friends, or even family members, about what they’re seeing. After all, if her behaviors are as extreme as you portray, they’ve surely felt some of the same concerns you have.
What she’s looking for with all those calls and texts isn’t just a friend, but an enabler.
I am not suggesting that you need to stage an intervention. That may be more than you want to take on, or should. But you owe it to your friend, and to yourself, to do more than drop out of her life. You have to speak honestly, and compassionately, about what you’re really feeling.
My sense is that sadness and fear are lurking beneath your frustration. (They usually are.) You feel, in a sense, abandoned. After all, it’s clear you guys have been supports for each other for a long time. Now you’ve reached a place where you no longer feel you can really reach her, where you have lost “all the depth and communication our friendship is based on.” That’s what matters most here, and what you should emphasize.
It may be that, in the end, she rejects what you have to say. Or simply hears you out, nods, and asks if you want to load another bowl. But you have to at least try to make your feelings known. That’s what a meaningful friendship entails: not a guarantee that you’ll always remain close, but that you’ll level with one another when it really matters.
In preparing to talk with her, I’d do some reading about addiction, and consider attending a meeting or two. Not so you can lecture her on the definition of addiction, but so you can familiarize yourself with what addiction actually is, and the forms that it takes in people’s lives. And also, maybe more importantly, so you can recognize that you’re not alone in what you’re experiencing, that there are millions of others — in the Bay Area and beyond — who have walked the same path and reached the same crossroad with a cherished friend.
I wish you not just luck, but courage,
Do I ever get the feeling that my history of pot use is catching up with me? Yes. But as I’ve said before, letters like these aren’t about the substance, but the abuse. Of course, you all may see it differently, or see something I don’t. So let me know in the Comments section. And send your own question along, the more detailed the better. Even if I don’t have a helpful response, chances are, someone in the Comments section will. Send your dilemmas via email.