Twelve years ago I had become someone I didn’t recognize. After leaving the military I moved to Flagstaff, AZ and I was in party mode. But before long, Mr. Good Time became Mr. Unreliable.
When my roommates staged an intervention (ok, multiple interventions) I knew it was time to get sober. I made an appointment with my therapist, cut out all substances, and started going to Alcoholics Anonymous.
Like many people, I had been told this was the way to sobriety. It’s what our society focuses on: work the 12 steps and never let mind-altering substances into your body again. And yet, since then I’ve realized it’s not the only path to a healthy life.
I dropped AA early on—it just didn’t click for me—but for nine years I adhered to that second portion, never drinking, smoking or dabbing in drugs.
I was undoubtedly healthy during that time. My fitness and diet were on point and I felt good. And yet, something continued to pull at me. In the past, marijuana had been therapeutic for me. I started wondering why I was taking a hard line on a substance that always felt more positive than negative in my life, just to adhere to society’s idea of sobriety.
Then, in 2020, the perfect storm happened. Of course there was the pandemic. In addition the increasingly divisive political climate left me feeling disconnected and estranged from a few people I love. That, in turn, triggered some family trauma.
So, when my home state of Arizona legalized cannabis in November 2020, I thought long and hard about giving it a try. The truth is I was craving weed—but I didn’t necessarily think that was a bad thing. I deconstructed the narratives we have about marijuana in our society, and processed some past trauma I have related to being persecuted by my family for smoking. I had open, honest conversations with my wife, and she encouraged me to give it a try.
When I did, I felt the way I had as a teenager: that marijuana was a really helpful tool for managing some aspects of my mental health.
Life’s challenges piled up over the next two years and, while weed helped me manage, I still ended up in an extremely dark place, dealing with suicidal ideation. My therapist recommended ketamine therapy. It was transformative and helped me avoid antidepressants (which are fine for many people, but weren’t the right decision for me).
More recently, I’ve started microdosing, which has been a game changer for my mental health. Today, I feel healthy and in control of my life.
And isn’t that what we all want out of our sobriety?
I still consider myself sober, because I don’t drink alcohol. I think about my use of marijuana, ketamine therapy and microdosing as utilizing tools that are available to me to improve my mental health.
The recovery community has come a long way in recognizing there’s not just one path to sobriety. Whether you’re a 12-stepper, in SMART recovery, or forging your own path, there’s space for you. Likewise, everyone gets to define what sober means to them: whether it’s Cali Sober, sober-curious, stone-cold sober or anything in between.
Single and Sober welcomes all kinds of sober people. I hope that as the community broadens its definition of sobriety, we can all have space at the table as we start asking a new question on our first dates: What does sobriety mean to you?
Kelly Burch is a freelance journalist who regularly writes about addiction, recovery and mental health issues. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Vice, and more. Kelly isn’t in recovery herself, but comes from a family that has been touched by addiction in many ways. When she isn’t writing, Kelly enjoys kayaking or getting lost in the woods of rural New Hampshire, where she lives. Connect with Kelly via her website, Facebook or Twitter.