Names have been changed.
When I started 7th grade, I became insecure about my body. My friends were more developed physically than I was and got more attention from boys. I was taller and skinnier than they were.
This insecurity was all in my mind. I was often told that I was pretty by other girls, and there were boys who liked me. But I didn’t see that.
Then, an 8th grade boy who I had a huge crush on requested to follow me on Instagram. I quickly accepted it, and within five minutes, he started liking all my pictures.
When he told me I was pretty, I wanted to throw my phone in excitement. I couldn’t believe it. We began texting every day. He walked me to all of my classes, even if it made him late to his own.
On a day he was absent, he met me at the bus stop after school. My stomach would fill with butterflies, I was so happy to see him. He’d offer to ride the bus with me and walk me home. We laughed and talked all the way there. He gave me the kind of attention that would make any girl fold.
Then, one day, he just stopped texting me. I was confused until I saw his post of a girl, with the caption “My gf’s so pretty.” My heart sank. I felt so stupid. I cried for days and went back to feeling insecure and sad.
Noticed by the Cool Kids
A few months later, I was sitting in the cafeteria eating lunch with one of my friends. The cool kids at a table nearby started cracking jokes and I couldn’t help but laugh. They noticed me laughing and I slowly migrated into their conversation.
After that, they started talking to me every day during lunch. The two girls of the group were curvy and pretty. They had purses and dyed hair; one had purple tips and the other had all red. The boys were all cute and tall.
And they all knew how to dress. They wore name brand shirts, like True Religion, and nice sneakers like Jordans. Everyone knew who these kids were, and they seemed to be super liked. It felt good to be fitting in with the popular crowd.
The following week I ran into one of the boys, Jay, at the bus stop after school.
“You wanna come with us to the park?” he asked.
I agreed, and we met up with the rest of the group to catch a bus.
The Blunt Was Lit
When we got to the empty park, one of the boys took a bag out of his backpack. I stood with the girls while the boys huddled together rolling a lot of blunts.
“Are you guys smoking?” I asked.
“Yeah girl, you smoke?” asked one girl named Kay.
“Well, try it! You only live once,” she said.
“Who wants to light it first?” Jay asked.
“I’ll do it,” said Kay. Spark spark went the lighter and the blunt was lit.
The smell of the weed was so strong, I worried my clothes would reek of it. I grabbed the blunt and looked at it because I didn’t know what to do.
“Just inhale,” said Kay.
I heard the “Sssssss” of the burning blunt as I inhaled. I started coughing like crazy and thought I had blown my shot at being friends with them. They all started laughing. Kay said, “Girl, it’s OK to cough. You’ll get used to it after a while.”
“You know what, you’re mad cool,” Jay said.
It felt so good to get his approval. We smoked two more. I felt like I was floating. My mouth was dry and I could barely feel my feet. I felt numb, but a good numb. “Here, spray some of this to mask the smell,” said Kay as she handed me some perfume from her purse. I sprayed it all over.
When I got home, I ran up the stairs and into my room. I heard my grandma say, “How was school today babe?”
“It was good!”
Before I fell asleep, I said to myself, Ah man today was great.
After that, I smoked with them every day after school. Then I started smoking with them before school, too. At first, I found myself smoking just to fit in with them, but then it became something I did because I didn’t think about feeling insecure when I was high. But then when I wasn’t high, I felt bad all over again and back to reality.
All throughout the school day, I could barely pay attention. I kept zoning out and wanting to fall asleep. After school, I went to meet my friends to go do the same thing that we always did, get high.
Smoking Takes Its Toll
For the next eight months, smoking before and after school was all I looked forward to. I spent all of my allowance on weed.
This continued during the summer. Those kids lived close to me so it was easy to see them a few times a week. Once school started, I went back to the routine of smoking before and after school.
At home, my relationships became strained. Usually I spent time with my two younger sisters, watching movies and playing games. But now I wasn’t in the mood. Not only did I feel sad and insecure but I felt more angry and irritable when I wasn’t high.
