Stigma

Stop Stigma, Save Lives.

The stories shared as part of this project may trigger distressing feelings. If you need emotional support, please contact the 24-hour crisis line for northern B.C. at 1-888-562-1214.

About this project

Stigma against people who use drugs results in discrimination, impacts health, and contributes to overdoses. Sharing stories of people who use drugs can reduce stigma.

The Stop Stigma. Save Lives. project shares the words of 12 people with firsthand or family experiences of drug use. Through these stories, we hope to build compassion, encourage empathy, and contribute to a community that treats all people with dignity and respect. We thank all of the participants for their courage and willingness to share their stories.

We all have a role to play to challenge stigma. We encourage you to learn from and share these stories (seen below).

Stories were recorded in July 2016.

Stories

Marlene

Marlene"I thought I was going to raise a perfect family but it didn’t turn out that way. I still love them to death and try to support them."

I have a family, five children. Three girls, two boys. I lost my husband and son in 2011. My husband Ron died February 5; he had TB. My son Kevin died three weeks after that, on March 3rd.

We were at the hospital with them all the time. We watched over them, prayed, and wanted them to stay with us but their time had come. It was time for them to go. It was quite hard on us. Out of five children, three are in addiction, and it was so hard on me.

My family’s addictions were so hard on me. I had a heart attack when my husband and son died. I was always on anti-depressants. There were many times I tried to kill myself because I could not cope with this lifestyle. At one point, I was kinda going downhill, too, and I didn’t want to be there. My daughter, Jolene, rescued me. She took me in and I’ve been with Jolene for 10 years now.

What makes me happy is where I am right now. I’m with my daughter Jolene; I have Genny [my daughter] in my life; I got my other son in my life, but he’s still on addiction. I’m just happy to be where I am. I’ve got a life, I’ve got a wonderful family, and that’s important to me.

I’m loving and caring. My heart is open to people who would like to talk about addiction or what it’s like to be the mother of all these addicted kids of mine.

I thought I was going to raise a perfect family, but it didn’t turn out that way. I still love them to death and try to support them. I have been pretty upset because my kids were treated like they were contagious or something. People didn’t want to be around them. They were being judged in the community and I didn’t like it. We are all human, we all bleed the same. Those are my kids, that’s my life, and I’d do anything to protect my kids. I know they have addictions, but I didn’t give up on them.

Support is very important with addiction because people who are addicted, they at least feel like somebody cares for them and loves them, you know. I love people. I just love people. Not just my family, but the street people, too. I love them all. They’re stuck there for a reason. People don’t just get up and say “I’ll do drugs.” There’s a reason for that. My heart goes out to all the people who have addiction. I have a lot of street people come up and call me “mom”, or give me a hug. I’m fine with that! They need love, too.

For me, a caring community would make a big difference. In a caring community, people with addictions and what not, they will feel love and wanted, and that will lift their spirit. Everyone wants to be loved and cared for, but I know a lot of people who use drugs, who are very sick, and they go to the hospital where they get turned away because of their addiction. And that’s not fair. No matter who you are or what you’re doing, you need that caring and that medical attention. Just have faith in these people. Be there for them. Show them you love them. Even though you don’t know them, you can still love them. You’ve got a heart, you can feel their heart. Just be there for them and show them somebody is there.

Just don’t give up. There is always hope.

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Sheldon

Sheldon"I’m practically put together by scar tissue … To walk a mile in my shoes, you would have to learn how to duck. You wouldn’t have to learn how to fight, just roll with the punches."

I was born in Prince George 52 years ago. I was brought up in my hometown, Fort St. James. I remember my dad leaving my mother, who was an alcoholic. Unfortunately, she passed away at the age of 40 from alcoholism. When my father took us away, I was very young; I was 5 or 6. I didn’t know my mother, I barely remember seeing her. We ended up living with my grandmother for a few years, while my dad was establishing a home for us in Kamloops. He remarried and built a big family – there were 13 of us.

