My rehearsal finished shortly after 3pm and I’m in my car and heading home through downtown Vancouver by 3:45pm. The voice on the radio announces that Howe Street is closed near the Art Gallery, reminding me again that today is the annual 4/20 Marijuana Freedom Rally. Although the event doesn’t officially start until 4:20pm there is already a visible haze hanging over the air of the thousands of people peacefully puffing and protesting. I read later in the Vancouver Province that “about 15,000 people are expected to show up at the Art Gallery on Howe Street between Georgia and Robson to listen to speeches, music and to smoke pot.”
I turn right onto Hornby from Smithe and slowly head towards Georgia. As I drive past the Art Gallery I close my window and vents to keep out the acrid odour of the Vancouver pot cloud; the monster of insanity lurks in the smoke.
Two years ago today my then nineteen-year old son took part in his first and last Marijuana Freedom Rally on Parliament Hill in Ottawa Ontario. After spending a gap year playing soccer for a club in the Netherlands, he was nearing the end of his first year studying humanities at Carleton University. Unknown to both of us he was also tip toeing along the razor sharp edge of insanity.
Two years ago today I was in Los Angeles with my oldest daughter, completely oblivious of the dark dance my son was smoking. April, 2008 and it’s almost two years post marriage blow-up. I’m deep in the throes of an incredibly complex and difficult separation agreement negotiation and there’s with no end in sight. All of my children are suffering the effects. I feel like I’m practicing triage in the middle of a jungle teeming with poisonous snakes, insects and insidious crazy-making diseases. I’m running from one child to the next holding their heads above the raging torrent of water and teaching them to swim at the same time, while madly kicking my arms and legs to keep from drowning myself. It’s a time of painful transition for all of us.
My weed-smoking son is one of two. His identical twin brother played for the same soccer team in Holland and 2008 is the first year of their lives they have lived apart from one another. This is a year of individuation and separation. For the first time friends will know them as just one, not part of a pair. For the first time they are without the support of the other.
Back in Los Angeles, I’m walking and shopping along Third Avenue Promenade in Santa Monica with my daughter when my phone rings. I take it out of my purse and smile when I look at the caller ID picture of my Carleton son. He’s scheduled to fly back to Vancouver after his last exam in a week and I’m looking forward to having him back home. He’s been battling demons for the last year or so and I’m afraid they’re beginning to get stronger. Long distance mothering is difficult and it will be good to be able to guide without a blindfold.
“Hey Sweetie,” I smile into the phone, “what’s up?”
As he answers I feel my heart lurch. “I’ve changed my flight. I’ve decided to stay here for a couple of weeks and then go visit Christophe in Montreal before coming home.”
“Okay,” I answer back, “let me know what day you’re coming home.” We chat for a few minutes longer before disconnecting. Something feels off. Everything inside me is screaming that something is wrong but I can’t put a finger on it. I push down my voice of intuition and smother it with self-denial thoughts of “this is just a process of letting go.”
Before the month would be over, my son would be admitted into the locked psychiatric ward of the Ottawa hospital with a diagnosis of acute weed-induced psychosis. I had no idea such a thing existed, nor did any of my children. All four went through the D.A.R.E. program where they (and I) learned that marijuana was to be feared as a “gateway” to hard drugs. No one and no pamphlet listed insanity as a side effect.
I had fallen down the rabbit hole into the world of mental illness. And that’s just what it felt like, like I was chasing the white rabbit with no idea of where to go, what the rules were or even how to speak the language. I learned very quickly that there is a massive difference between how we view and treat those with a physical illness and those with an illness manifested in the mind. There is no equality and little respect. This is something that must change.
It would be about a year and a half before Patrick fully recovered from the siren’s call of psychosis. Today he is not the “old” Patrick, but someone who has walked through his own dark night of the soul and emerged with a new awakening. His life has taken a new direction, one filled with creativity and spirituality, but one that is still very much the life of a 21 year old.
Patrick’s journey back to wellness is inspiring and illuminating. I struggled with this blog post, not because I feared the content, but because the content is so much bigger than is written here. I discovered that what I was writing was, in fact, the beginning of the book that Patrick and I talk about writing. One that shares our experience – his on the inside of insanity looking out and mine on the outside looking in. A book about the hidden danger of smoking pot but also about what is possible in a time of crisis. My son took my mantra and made it his own.
For more information on weed-induced psychosis please visit the following links. And please share them with others!
The Downside of High – a CBC documentary by David Suzuki