M Is for Marijuana. A Is for Addict.
I smoked pot daily for over 30 years—I had a successful career, was free of debt and had a good life. Then I started a family and that's when my addiction caught up to me.
“How much do you smoke?”
“Not a lot anymore,” I said, casually. “A toke in the morning, one in the afternoon, maybe a couple at night. A joint all told during the day,” I added, proudly.
“You’re an addict, you know,” my therapist said matter-of-factly.
“Bullshit.” Addicts have needles hanging out of their arms. I was appalled, misunderstood. How could she say that? If only she knew how much I was really smoking.
The seed my therapist had planted worked on me daily. I don’t think I ever enjoyed pot quite the same way again. Guilt and shame became part of the equation. Damn that bitch! What a goddamn buzz-killer.
Beneath the façade of functionality, I felt shamefully guilty. Mommies aren’t supposed to be stoned. Period.
I’d quit smoking grass numerous times over the previous 10 years—when I was pregnant, or trying to be, and when I was nursing my kids—but I kept falling back into the old routine. As controlled as I was about everything, pot was the one exception. It controlled me and I hated myself for it. I didn’t even like being high any more; it just made me paranoid and complacent. The high had long since stopped working. The pot that initially facilitated my power eventually took it back and left me almost paralyzed.
But reefer had freed me from myself. When high, I forgot that I was “less than,” scared and unsure of myself. Marijuana was my great enabler. Under the influence I could be whatever I wanted to be—daring, outgoing and willing. Once I discovered that, I wasn’t about to let it go. Mary Jane was my bitch. But it was time to be a grown-up, not just pretend to be one. And even though I was pretty good at pretending, keeping it together was just becoming too much work. My self-hatred only left me for the moment after the hit. Within seconds it returned, more virulent than ever.
I was the mom with sunglasses on, even on rainy evenings. We had to leave the playground every hour or two so I could refresh my buzz. My bedroom was my den of iniquity; the door always closed, the windows, open. I was pathetic, and knew it. I had so many dreams yet to fulfill, so many unfinished projects. The more I procrastinated, the bigger the tasks became. And, the larger they loomed, the more impossible it became to even think about starting them. It wasn’t that they were any big deal or anything; it just meant I had to get off the damn couch.
I considered myself an honest person, but I hid my addiction from everyone, including myself. Being wracked with guilt and shame didn’t stop me from pinching pot from my closest friends if the opportunity arose. If I received extra change from a cashier, if they neglected to see an item in my cart, I gleefully made hay with it, suffering later for my lack of moral character.
I worked hard to convince the world, and myself, that I was a good person. But in truth, I was a liar, cheater, stealer. I despised myself. In sharp contrast, I owned an apartment, had money in the bank and no debt. I had two terrific kids, volunteered almost full-time fundraising for the kids’ public school. My apartment was immaculate, thanks to an undiagnosed case of OCD. (Mental illness can serve a purpose.) The kids had a loving and structured life. I was organized to a fault with play dates, homework, bills, paperwork, errands and almost any responsibility—except living in reality. Beneath the façade of functionality, I felt shamefully guilty. Mommies aren’t supposed to be stoned. Period.
My smoking didn’t have a big dramatic end externally—but I was dying inside, my self-loathing hitting bottom. I never believed marijuana was addictive, but boy, when I tried to kick it…and I tried a lot. Finally I decided to Just Say No. No more Lysol, Visine, hiding in my bedroom, or making excuses to go to the store a dozen times a day. I smoked my last joint and quit without help or fanfare—and without joy or passion. It was a very un-dramatic bottom, just the end of the line of a 30-year addiction. Driven by self-righteous indignation, I never wavered.
The thought of any “A” group—AA, NA, CA—scared the shit out of me. I pictured a bunch of drunk junkies with sallow skin in some dank basement, smoking nasty cigarette butts, drinking bitter black coffee from wilting take-out cups, looking miserable, white-knuckling sobriety and hating every fucking minute. So I did it alone, and it was really lonely. I was unhappy, selfish, resentful, isolating, fearful and had no sense of humor. For a former comedian, that’s really sad.
Nine months after quitting, I found my way to Marijuana Anonymous—a newer, smaller fellowship with like-minded users. The meetings were held once a day and filled with kindred spirits of all ages and lifestyles—people you’d never suspect of having addiction issues: doctors, teachers, financial brokers and the occasional outlaw. Marijuana is an insidious drug. Many of us had convinced ourselves that it was a harmless, natural herb. The damage it does is often difficult to discern, yet there we all were, whipped by the harmless weed.
The meetings quickly became the high point of my week. They were the only place where I felt “part of,” understood and cared for unconditionally. I could share about what a shit I was, or some crap thing I'd done, and they’d laugh and nod their heads. It was the first time in my 45 years I was unafraid to just be me—the good, the bad and the really ugly. For the next nine months I barely paid attention when they read the Steps and the Traditions, focusing instead on what I was going to share. Somehow, recovery must have just started to seep in.
It seemed the wisest and most serene people were the ones who had a sponsor, worked the Steps and were of service. I began to consider that perhaps recovery was more than just abstaining from pot and coming to meetings. I slowly got my ego out of my ears and started listening. Oh wait—you mean I’m supposed to stop drinking, too? But I’m not an alcoholic like the rest of you losers! I can have half a margarita and not have another one for a week. What do you mean I can’t be high and sober at the same time?
Eighteen months after putting down the weed, I gave up booze, got a sponsor, started working the Steps and restarted my day count. Man did that last part suck. But everything else felt right, for the first time ever. It was the pink cloud I’d heard tell of. It lasted a good long while till real life started kicking my ass again. The difference? This time I had tools, my Higher Power and a fellowship of people who cared about me. And boy, am I a different person than I was when I came in. I don't suck nearly as much.
I’m a work in progress. I still make a lot of mistakes and, all too often, lead with my ego instead of my heart. But every day is a do-over to do better. In April I celebrated my 11th “birthday,” clean and sober. I won’t even mention that I haven’t smoked pot in almost 13 years. Wait…I just did. Guess I’m gonna have to keep coming back.
Andi Schwartz is a pseudonym for a new contributor to The Fix.