Craig* had rung me about stopping smoking. Over the phone it hadn’t sounded too extreme at all. It had started off as a social thing but he was increasingly smoking when he was on his own. He smoked in the evenings and at weekends, but never at work.
When Craig sat in front of me the real picture came out. He wasn’t smoking cigarettes but cannabis, and he hadn’t told me in case I wouldn’t see him. That worry was misplaced – I don’t make judgements about what people do, and I don’t refuse to see anyone on that basis.
Where Craig’s worries weren’t misplaced though was in the effect he was being told that it was having on him. He himself hadn’t seen or noticed a change, and that’s often the way with cannabis. The effects of increasing use can be so subtle and insidious that the users themselves are unaware of them. They come to believe that their current mental state is normal for them.
Craig’s mental state wasn’t good. He was increasingly withdrawn and anxious, and his relationship with his girlfriend was under strain. He’d started to become suspicious of her, and suspicious of his friends and other people at work. His sleep had suffered, and this along with his suspicions had seen his attendance at work start to slip.
I asked Craig what had prompted him to come to see me. It’s always important that the reason for wanting to change comes from the person themselves. It has to be something for them, and wanting to stop for someone else isn’t strong or sustainable enough.
For Craig it had been clearing out his old bedroom at his mum’s. Amongst the old exercise books he’d found a list that he’d written two years ago. It was a list of things that he wanted to do with his life – travelling, getting a degree or qualification, getting a good job in IT, becoming a dad. He was crying when he told me that it didn’t seem just two years ago –“it seems like a lifetime, or a whole different person”.
Helping Craig to stop using cannabis wasn’t quick, and it wasn’t easy. There were times when he struggled, and times he relapsed. What always kept him going though was how we slowly but steadily put him back in touch with the outgoing optimistic young man who’d written that list of goals. Slowly he started to believe once again that those things weren’t just possible, but that he deserved them.
* Craig’s real identity has been protected, and he is happy to share his story.
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