The First Time I Saw Marijuana


"Found this down by the lockers." said one of our Case Managers, holding out a prescription bottle to my Recovery Manager.  I saw what looked like oregano through the orange plastic as he held it to the light.

"Is that marijuana?"  Growing up in Singapore, I never saw drugs of any kind.  (You tend to shy away from them when you know the penalty for possession is a swift hanging.)

" of the guys probably dropped it when they got their stuff out of their locker."

I sighed and held out my hand. "I guess I need to destroy it."  I was the only one in the room who didn't have an addiction in my past.  That means I automatically draw the short straw when it comes to getting rid of illegal substances.  I decided to have a bit of fun. "I've never done this before...I guess I just take it up to the office and burn it, right?"

They stared.

I grinned. Laughter filled the room.  I think they were a bit relieved that I wasn't that naive.  "How about I just flush it down the toilet?" They agreed that was the best choice.

As I watched the leaves swirl into the sewer, I thought of the power of addiction.  Earlier that morning I watched a homeless man search along the curb for used cigarette butts.  Finding one that promised brief comfort he pulled it out of the mud, stuck it in his mouth and tried to coax a spark out of a lighter he probably found the same way.  He didn't care about the cold, the wind, or the rain. He didn't care about his matted hair, dirty face, or tattered clothes.  His comfort, for that moment, rested in leftover nicotine nestled in brown, burnt and lipstick-stained paper.

Addictions don't make sense and you can't ask an addict to act sensibly.  They can't "just stop."  They can never 'recover' to a point where they will ever be able to drink moderately like normal people.  Going back to the marijuana - the lockers were only for guys in the long and short term programs, guys who are UA'd (Urine Analysis) at least once a week.  They know a dirty UA means they will have to leave the program.  For most of our guys, this means they will be homeless once again on the rainy streets of Portland. Smoking a joint in the program makes no sense.  But, like I said before, addicts cannot make sense.  Caught in the web of lies woven by their addiction, addicts cannot think sensibly.

Treatment, then, starts with an act of God.  He alone breaks through and gives them one sensible thought - that they have a problem and only God can help them out of their personal hell.  That thought alone can't save them.  They have to learn a new way to live.  They have to learn who God is, how to hear His voice, and how to draw on His strength.  They have to learn what it means to live in community, how to draw on that community for strength when they are weak, and how to be strong when others need them.

To recover, addicts learn to choose reason when everything within them craves insanity.

Photo by:

JournalPaul Watson