“My message to other people wanting to stop using gunja is you need to have the right mindset. If you want something, you need to put your mind to it and reach out. It’s all up to you!”

Nathan Oakley

Nathan Oakley is descended from the Hawke family in Broome and is one of the sons of Ann Hawke. He lives in Perth. Nathan talked to David Clark about overcoming his gunja problem.

1. My early gunja smoking days
I started smoking gunja when I was around 12 years old. There was no peer pressure. I wasn’t having any problems in my life; in fact, everything was pretty normal. I was just curious about gunja, as I knew my friends’ older brothers liked using the drug.

The first time I smoked gunja it was with a friend, his brother and the brother’s mate. We were shown how to smoke a bong and then left to our own devices. I liked the effects of the drug. In those early days, I often remained stoned all day after a morning smoking session. I particularly remember getting the ‘munchies’ and having to go down to the local shop to get some M&Ms to eat.

During that year, I smoked gunja only periodically. However, my using then started to accelerate. I’d smoke every other weekend, then every weekend, then every second day, and finally every day.

Later, I found that I needed a smoke as soon as I got up in the morning… and one before I went to bed. In fact, I became convinced that I needed gunja just to function properly. I found that the drug made me relax and I even got a thrill from making up a bong. Gunja made me hungry and when I wasn’t stoned I wouldn’t eat.

2. The peak of my habit
Eight years after my first smoke, the whole process had become automatic. I was smoking on average about a quarter of an ounce a day, which was costing me about $150 a week. Most of my pay went on funding my habit. I had various jobs after I left school, the main one eventually being concreting.

On a typical workday, I’d wake up at 05.00 and put together a few cones. I’d then put the kettle on and have a shower. I smoked as much gunja as I could before heading to work. Most of the boys would bring the drug into work and we’d smoke a couple of cones whilst there. However, we couldn’t smoke too much as the work was hard.

If I’d run out of drug, I’d buy half an ounce after work. I’d then smoke with a friend, or friends, all evening until we passed out. We didn’t do much other than smoke, jabber and laugh. We talked about the past, what we might do in the future, what we would invent, anything really.

Everyday life was pretty much a fixed routine. There were no life dramas. However, if I didn’t have gunja, I’d be in a shitty mood, irritable, on edge and short with people. I didn’t know what to do with myself if I wasn’t smoking. But I would hang on in there with no drug until I received my wage.

3. The decision to quit
During the last year or two of smoking gunja, I kept saying to myself that I would quit. I never did. I began to feel that I wasn’t going anywhere in my life. It was the same old shit. I also found that I was smoking more and more of the drug to get the same effect. I was developing tolerance to the drug’s effects.

About three-and a-half years ago, I broke off with a girl I’d been going with for six years. I just wanted to change my whole lifestyle. I was now beating myself up for not stopping. I’d told myself so many times I would stop smoking and yet I always went back to it.

However, I now found that my failing to stop was making me feel more and more repulsed by gunja. I let these feelings dwell in my mind and they just grew and grew.

Eventually, the feeling grew so strong that one day I hated gunja so much I just walked away from it.  I was halfway through a session and just said to my mate, “I’m fucking done, I’m going to quit!” And I just quit.

4. Staying stopped
The first few days after stopping smoking were horrible. It seemed like my whole body had gone into shock. I felt fidgety, irritable, moody and on edge. My appetite went haywire and I didn’t eat. I was bored and a little depressed.

Staying stopped
Staying stopped

During the first month, I made sure I stayed away from anything and everything associated with gunja. That included the mates I used to smoke with. It helped that my housemate didn’t use the drug and I made sure I caught up with old mates who didn’t smoke.

I also made sure that I kept myself busy with other activities. Normally, this is one of the most difficult things to come to terms with when you stop using a drug. What do I do with all the time that used to be taken up by smoking and talking shit?

I had always been involved in car clubs, so I devoted more time to this. I also got myself involved in various sporting activities.

I lost the desire to smoke gunja pretty quickly. Within a month or so, I found I had almost stopped thinking about the drug. I started to appreciate how much spare cash I now had – and also how much I’d previously been spending on my habit. It was good to think that rather than spend $50 on gunja, I could put $50 worth of petrol in the car.

After a month, I started to interact with some of my gunja-smoking mates. Some were still friendly, but others never bothered to see me again. That was fine. It’s good to know who your real friends are. I found it easy being with my gunja using mates, because their smoking now didn’t bother me. I’d just lost all desire for the drug.

5. Life today
Three years after stopping, I still find it very easy. Looking back, I guess that when I finally decided to stop, I did NOT make it a big deal. I convinced myself that I could leave gunja ‘easy as’.

I had expectations of what would happen when I stopped using and I planned for these changes. I also told myself I would ride out the storm!

I guess it also helped building up the repulsion for the drug, as I described earlier. I reached a stage where I hated what I was doing so much, it was easy to just walk away.

My message to other people wanting to stop using gunja is you need to have the right mindset. If you want something, you need to put your mind to it and reach out. It’s all up to you!

Nathan Oakley & David Clark
Nathan Oakley & David Clark

There were two additional rewards to stopping smoking. Firstly, my parents are really pleased and I guess proud of me. I think I gave them quite a shock when I stopped using… and stayed stopped.

Secondly, I was able to get a job working up north abut six months after stopping using, which I would never had managed to do if I had continued smoking. This gave me even more ready cash and kept me busy.

When I think back, I made gunja part of my life routine and for a long time nothing disrupted this pattern. It became automatic to just keep smoking.

I knew it was an addiction, although if I didn’t have the money I didn’t smoke. I didn’t go stealing money or anything else criminal to fund my habit, so I guess mine was not an extreme addiction. However, if I had money, I’d slip back into that routine.

I broke that routine and to be honest with you, it wasn’t that difficult. If you put your mind to it, you can do the same.