What Marijuana Means to Me

marijuana addiction, marijuana addicts, stoners, potheads, rokers, marijuana, drug use in families

For Grace, marijuana represents the destruction of her family.

What does marijuana mean to me? marijuana means the destruction of peoples lives. That’s what marijuana means to me. I constantly hear that marijuana is a harmless “bit of fun” or “just a good way to relax”. In my experience, nothing could be further from the truth. My brother has been hooked on marijuana since the age of thirteen. Now aged twenty eight he can’t function without it. Introduced to it by an older sibling, he says, meant an adolescence of being stoned. Not only of being stoned, but an adolescence of stealing, petty crime, lying, cheating and downright cruelty. People say marijuana isn’t a mind altering drug. For some people it is extremely mind altering.

What I remember of my own childhood and adolescence is living in a constant state of fear of his terrible and often violent  mood swings: screaming, throwing furniture, holes in walls and doors and rages that would last hours.

No one could keep anything of any value very long. I had nearly everything of any value stolen and sold. Think of my fathers disappointment, when at the start of the year he helped make us wooden money boxes and gave us $2 every week to put in them to buy Christmas presents at the end of the year, only to discover that come Christmas there was only a few dollars left. I’d be buying no Christmas gifts that year. Did my brother care? Not one bit. All that mattered was his marijuana. It doesn’t sound like such a big deal, but we didn’t have much money and it meant something to our father. And me also. Not my brother: only his marijuana mattered.

Where were our parents, you ask? They were there. They both tried everything they could to get my brother help. My brother decided to drop out of high school. Our father got him various jobs. One of these was at his own place of employment. I can only imagine the shame and embarrassment our father, an honest man, must have felt when my brother was sacked for stealing money.

So from there came doctors, counseling, rehab and other jobs. Marijuana was more important. Our parents weren’t perfect, but they certainly did their best.

I also despise marijuana because in our family’s case, it leads to harder drugs. Which leads to more suffering. By the time my brother was in his late teens he was hooked on everything and anything.

In 2005 our father was diagnosed with terminal esophagus cancer. He died 9 months later. My brother was twenty one, I was seventeen. My mother and I nursed our father at home. My brother wasn’t very interested. He did, at times, try, though his drugs were more important than anything else. Our father wanted to die at home, something my mother and I tried to make happen. One day, a few days before his death, our father collapsed on the floor in our parents’ bedroom. We had been told that his time was nearly over. Knowing this, my brother said he would stay close to home to help as best he could. My mother and I tried to lift him back into bed. He was too heavy for us, even though he was literally skin and bones. I raced to my brothers’ room for help lifting him. He was gone on what would be a weekend of a drug fueled bender. We had to call an ambulance.

To my shame, and I think our mother’s, too, our father was admitted to a hospice. We tried so very hard to keep him at home. He was in and out of consciousness, mostly out. His last words to me were that he loved me and hoped he had been a good father. I don’t think he thought he had been. He had. Perfect? No. There is no such thing. He did his utmost best for his family, always. His very last words? My brothers’ name. He wanted to see his son. We frantically tried to find my brother. We did eventually, literally hiding in a wardrobe at home, stoned out of his head. My brother was cajoled into coming to see our father. By then he was nearly completely unconscious. My brother took off again in search of more drugs. Our father died two days later believing he had failed his son. He tried to help him. Believe me, he did.

A couple of days before our fathers’ funeral our mother was going through our fathers’ wallet. He had told her that he had one hundred dollars in it and not to forget about it. It seemed important for him to tell her that. She didn’t need it; she just found comfort in looking at and touching his things. The money was gone. I confronted my brother when he returned from his bender. Did he take the money? Yes, he did. Why? Stupid question. He owed his drug dealer money.

What would possess someone to steal from their dead father? A drug addiction. The same addiction that, while our father would be in the bathroom vomiting during his illness, sent my brother through the dying man’s wallet.

Why tell these stories? I tell these stories not because I hate my brother. I love my brother. I hate his addiction and the person it has turned him into. Hardcore drugs have come and gone, but marijuana has been the constant. My brother started smoking marijuana because our older half sister, a whole other story, introduced him to it. Why would she do that? Because she was a junkie. A junkie who started out smoking marijuana.

