By Samantha Schoenfeld
*All names and locations have been altered or broadened to preserve anonymity.
Descending the chipped gray linoleum stairs in the church upon the hill was like leaving the real world to enter a world unknown to those above.
The wallpaper in the building curled at the edges from years of disregard, and a buildup of crud filled every corner of the rooms. The meeting’s room felt compressed with only nine of 14 folding chairs filled, snugly sitting in a cramped circle. At 7 p.m. sharp the room quieted down.
“Hi, I’m Arnie, and I am a marijuana addict,” said the group leader.
“Hi Arnie,” chorused the eight men and women surrounding Arnie.
And so began a 90-minute Sunday night Marijuana’s Anonymous meeting in Queens on March 28.
A typical 12-step recovery program, Marijuana Anonymous derived out of Bill W.’s Alcoholics Anonymous. Marijuana Anonymous began in 1986 on the west when word spread that a few groups had sprung up dedicated solely to marijuana. Together, the groups formed a Unity Conference to unite into one group.
The founders of Marijuana Anonymous ceded from Alcoholics Anonymous because, “It is very difficult to go to a meeting and be called a “light weight” by the other addicts when you are absolutely despondent about what is happening to your life and you are trying frantically to get clean,” says a “Why Marijuana Anonymous?” pamphlet. “Being told to ‘come back when you get a real addiction’ doesn’t help either. Marijuana addicts already have a real addiction.”
So a few members separated to form Marijuana Anonymous. All it took was at least two addicts that met regularly to form a group.
“Will someone please read the “Who is a Marijuana Addict” handout?” Arnie asked the group. “You can also find it in your workbook.”
After the preamble was read, other members took turns reading the “12 Traditions,” the “12 Questions to Determine if You are a Marijuana Addict,” “The Dangers of Cross Addiction,” and “Who is a Marijuana Addict?”
“Now it is time to honor those who have kept coming back,” announced Sabrina, the group elected secretary.
Sabrina began calling out the weeks of attendance for members to collect their chips – every milestone of remaining sober earned a member a new chip. Welcome chips for new members begin the awards, followed by one-month sober, three-months sober, six-months sober, nine-months sober, a year sober, 18-months sober, multiple years sober chips.
This meeting warranted: two welcome chips, one one-month chip, one six-month chip. The meeting (which Marijuana Anonymous considers a synonymous word with group) ran mechanically, with members going round-robin reading off the pamphlets and sharing stories. The meeting ran in what could be assumed as the same way it runs every week. After the introduction business, the meeting was opened up for the floor.
“Does anyone have a favorite story from the book that they would like us to read for story time?” Arnie asked.
Simultaneously three people responded, “The Story of the Lotus Eaters!” Cue the laughter at not being alone.
“The Story of the Lotus Eaters” tells a part of Homer’s story of Odysseus. Odysseus’ crew landed on the Island of the Lotus Eaters, and when he, as captain, sent out the shipmates to see if the natives were friendly, they never returned because they befriended the Lotus Eaters, and got high [Lotus was a type of dope]. Odysseus went to bring back his troops, and rowed them away from the island as fast as possible to avoid further determent from their mission.
This story speaks to potheads, which at group is synonymous with dopeheads, marijuana addicts, weed addicts, and other common slang terms for marijuana. It says that although it may be fun to chill out and get high, you need someone to help you intervene and put you back on track in life.
As one of the shortest stories in the handbook, there was time for a second one. Coincidentally, three different people in unison chose the same story: “My Best Thinking Got Me Here.” A more traditional story in the book, it is one man’s journey from childhood, to addiction, to recovery.
After the story, chatter broke out as if the meeting were over.
“It is now 7:45. We will do round robin until 8:30, and if there is time left over, we can do questions and comments,” Arnie instructed. “Who would like to share first?”
Awkward silence. Giggles. Then Richard, a 47-year-old father of two teenagers, spoke up. “I’ll go. Hi, I’m Richard, and I am a pothead.”
“Hi Richard,” the group said automatically.
Richard has been sober longer than anyone else at his home group. Six years ago on February 1, 2004, Richard decided to get clean. It was the best decision he ever made.
“Things aren’t perfect. But if you strive for perfection, happiness will be hard. However, I am proud of who I am, and my family and friends are proud of me. I am in a good place, I am on a fertile ground. I am no longer afraid of my shadows,” Richard said to the group.
As the longest recovered group member who is successful and happy, Richard serves as an inspiration to the others.
Others at group were not as fortunate. Susan, 47, has been in and out of Anonymous groups for six years, recovering as a narcotics addict, an alcoholic, and on and off as a pothead.
“Hi, I am Susan, and I am an addict.”
“Hi Susan,” the group welcomed.
“Today is the first day in six years that I have not smoked weed. But it is going to be hard for me to quit, and I need everyone here to help me. I don’t work, and I’m lucky not to have to. But I live with my dealer, who I am in a relationship with. I don’t know if I can do it.”
“We’re here for you as long as you keep coming,” Richard said to her. Others murmured their support as well. To show their support, those who had been around for a month or longer wrote their phone numbers down on a paper for her to call if in need, in case she verged on smoking up and relapsing.
Joe, a 19-year-old college student who succumbs to weed whenever he goes through a break-up, experienced the same welcoming. He too was on his first day without weed.
Eduardo, a 45-year-old with two children, may not have smoked for a month, but he is not much further along. He decided to get sober after being caught with over 200 pounds of hash, and had the choice between six years of prison and getting help.
“I couldn’t wait to leave the hospital when my son was born. The second he popped out, I left to go party with my brother in law until dawn. I went back to the hospital trashed, and couldn’t wait to leave again [he began to cry]. Now my marriage is on the rocks.”
Members agreed to end the meeting on the hopeful note that Eduardo says he wants to change. As the meeting broke up, members mingled to share more intimate details that were too hard to say to a group. Richard approached Eduard to ensure he held onto his phone number. Just in case.