This is a story about marijuana addiction. Maybe.
“Hi my name is Zoe and I’m an addict.”
The only woman of color in the room hugs me and hands me a small, lavender-colored, plastic disc with “MA” printed on one side and “Keep Coming Back!” printed on the other. It hangs from a short chain. As the room chants “Hi Zoe”, I unhook the chain and fasten it around my finger. As I’ve only been sober 28 days (and not even one by their terms as I drank alcohol the previous day) – the newcomer chip is the only one I am qualified to take under the honor system.
I’m here because I’ve railed intellectually against all of the Anonymous groups for years.
I’m here to inhabit “Don’t knock it ‘til you try it”.
Also here because my friend G was in the program for 9 months and had offered to show me the ropes. G smoked two bowls before the meeting. I am grateful to him for enduring it for me. Such is the nature of marijuana addiction.
Before we take a seat, he introduces himself to his former sponsor. The sponsor is an older gentleman, barefoot with cane and toe ring. He says how much he missed G and their date, when they would drink “Apple Pies” – which is described to me as apple pie in a glass. G interrupts to inform the ex-sponsor that I don’t eat sugar. The man laughs and admits that he is diabetic – and then takes a swig off of a Mountain Dew. I judge and feel judgment upon me.
This man is not even one second sober, and over 15 years into “the program”.
There are about 30 people in the room, ranging in age from anywhere between 12 and 80. Soiled, uncomfortable chairs are placed too closely, a rectangle in a church basement. Various volunteers set up $40 worth of bargain potato chips, red vines, chocolate cake, and coffee, while others bring out tattered boards displaying the 12 Steps and the 12 Traditions.
1. We admitted we were powerless over marijuana, that our lives had become unmanageable.
I disagree. I have all the power in the world. No one is to blame for my usage other than myself. I don’t belong here. This hollow epithet has no right to disempower me.
I look around the room and see people unable to sit still. Fidgeting. Compulsively and continuously and compulsively consuming sugar and coffee (at 8:00pm). I see people drawing on themselves, playing with their hair, wringing their hands. I see signs of diabetic neuropathy in a few of the participants and these still suck down sugar like there’s no tomorrow. Everyone seems trying to crawl out of their skin. I feel my stomach flip… these people are not well. I’m not sure marijuana addiction is the problem here.
The chip person gives out chips to people who have accomplished various periods of time sober. As he presents each one, lackadaisical golf claps scatter across the room. Then the rules of the meeting are read in strict monotone by a young man who doesn’t look up from the scratched, laminated piece of paper from which he reads.
The main speaker, a young lesbian, speaks for 20 minutes about her experiences with marijuana addiction. Her voice shakes.
She has been sober for over 2 years. She talks about fear, and panic attacks, and struggling with her identity as she can no longer be that girl getting faded in the corner of a party.
I relate, but I do not. I understand, of course, I have felt the same feelings. However – there are worse problems to have in life than marijuana addiction. There are worse identities to assume than that of “The Stoner”. There is and always has been more to me than my usage.
I am not denying that I answer “yes” to all of the 12 questions.
She talks about feeling like everyone else got an emotional handbook and she did not. And now that she no longer suppresses her emotions with marijuana addiction they are scary, new, uncharted territory. I wonder if she knows that everyone feels this – addict or not.
2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Sanity??? Even if I were powerless over marijuana, would that make me insane?
I worry the newcomer chip between my fingers as I listen to the speaker, and then realize I’m being sucked into the void displayed by the rest of the room. I put the chip away, on a keychain in my purse.
The first speaker finishes their 20 minutes and then more rules are read off of a different sheet by a different fella with a different monotone and the same lack of eye contact. I learn that for the next hour we will hear from a succession of speakers, each for 3 minutes. A man uses his cell phone alarm to time people.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood God.
I am God.
One by one the depressed and anxious people speak. There is ritual in every word. They each begin by welcoming the newcomers, congratulating the chip-takers, and thanking the initial speaker. The first few respond to the initial speaker, but after those it is just people sharing their trials. No one seems to have an actual need to talk – rather they are performing a ritual that they’ve learned will keep them clean and sober through Pavlovian conditioning.
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
I have done this step, and I will do it again. I think it’s important regardless of drug usage or abuse.
One of the speakers mistakes the main speaker for a man instead of a lesbian. He emphasizes how much he relates and manges to patronize at the same time.
There are many platitudes. “Marijuana addiction is like being kicked to death by a soft fuzzy bunny”. “The problem is my head. It’s like the horror movies where the police call the victim and say that the call is being traced to inside the house” “Disease” “Learning new ways of being is like cutting a fresh path through the grass.” “Stay off the grass”.
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
I have spent other people’s money, wasted my potential, hurt people, and been a poor friend because of marijuana addiction. I have lied, stolen, and cheated for it.
It was all worth it.