I was raised in Kamloops. I wasn’t doing so good in school. I remember drinking at a very early age – I was 9 years old. I also remember trying to fit into the group so I started smoking pot. I couldn’t go to school without smoking pot. But when I got to school, I couldn’t do the work. Ultimately, I failed two years of high school and I remember quitting pot because it started making me paranoid. It’s been over 30 years since I smoked pot.

Eventually, I had enough of Kamloops so I moved back to Fort St. James. The two years of high school that I missed, I got back in one and a half years in Fort St. James. I graduated in 1984. Two years late, but nevertheless, I did it. After that, it was back to Kamloops, back and forth, back and forth – I’ve been everywhere. If you go along from Vancouver Island to Prince Rupert, you’ll see a lot of towns painted red. That’d be me.

For the last six years, off and on, I’ve been in and out of detoxes. For pills, for alcohol. Mostly alcohol. I ended up in Prince George with my brother, who neglected to tell me that he was into crack cocaine and drinking quite heavily. And we just went to hell in a hand basket. This was three and a half years ago. We both fed off of each other on our addiction.

I always believed that I didn’t change when I drank. But I did. I became belligerent, selfish, angry. I didn’t enjoy it. I remember I used to enjoy alcohol, I used to have fun, I used to laugh. Then, it became work. It was, “where am I going to get that next drink?” “How am I going to get it?” “Oh my God, I’m going to be sick in a very short period of time.” I have a very fast metabolism, I get sick really fast, probably within 2-3 hours of the last drink. Then, it promotes anxiety, which becomes very physical for me. That’s another thing, the impact of addiction – it brings out my anxiety and stress. That’s a nasty one.

The impact of addiction on me has been the loss of relationships, the loss of connecting with family, the loss of finances, jobs. The biggest impact, I think, is the loss of dignity and also self-respect.

Three years ago, I was in detox. I found that I didn’t deal with the crack cocaine while I was in there. I dealt with the alcohol. Needless to say, it didn’t do any good. I ended up back there three times since then.

I was trying to work on myself. I haven’t dealt with anything throughout my years of addiction. I don’t know what a healthy relationship looks like. I’m working on it now with a counsellor. It gets very intense, very intimate. And I have to be honest, I know. If I don’t tell them the whole truth, it’s lying. That’s it. I found it imperative that I be totally up front and straight, no matter what that looks like.

My experiences with stigma are usually through health representatives like doctors and nurses – and you can’t help feeling judged when you walk into a ministry office. All the ministry offices now have security. They’re not taught exactly how to deal with people without having to call the cops. You go someplace for help and then you end up in jail. They jump the gun because they think the worst. Maybe they’ve had some bad experiences, but I think there needs to be some leeway as opposed to sending me right to jail.

I know for myself, when I reach out for help, it’s usually because I’m coming down and I’m afraid. Afraid that I might go into a seizure, for example, coming down from alcohol. I’ve had a seizure before, it was huge. I almost died.

A lot of people I’ve talked to, including myself, when we are out in these places, it’s usually a cry for help, so the last thing you want to do is get slammed on the ground for asking for help. Alcoholism, addiction - even though a lot of frontline health and ministry staff may not have had their own experience, I’m sure they must know someone. I think for them to be on the other side of the counter, to walk a mile in an addict’s shoes would go a long way. And not so much as to walk in their shoes, but to be beside them. To know what they are going through, why they are at that point in their life.

For people to learn about how to treat people with addictions, I would like for them to hear it from the horse’s mouth. They would have to hear a few stories and not just one, because they’re all different. For myself, I could share my experiences with them: what it’s like to be an alcoholic, a drug addict. What I’m looking for is empathy. I can’t speak for everybody else, but I can speak for being an addict and an alcoholic and what my experiences were.

To walk a mile in my shoes? I’m practically put together by scar tissue. To walk a mile in my shoes, you would have to learn how to duck. You wouldn’t have to learn how to fight, just roll with the punches. I’ve been stabbed nine times. I died. Over $5 worth of cocaine. There are so many things that have happened in my life that I feel like I shouldn’t be here. There is no logical explanation as to why I’m here. But I am here. I’d like to think of it being spiritual.