My brother has had help heaped upon him. I’m trying to fix my own life, marred by both my siblings’ addictions and other things that perhaps wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for their addictions. Some things I have inflicted on myself, too, of course. What am I left with? That he loves his drugs more than he loves anybody or anything else.

Marijuana doesn’t necessarily lead to other drugs for everyone. All I know is that it did for my family. What does marijuana mean to me? Cruelty, suffering, struggling, guilt, shame and ruined lives. My brother is twenty eight now, and a full blown drug addict and newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes: not a good mix. He recently tried rehab again. He didn’t like it. The place was “full of junkies.” I’ll be surprised if he makes thirty. That’s what marijuana means to me.

 

Grace is from Australia, has no notable achievements, has never written something that has been published before and feels ridiculous writing a bio in the third person.

Read more on Marijuana on The Good Life.

Image credit: Ian Sane/Flickr

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Comments

  1. Paul Winkler says:

    Hi Grace.

    My brother-in-law did not fall for marijuana and other drugs like your brother has done. Instead, for fear of becoming an addict, he turned to alcohol, and became an alcoholic. By the time he died at age 50, he had lost everything: home, partner, job, family. All he had left were debts and an old camper truck that didn’t work and was ransacked when he died.

    When any substance, illegal or not, grabs one’s soul, that person is just a statistic-in-waiting; not much humanity left. Occasional flashes of the old personality, immersed in the continuum of misery and hopelessness, violence and petty crime.

    And then there’s my other brother-in-law, who likely *was* addicted to marijuana – but it did him little harm, because he used it mainly for pain management for his acute arthritis and numerous other health problems. For him, marijuana was a godsend.

    I am sorry your brother got “hooked” so early, but unless he can somehow save himself, he will be gone by age 30 as you predict; and it would be a blessing for him not to drag on for another decade or two. One day perhaps we’ll solve these types of mental illness, but until then they represent great tragedies of life.

    • Hi Paul,

      I’m sorry for your experiences with your family. What you say about substances grabbing a persons soul is so true, that is exactly how it is. I hope that my brother can save himself, there isn’t much any of us can do to save him now, it has to be his choice, and if he doesn’t make that choice it will be a terrible tragedy.

  2. I would question your laying this on marijuana when your brother was doing “anything and everything” by his late teens. As you said, marijuana doesn’t lead to other drugs for everyone, but for some it does. For others they skip marijuana and go straight to the “harder” drugs. I would see your case if all your brother did was marijuana, but it is the use of many more substances and being constantly in the need to be in an “altered” mind state that is the bigger issue.

    In my work with people with addictions, with mental health issues, and people living with HIV, I have seen the downside of drugs, but I have also seen the healing power of marijuana. Any number of things could have led to the harder drugs, as you feel it did in your brothers case. However, I have also seen people do away with the harder drugs and just stick to marijuana, and their situation then improves from there.

    As opposed to hoping your brother stops everything, it could help if he just reversed the ramping process that you feel marijuana started. If he went marijuana -> alcohol -> ecstasy -> coke -> crack -> heroin -> crystal meth (you said anything and everything), then you try to get him to reduce some of the substances he is using. So that now he goes from meth -> heroin -> crack -> coke -> ecstasy -> alcohol -> marijuana -> nothing (a high ideal, but one I feel you have). This is not a task to take on yourself though, or it will bury you too.

    • Thanks, Adam.

      I do feel that marijuana is responsible, that’s where it all started. The “anything and everything” was after marijuana, marijuana was the first and everthing just got worse from there. I can’t help but think that perhaps if he had never tried marijuana he wouldn’t have tried everything else also. But it’s also true that a lot of other things could have led to the harder drugs, but as I say for me it all seemed to start with marijuana. It’s such a complex issue, he doesn’t want help at the moment, to him I’m just the person trying to take take his drugs off him, not help him. And you’re right, I can’t take it on myself, he needs to want to do it, also depending on what he’s taking in can be quite dangerous.