A speaker talks about how he would scrape resin off his smoking devices and smoke it – and that people who can just give or take weed don’t do that. I haven’t done that in over 10 years, but it had nothing to do with marijuana addiction – it’s about money. Those that can afford weed don’t have any reason to do that. I will always leave a pipe smoking or a vapor hit for the fallen brothers (particularly when I am flush). Sacrifice is part of the ritual of imbibing cannabis.
There has not been a quality of desperation to my use of cannabis in over five years, I realize. I feel like a liar. The word addict seems fraught with cultural implications. “Habitual user”. That’s what I was. There is danger and excitement in identifying as an addict. Pathetic and cool all at once. I wonder how many in the room have fallen prey to the same slippage.
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
There are no such thing as character defects. Humans are an endless spectrum of behavior and it is all glorious and perfect in the eyes of God.
I start to feel like I am going to cry from compassion for everyone in the room. So much pain and suffering. Why is no one offering treatment to these people? This poorly designed ritual of substitution is all they get? Why is there no health information on handling addiction but instead sugar and caffeine?
Maybe it’s a class thing. All of the people in the room are struggling for money. But where did they get the money for the weed? Where are those funds now being allocated? To red vines and instant coffee?
7. Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings.
My shortcomings are beautiful.
Does no one else here love themselves? A woman whines about being dropped by her interim sponsor. She is 9 months sober and claims it’s been the worst 9 months of her life.
Bitch, smoke some fucking weed then!
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
I have done this step.
A young man speaks for fewer than his allotted minutes – to admit relapse. “I tried running my own life for a while, and surprise surprise it led me to using”. A murmur with the tone of “Amen” circles the room. There is judgment in the polite applause.
I had always thought that the one redeeming part of the Anonymous groups was that they provide a support group. This is not support. This isn’t even a group. No one is extending out to one another. No one is absorbing each other. There is no porosity to the experience. There is too much fear and judgment in the room for that. Instead – sharing is merely another meaningless ritual.
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
I wonder if there used to be fewer steps and then someone had the idea to separate out thought from action to give more rungs on the ladder.
I’ve also done this step, and will do it again.
A man speaks about accidentally giving the wrong number on a job reference, and how this challenge led him to a call with his sponsor who advised him to just tell the truth. His crisis does not qualify as a crisis to me. I again wonder if I am an addict or if I am exaggerating my connection to the drug. I don’t know if I believe in addiction. If I do, I certainly don’t believe it is a Disease. I’m far more willing to believe the Rat Park theory.
Many people echo the thought that though there is no way to OD on marijuana – it causes another kind of death. I agree, and yet the stench of death permeates the room. Perhaps marijuana just brings out the latent death in all of us.
A speaker drones on past his allotted time as the timekeeper has fallen asleep. The group takes every opportunity to snicker at this, and at him.
10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
The contradiction in the steps becomes apparent. “Take inventory” yet “Give it up to God”. Be ready to make amends, yet you aren’t responsible for your own life. My thought had been that this model works for some people. That there are five people in the room who have been doing this for over 10 years makes me wonder if it works at all. Why are they still here? Why is their term with MA longer than it was with marijuana addiction?
11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out.
God helps those that help themselves.
We are done with the speakers. Another male monotone reads another sheet about rules and procedures. It is then time for acknowledgments – which follow the formula (all names have been changed): “Kylie, speaker” *stomp* *clap* “Eric, cake” *stomp* *clap* “Justin, food” *stomp* *clap* “Tina, chip person” *stomp* *clap* “Alan, boards” *stomp* *clap* “Juan, coffee” *stomp* *clap*. For the first time in the evening the ritual feels better to me. It ceases to have that WASP timbre and feels primal, African, rhythmic.
When this is over there are announcements. G’s old sponsor breaks one of the rules by bringing in an outside issue at the wrong time and is immediately called out.
The cloud of judgment poisoning the room has found its release. The people are vigilant. The altercation is over before it has begun.
Conflict is not dealt with well by marijuana addicts. He is allowed to make his announcement in less than two minutes, during a different allotment. I roll my eyes at the precision in their adherence to the rules. These very rules prevent outside treatment information from being disseminated here.
Empty water pitchers are passed around for donations. Even those that are living in homeless shelters give up the money. The bookkeeper reads the books aloud. I am horrified to realize that the group is short on rent for the church basement, due next week – yet has spent half that rent on cake, red vines, potato chips, instant coffee, and non-dairy creamer. Every person in the room, but me, has had more than one serving of the above. More people cough up money to cover the difference.
In this moment I see how the lonely stoner has been converted into a group obligated sugar addict. This cannot be better than weed.
If there is anything I have to contribute to these people it is to make them aware that these substances are all psychoactive – and addictive. That the damage they are doing to their lives, bodies, and loved ones by consuming sugar, toxic fats, chemicals, and caffeine is just more supplanted addiction. I want to scream.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to marijuana addicts and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
The groups are Anonymous – no statistics are ever collected or released on their success. What if this process statistically does more harm than good? What if this is *all* a farce? This is the only court mandated treatment that exists and it is certainly not treatment…
…but what if it makes things worse?
More thoughts on addiction: Plant