My most damaged relationship, however, was with my mom.
One day in December, I was called to the dean’s office where she told me my grades had fallen so low I was on the verge of being taken out of honors classes, not graduating, and therefore not being able to attend 8th grade graduation activities like prom and our senior trip. Luckily, I wasn’t that high, so I was able to really absorb what she was saying. She told me she was going to call my mom and tell her all of this.
When I got home, my mom didn’t yell like I expected; she didn’t say anything to me. I knew she was disappointed, and that hurt me the most.
Opening Up to My Mom
I felt a constant weight of guilt. I knew it was time to change, and although I didn’t know how, I knew the first step was approaching my mom. A few days after the meeting with the dean, I called her into my room.
I apologized to her and promised that I would bring my grades up and stop getting to school late and coming home late.
“Answer me this. Do I not give you enough attention? Do you feel like I don’t love you enough?” asked my mom, with pain in her voice.
“No mom!” I replied. “That’s not it!”
“So then why are you acting like this, doing so badly in school and cutting classes or showing up late? What’s that about?” she responded.
“I’ve been smoking with a bunch of kids to feel better about myself,” I blurted out. “I don’t know. I think I might be depressed. I have no motivation, and I can’t stand to look in the mirror.”
I couldn’t believe I had finally told my mom about how I felt and what I’d been doing.
“Those aren’t your friends if they’re encouraging you to do this kind of stuff and not actually helping you feel better about yourself. They are only going to make things worse for you. You’re a bright girl, and I just want the best for you.”
I knew she was right. I was a bright girl, and I allowed myself to get off track just to prove to the wrong people that I was worthy of their acceptance. As we talked, I told her I felt sad and hopeless a lot, and I didn’t know what to do about it. My mom suggested therapy, but therapy seemed to be such a drag. So she suggested that I first try to change things for myself.
She hugged me and I felt her warmth. I felt the love and a connection to my mom that I hadn’t felt in so long. She held me while I cried. Knowing I had my mom by my side gave me the courage I needed to change.
Morning Mantra: I am confident. I love myself.
It was now January; we arrived back from Christmas break. I was determined to get my grades back on track. I asked my teachers for all my missing assignments.
Along with making up my work, I distanced myself from those kids. “You not coming with us?” Jay asked me one day after school. “No, not today,” I said. After days of this, they stopped asking. We barely speak now.
For about a month it was hard to give up smoking because I craved it, especially when I was anxious, sad, or stressed by school. I worried I couldn’t be without it, but then I realized that there were healthier coping mechanisms. I meditated when I felt anxious, went for walks, read, or drew. I made some new good friends. Whenever I wanted to smoke, I reminded myself why I had to stop: It had been taking over my life. It also helped to replay the conversations I had with my mom and my dean.
I knew my poor self-esteem originated in my head, and I had to work on developing a different mindset. So every morning in the mirror I recited to myself, I am beautiful, I am worthy, I am confident, I love myself. This helped me a lot and now I believe it.
I also worked on my skinny body. There’s nothing wrong with changing yourself as long as you’re doing it for you and not to please others. I started eating way better to gain weight. I went from snacking on chips most of the time to eating three healthy meals a day consisting of lots of fruits, vegetables, and chicken.
My goal was to bring all my grades to at least an 85, and I did it. I graduated 8th grade with honors. I started high school feeling happier because I realized that I don’t need to seek acceptance from others to feel good about myself or to use a drug when I feel anxious or sad.
- Why can it feel important, especially in middle school, to fit in? What can it be like for kids who don’t fit in and what impact does that have on them?
- What are some of the positive things Tianna gets from smoking marijuana? What are some of the negative things? How do you know when the negative consequences of something are starting to outweigh the positive?
- Why do you think Tianna’s conversation with her mom has such a powerful impact on her? Why is it important to communicate with and talk to the people that we love, especially when we’re going through a tough situation?
- Tianna writes that she realized there were “healthier coping mechanisms.” What’s a “coping mechanism?” How do you know if one is healthy or not?