  3. Joanna Schroeder says:

    Ask any professional recovery center if marijuana is an addictive drug, with the potential to ruin people’s lives and you will get a resounding YES.

    Does that mean it’s more destructive than alcohol or cocaine? No. But addiction is a physiological response (as well as emotional) that is strongly related to biology. For some people, they will never become addicted to alcohol, but they will to marijuana. For others, pot and alcohol will never be a problem, but cocaine would be. Or cigarettes. It’s a lock-and-key type of relationship.

    There are certain populations who have addiction without very much alcoholism, for instance (Ashkenazi Jews, in particular). Others have high rates of alcoholism and much lower rates of other drug addictions (relatively).

    When people say “marijuana is not addictive” I can only respond, “for whom?”

    • So very true, Joanna.

    • Mark A. says:

      I would like to note that unlike perfectly legal, regulated, taxed, and (in high enough doses) entirely FATAL substances such as caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine, cannabis bears a far lower level of physiological dependency outside of depleting your serotonin reserves. It is certainly PSYCHOLOGICALLY addictive as it is very ritualized behavior … but biting one’s nails can also be a psychologically maladaptive and physically harmful compulsive behavior.

      I wouldn’t blame the marijuana use so much as the AGE at which the marijuana use started. Our brains haven’t generally settled into their fully “neurally-pruned” states until between the ages of twenty and twenty-five. One of cannabis’s VERY FEW direct risks is that in an adolescent subject with a hereditary history of schizophrenia, cannabis can touch off an inciting schizophrenic episode.

      I think you’re blaming the substance for the behavior a bit much here, which is not to say that your brother doesn’t have problems he needs to address. An addict will find a way to get their fix regardless of whether the fix is a candy bar, an adrenaline rush, a cup of coffee, an extramarital affair, et cetera; you get the picture. Addressing the substance as the problem ignores the behavior that drives the addict towards the substances in the first place.

      • I respectfully disagree, simply because that isn’t my experience, my experience is that it causes a HUGE physiological dependency. Perhaps that’s a genetic thing, I don’t know. And yes I agree you must address the reason for the addiction. Unfortunately that doesn’t stop me despising the substance also.

      • I agree respectfully with Grace. Marijuana has a hard effect on someone psychologically and physically. I have seen up to lazy, confused, paranoid, delusional, and very psychotic.

        Most people continue to smoke pot everyday. They can’t live without it and most likely will indulge into marijuana more and more.

  4. Tom Brechlin says:

    Grace, you are in my prayers. As an addictions counselor, I can, without a doubt, tell you I’ve heard your story told countless times in the past 15 years.

  5. Given that we know so little about the capacities of the human brain, how addiction alters that function and what can be done once addiction has formed, we can presuppose drugs are to blame, we can blame our brain chemistry, we can blame lifestyle choices, there are a multitude of things which could be considered when a person becomes addicted to something. Is it nature, is it nurture, are we programmable by natural interactions with chemicals toward addictive behaviors? (The answer is D. All of the above.)

    These are all questions we must all address in the course of our lives. Quiet as it’s kept most of us are addicted to something: salt, sugar, carbohydrates, fat; many of these addictions are biochemical processes which evolved to help us remember good food supplies and have now been taken over by companies seeking to “addict” us to their products. The one thing I do feel confident of is our ability to make an effort to understand addiction as a subset of natural tendencies. People become addicted to the internet, for example, because it reinforces our belief systems. Such reinforcement “feels good” to our brains and we seek it out. This “addiction” is also a natural response pre-programmed into us as a means of developing social interactions.

    Unfortunately we don’t have just one hypothesis as to why some people become addicted and others don’t. Given the complexities involved we may NEVER definitively know how addictions form or why some people are vulnerable to addiction and others aren’t.

    Removing the propensity for addiction may not even be possible. Or desirable. Who knows how much of what we are may be embedded in the codes that make addiction possible? How many desirable behaviors could be linked to it. If we were to discover a means of removing addiction, would we be altering human behavior in a way we might find later to be a core element of our humanity?

