When I was 14 years old my older sister was dating a guy 4 years older than her. He introduced her to pot and since she and I had always been best friends, it wasn’t long until I tried it. Within a week I was selling it. From that moment on, I basically smoked marijuana every day multiple times a day for the next 6 years, and continuously sold it in order to have an ongoing supply.
In my circle of friends, many of whom were anywhere from 4 to 7 years older than myself, the prominent belief was that there was nothing wrong with marijuana. It was harmless. It was non addictive. In fact, it was a miracle, a gift, to have something that could make us feel so good without any negative consequences. To top it off, I always did well in school and many extracurriculars, so from the outside the “lack of consequences” was almost believable.
This way of relating to marijuana prevailed for most of my 6 years of using and it was a belief I preached and taught to others. It was also something we believed about many psychedelic substances such as psilocybin mushrooms, LSD, MDMA/ Ecstasy, and other psychedelics. I regarded myself as an explorer of consciousness.
The movement at the time was one of peace and love and sharing, and there was something beautiful about that. It was a part of the deadhead/ hippie movement. There was so much good, so much love spread through that movement, but there was also a tremendous amount of drug use and drug abuse. Where it led me was not sustainable.
By the time I was 19 years old I had done many of the substances I told myself I would never do, including experimenting with cocaine and harder prescription drugs like Adderall which I told myself I was using to help me study in college. They didn’t help me study, they made me want to party and get more drugs, and my grades began to drop for the first time ever. It got to a point where I was waking up with prescription pills on my bedside table that were not prescribed to me. I took them first thing in the morning in order to get through the day.
I had never learned to cope with bad feelings very much. I had always been able to change my state to a “positive” one by using drugs. By this time I was aware that my habits were not in line with who I wanted to be and what I wanted to accomplish. I knew something had to change. I had tried to smoke only on weekend, had tried to take breaks and find “moderation” but when I did find something that resembled moderation, I always found that it wasn’t actually what I wanted. Despite what I thought, moderation was in no way what I wanted.
Moderation wasn’t satisfying. What I really wanted was to get high all the time, use drugs in massive quantities, and do whatever I wanted. But by this point I was terrified that I would never reach my full potential that way. I knew I could probably achieve conventional “success” while keeping up my pot habit, but deep down I understood that if I did so, I would be limiting myself to who-knows-what percentage of my true potential (70%? 80%?) This thought terrified me. I could see that jails, institutions and death might never come, that there might never be a tremendous rock bottom.
Maybe there would have been, but why wait and find out? These thoughts had begun to take root in me when I met a man, a family friend, who was about 60 years old. He had over 10 years sober at that point and said to me this: “Jake, I’m you man. I used the same way you did. I had the same relationship with pot that you have. I did the same shit, only I kept doing it for another 30 years. I raised my kids that way. I had my career that way. I lived basically my whole life that way. There are no “rock bottoms” with pot. Just trap doors until you die.” This sent shivers up my spine. Then he said one final thing that landed in a way nothing ever had. “You don’t have to do that Jake. Go to a meeting, ask for a sponsor.”
To this day I believe this man saved my life from whatever would have become of it. Whether that would have been disaster or mediocrity I will never know, and I’m quite glad to keep it that way. During my using I had found a second love other than pot. I had found the therapeutic value of wilderness, of mountains, and adventures in the outdoors. I specifically became obsessed with rock climbing.
In my early recovery, I remember feeling a strong calling towards the mountains. I felt that the adventurer, the climber, the mountaineer who I truly desired to be was a healthy person who did not need nor want to use drugs. I knew that by spending less time using, partying, and pursuing short term pleasure, I could excel in my passion for the mountains. Going to 12 step meetings got me clean. It gave me accountability, support, and routine that supported a life without using.
From there, filling my life with climbing, hiking, fitness, adventure, and other “Natural Highs” is what kept me clean. For years I pursued these hobbies more than most other things. My addictive nature took to them. I moved into a tiny apartment in the back of a rock climbing gym that I worked at, taught climbing lessons, climbed constantly, and worked at a shop selling outdoor gear. I became a certified mountain guide and started a business venture taking people climbing outdoors. I had never been happier.
It was almost as though addiction became a superpower, a tendency that was now helping me excel at things I enjoyed and valued. I couldn’t stay away from climbing, and I got fit because of it. I also found a group of friends with positive mindsets and healthy behaviors. I now believe that addictive tendencies can be channeled into healthy hobbies that support health and wellbeing and naturally lead to thriving.
One day I met someone who worked for the organization “The Phoenix”. I participated in a camping trip to Moab, Utah with them and found out there was a movement going on of others in recovery who were taking refuge in healthy outlets. I left the trip knowing I was destined to contribute to this movement and the overall use of outdoor adventure to support mental health. With 8 years of experience as a mountain guide I founded Natural Highs Recovery to share this path with others, with a focus on wilderness, outdoor adventure, and bringing programs into treatment centers.
Our work began at the beginning of this year at a treatment center in Santa Cruz, and is poised to continue and expand. We hosted free hiking trips and fitness classes every week, followed by healthy food offered to anyone at the treatment center. All for free. In addition to the trips and events program I work as a life coach for sober and sober curious young people who want to reach their full potential so they can be of service and make a difference in the world. It is nothing short of a calling for me to serve others and be a mentor, coach and guide to those who wish to make a positive impact in the world and recognize the importance of beginning with themselves.
The mountain picture is the "after" picture. A few years ago I successfully guided 3 friends who had never climbed before to the summit of Grand Teton in Wyoming. While guiding them it was also the first time I had ever climbed the mountain myself. It took us 19 hours on our summit day to get up and back down to camp. It was a tremendous accomplishment and milestone in my recovery and my life.
These memories which were unforgettable for all of us, are far more significant than any I could have ever had from drinking and drugs. The "before" picture speaks for itself! I feel so grateful that I've discovered ways to enjoy life that take me to new heights and new places outside of "party" environments or my own bedroom.
If you would like to hear more about Jake please check out our Soberoso Podcast where Dora and Jake have an in-depth discussion about life before and after recovery. The episode is titled Natural Highs With The Candyman and you can check it out here.