What does marijuana mean to me? Marijuana means the destruction of people's lives. 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 28, 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 father's 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 nine months later. My brother was 21, I was 17. 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 brother's room for help lifting him. He was gone on what would become a drug-fueled bender weekend. We had to call an ambulance.
To my shame, and I think our mother’s, too, our father was admitted to hospice. We tried so 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 brother’s name. He wanted to see his son. We frantically tried to find my brother. We did eventually find him 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 father's funeral, our mother was going through our father's wallet. He had told her that he had $100 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 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 28 now, 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 it to 30. 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.
Reprinted with permission from The Good Men Project. Want more?