So, after a bit of discussion, it was brought to my attention that it may come across that I (I can only speak for myself) may come across as “anti-harm reduction”. Something that was discussed at last night’s panel, which is also what I believe, is that there is a place for everything whether that’s harm reduction, abstinence, or alternative medications, to get to the goal of not just recovery, but a meaningful life. I also want to share about myself and my story when it comes to harm reduction and recovery. My goal in doing this is to help bring attention to what’s missing, and that simply harm reduction/approved drug supply/OATs is not the solution to the growing problem.
I am a person with the disease of addiction, on my life long journey of living a happy, purposeful and fulfilling life. I wasn’t always this person. At one time I was a traumatized intravenous drug addict who lived in tent city in Maple Ridge. A time when I no longer remembered what life felt like before drugs. I couldn’t even imagine what it would look like without drugs and without the idea of freedom I thought I had from months and months spent with the homeless community.
It’s interesting to me that our government’s idea is to meet an addict where they are at and provide them with more drugs with no further plan in place then that. Here’s what I know about substances: the more you do, the more you want. To what end? What’s the goal?
Many times I have heard addicts come into the rooms and say, “by the end of my addiction, I couldn’t even get high any more”. I do not relate to that statement. What I remember vividly is injecting drugs and thinking that I simply blinked my eyes, when in reality hours of time had gone by and I couldn’t even recognize it. I didn’t even have the awareness to recognize how I was or appeared. My mom would occasionally give me a ride, and I remember her saying, why are you falling asleep? I fully believed that I wasn’t and she was just being dumb. I truly believed that people couldn’t tell I was high, I thought I presented as normal. To the people in the tent city/homeless community, I was normal and looked normal.
If I was met where I was at for example, in poverty, homelessness, no more connection to healthy people, and with no plan in place to take me out and really start the work and journey in wellness, where would I be today? The plan I had when I was loaded vs. when I entered treatment vs my plan once I hit 90 days vs my next plan and the next resulting in the current outcome of my life, which there happens to be only ONE PART of that original plan that I actually had the privilege and ability to carry out – getting my daughter back. What about the people who don’t have that one thing any more? What about the parents that no longer have the ability to get their kids back, the addict with no family, no friends. The addict that no longer has skills, knows what they like and what they are good at, or has a criminal record that puts up many roadblocks. The addict that I was, that couldn’t even imagine being part of the other side, one that works for a non-profit they never would have had the opportunity to be part of if I was just met where I was at, feeding my addiction and then left there without taking the rest of the steps to actually do no harm and create an actual wellness plan for me. One where I’m taken out of the toxic environment I’m in that has become my new normal. I’ve seen many advocates that are addicts advocating for this cause who’s opinions and experiences are being used to create this path, but what about the addicts like me? The ones who successfully, by choice with zero pressure made the decision to taper off my OATs in 2 and a half months? The addict in me who literally sat in tent city, forgetting there is another way, forgetting there is life and joy and connection. Or the addict in me, sitting in treatment still at 60 days clean crying because I thought I did so much damage to my brain that I would never get out of the fog. Zero personality, my voice and body movements were robotic, zombie like, flat and without life. I never thought I would see myself again, I couldn’t even remember who that was or what she was like.
Thoughts constantly ruminate in my mind about how, if I tried to hang myself tomorrow, I would most likely be put in a hospital for being a danger to self. Or, if I am deemed to be a harm to society, I would be hospitalized as well. How is injecting yourself with toxic, life threatening substances not being a threat to self, or even society that has to witness this. How are medical professionals able to prescribe, dispense, and inject people with substances, that are quite literally perpetuating the disease of addiction? In order to access safe supply, you literally have to be diagnosed with substance misuse disorder. How is this not seen as a threat to society?
I did find some of the things that were said at the panel by community members slightly offensive. Why is the fact that Vancouver, a rich city, is what calls attention to this problem? Why are people talking about being in shock that it has started happening in their upper class neighborhoods? Addiction does not discriminate and I find it awful that it’s now important to them because it’s bleeding through to their rich neighborhood. What about the communities of people that are just born into a lower financial situation, or middle financial situation, or the addicts that find themselves where they are because they were never taught healthy ways to stay present in life, and to not try and escape the pain.
Lastly I want to say, someone very close to my daughter and I is over 2 years clean and still on suboxone. My opinion? I’m so fucking grateful that you’re alive. They didn’t just take an OAT and stop there. They went to treatment, got counselling, made connections and got their life back as a result. If they choose to continue suboxone, again, I’m so glad you are alive to experience life with us. I’m in support of recovery and life. What the government is trying to do, in my opinion, is not promoting life. It’s keeping our loved ones sick. If people don’t believe that this is a journey far beyond simply issuing more drugs to drug addicts, they have lost their ability to dream and have hope. My journey through recovery is a long one. The harms I caused during my addiction run deep within my family, especially my daughter. I personally choose to imagine a world that will be kind on my daughter, who suffers the effects of my disease. One where, if she chooses the path I did, she will meet the path with most resistance, not the least. A world where people who are meant to heal, aren’t saying “okay, you’re addicted to drugs. I am going to give you more of that and slowly watch you fade away and die”. Instead, I am going to meet you where you’re at, have compassion for you, dream a wonderful life for you when you can’t dream it for yourself, and then I’m going to show you how to get it, and show you the way to a better life that IS available.
This was long, but I really wanted to clarify my position and not be thought of as someone who is against harm reduction. I’m not. It’s one piece to the very big puzzle.