Sobriety Navigator: Marijuana Abuse – A Stoner’s Life!
Late August in 2004 my husband and I were driving home from the movies and I received a phone call informing me that my brother had cancer! I was shocked it was cancer but not surprised that his physical, mental and emotional instability had brought on a serious disease. While visiting his home one evening I had what we alcoholics call a “moment of clarity.” I realized that if he didn’t stop his erratic, self-consumed behavior, something bad was going to happen to him. I really thought it would be a heart attack. He had reached the point in his addiction where he was always in a state of high stress and everything was a big deal. My brother had become the perennial crisis junkie! Over the past year and a half I had pretty much distanced myself from him. I never thought that would happen since he was my favorite brother and we had always been so close. But his marijuana addiction had finally come between us. The same could be said about the relationship between him and my son. Since his birth, my son and my brother were as close as any uncle and nephew could be. It was a beautiful sight, both as a mother and a sister, to see this incredible bond. But things had changed. My grown son, who was now in college would come home and say, “Where is my uncle? I don’t know this man and I can’t stand his behavior. I never know what to expect anymore. His behaviors are erratic. He can easily become irritable and aggressive or he’ll just tune out.”
Effects on Life – Research clearly demonstrates that marijuana has the potential to cause problems in daily life or make a person’s existing problems worse. In fact, heavy marijuana users generally report lower life satisfaction, poorer mental and physical health, relationship problems, and less academic and career success compared to their peers who came from similar back-grounds. For example, marijuana use is associated with a higher likelihood of dropping out from school. Several studies also associate workers’ marijuana smoking with increased absences, tardiness, accidents, worker’ compensation claims, and job turnover. (National Institute on Drug Abuse)
I waited a few days before I went to see him. I wanted to be alone with him. We never had the kind of relationship where we minced words and as soon as we were alone the first words out of his mouth were, “I brought this on myself.” The first words out of my mouth were, “I know!”
From the time he was 15 years old in 1969 until the last four months of his life at age 50, my brother smoked marijuana every day. He was a closet marijuana abuser. He told me so. And I didn’t need any convincing. Even though he was a highly intelligent person he always had a concentration problem. In the beginning it was the post-traumatic stress of living in a violent alcoholic environment. Studies have shown that when a child is not safe at home it impedes their learning abilities. In high school he continued to struggle with his grades, but now he was self-medicating with marijuana which only made things worse. He would isolate and day dream. He was very self-conscious and could never seem to relax and just enjoy himself.
Contrary to common belief, marijuana is addictive. Estimates from research suggest that about 9 percent of users become addicted to marijuana; this number increases among those who start young (to about 17 percent, or 1 in 6) and among daily users (to 25-50 percent). Thus, many of the nearly 7 percent of high-school seniors who (according to annual survey data) report smoking marijuana daily or almost daily are well on their way to addiction, if not already addicted (besides functioning at a sub-optimal level all of the time). (National Institute on Drug Abuse)
A few years before his death, he had gone to the doctors for stomach pain. He thought he may have an ulcer. They took x-rays of his stomach, gave him some medicine and asked him to follow up with them. Being the avoider he had learned to be since he was a small child, he did not follow up. When the stomach pain would worsen, he would just smoke more marijuana. This vicious cycle of using marijuana to mask the pain only exacerbated the problem.
On some level he knew he was in serious trouble, and I believe he was in a constant state of panic. He had always been afraid of living and now he was afraid of dying. I wonder if that’s what hell looks like? When the marijuana could no longer mask the pain, he literally hit his knees one morning and went to the doctor to have his stomach examined.
After looking at the x-rays his physician informed him that he didn’t have a stomach any more. It was one big tumor.
The doctors decided they would remove his stomach and attach his intestine to his esophagus. Of course, they had determined he only had a matter of months to live. They tried to extend his life as much as possible.
Knowing full well he was dying, he continued with his pattern of avoidance and would talk only about his future plans when released from the hospital. I figured it was his death bed and he had a right to live it out the way he wanted, so I played along. We made plans and laughed and joked about the future…… until the doctors implanted a device on his spine that allowed him to release morphine into his body periodically. That, along with the pain killer oxycontin caused him to slip in and out of semi-consciousness. At least it helped with the pain.
He died one evening in December in 2004. I miss him and think of him every day. I truly believe he was just too sensitive for this world. Sometimes a child’s heart gets wounded or broken and they are just not capable of mending, even when they grow up.
By Cynthia Peterson