    What we must try to do with people is to understand they may not know why their addicted only that we have to do everything we can to help them come to grips with it. Addiction is never overcome, it is only managed. That does not mean we shouldn’t strive for a better outcome wherever possible. I hope you and your family never give up on your brother. Loving him may be the only thing that will help HIM make the choice to change his lifestyle.

    Only he can do the work. He has to want to first.

    • I won’t give up on him, but I won’t enable him either (that isn’t helping him). At the moment we are the enemy, I hope one day he won’t see it that way. I do love him, I don’t love his lifestyle. Thank you for your comment.

  6. Jamie G. says:

    Dear Grace,
    Your most notable achievement was loving, supporting and caring for your father, all the while assisting your mother, during his devastating illness. Don’t ever forget that.

    You are breaking the cycle. Your brother leaves a mark on your psyche, but let his mark make you even stronger then you are now. Your brother is weak and a coward, but you are not.

    You remind me of my daughter in so many ways. Both of you have lived similar life experiences, as you’ve both felt shame and even survivor’s guilt.

    Grace, thank you for sharing your story. It brought me to tears.

    XO
    Love,
    Jamie

  7. Alyssa Royse says:

    As one who was raised by addicts, and married to an alcoholic with serious mental health issues, what I see when I read your story has very little to do with marijuana and much more to do with addiction and mental health issues. Blaming this on the particular substance would be like saying that food is a problem because some people abuse it terribly, becoming morbidly obese and ruining their lives.

    The story you tell is not uncommon, at all. I have heard it too, I have lived it, but with alcohol. But it is vitally important not to make the conflation that allows us to believe the substance is the problem, as opposed to the issues the individual is having.

    Marijuana is clearly a trigger for you. It is your trigger. It is not necessarily a problem in a global sense. Can people get addicted to it? Sure. As they can to alcohol, tobacco, food, exercise, whatever…. The problem is understanding what’s going on with the addict – and it’s different for all of them. Blaming the substance makes it possible to figure out the real problem, and solve it.

    I do know people who have gotten hooked on weed and it has ruined them. I know far more who haven’t. FAR MORE. The same can be said of alcohol. Personally, as one who lives in chronic pain from a brain injury and broken neck, I would kill myself without the ability to smoke it now and then, as it is the ONLY thing that works.

    • Of course getting to the bottom of why a person becomes an addict is the biggest step in fighting addiction, I also believe the substance is too. In my experience marijuana has ruined FAR MORE people than it hasn’t, but yes, the same can be said of anything that people can get addicted to. I’m sorry you suffer chronic pain, I know many people that do and it is a horrible thing to have to live with.

  8. giovanni barbieri says:

    Grace,
    Thank you for your story. The pain and grief you and your family suffered as a consequence of your brother’s addiction is unfortunate to say the least. There are many reasons, but no answers really.

    Genetics, society, nature/nurture, a combination of the two, call it what you will, it doesn’t soften the blows inflicted on a family living through the nightmare of a lying, cheating addict.

    Despite your brother’s addiction though, I’m willing to bet that at the heart of his soul, he still loves you and your family.

  9. Thanks for sharing your experience. I felt sad reading about your father’s disappointment and sense of failure over your brother’s addiction, and the additional heartbreak you all had to live through while your father was dying because you also had to struggle with your brother’s addiction. From your story, I sensed that you all felt (and still feel) varying amounts of guilt and responsibility for your brother’s condition, and that really is a huge part of the tragedy. I do hope that you and your mother have gotten/ can get counseling and support for yourselves. You love your brother and continue to do what is reasonably possible to help him, but, as you have indicated, you can’t fight his fight for him. He has to want to quit enough to admit that he is a junkie and to persevere with the challenging process of rehabilitation. Above all, don’t forget yourself. You have every right to live your life and to shield yourself and your family from the repercussions of your brother’s addiction.

    It is my sense that, at the end of the day, nothing you or your parents did ever could have ‘cured’ your brother’s addiction.

    • Thank you, Rkahendi. People do tend to (or seem to) forget what the other family members go through, particularly siblings of an addict.

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