A sense of belonging, to me, means doing what the Creator has intended you to do in the first place. Your heart knows. A sense of belonging is getting out there and volunteering – I’m actually doing that right now. A sense of belonging means being a part of, without being judged. It means walking down the street with my head held up high. You can feel people’s eyes, especially when you are drinking and doing drugs. And when you’re not? You can walk down the street straight and tall and just go along without feeling that people are saying something about you.

Addiction is funny. It’s not so much how I “want” to be treated, it’s just how I “am” treated. It’s also different because I’m First Nations. I know how I’m going to be treated. But I would like whatever social worker, or hospital worker, or person – I’d like to be treated with the same respect that they would like to be treated.

What I want people to know about me is that I’m capable of change. I don’t have to be that person who uses all the time. I’ll always be an addict. I’ll die an addict, an alcoholic. But I’d like people to know that I can change.

What makes me happy is when people congratulate me on the changes I’ve been making in my life. I’ve been doing a lot of things. I’ve been getting back to the gym. I like to cook; I like martial arts; I like getting out there and making myself available to share my experience. As a matter of fact, last year, I graduated from UNBC and I received a mental health and addictions certificate. The hardest 9 months of my life, but I did it! And I did it for myself. I didn’t do it so I could go and save the world. I had to save me first. And it’s always been my goal to go out and help people. That’s part of why I did it. But I can’t help anybody if I can’t help myself first.

One of the things I really love and enjoy is meeting the people every Saturday morning at 6th & George at the farmer’s market. My brother and I have a bannock stand called “Joe Bannock”. Our last name is Joseph. Our motto is “get Joe Bannock here.” It’s just wonderful seeing people’s faces light up when they take a bite of my bannock. The biggest smiles ever. The people who haven’t tried my bannock, I call them bannock virgins! It’s nice to see after they have a piece of my bannock, you see them walking around the farmer’s market with an afterglow!

I love the public like that, and getting out there. Rejuvenating myself, spiritually. Getting connected. I had the greatest time last Saturday in my whole entire time doing bannock. This was one of the first times I wasn’t thinking about using alcohol or drugs with the money that I made every Saturday. It was like clockwork - drugs, alcohol, hookers. And I didn’t this time. And I enjoyed it. I’m looking forward again to Saturday to being clean and sober. It’s a wonderful life.

 

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Charlene

Charlene"I think if we can lessen discrimination, people will access services and there’s a better chance that people won’t have to die from overdoses. We’re losing lots of community members and it doesn’t have to happen. That’s the biggest injustice of all."

I was born and raised in the Lower Mainland, Vancouver area. I moved to Quesnel about 20 years ago, I have two beautiful boys and I love just doing stuff outdoors: camping, that type of thing.

I was a middle-class, well-hidden drug user. Nobody really knew what was going on behind closed doors. I was very structured in my drug use. It just kind of came to a head after quite a few years of substance use. I made the choice to leave the relationship that I was in, make some different life choices, and change my life.

There have been a lot of negative impacts from substance use for myself and I can’t really think of any positive impacts that it has had. Other than the experience that allow me to engage in my present work. Just spending years trying to hide your drug use, feeling tired. I could have made better choices and been more present in the life that I was living.

I think the reason that people feel they need to hide their substance use is because of stigma and discrimination. People pass judgements on you and put you into one lumped, discriminatory idea of what an illicit drug user is. Certain terms and words make people think negative thoughts of people who use illicit drugs, depending on the drug of choice.

I find that even people who use substances do the same. There is this unrealistic hierarchy within community members and substance users, where people who use opiates and heroin are at the bottom, and then there are the powder cocaine users who are somehow viewed as less problematic. There is this hierarchy that even people who use substances apply to each other. Society applies this same hierarchy in a negative way.

The impact of this on people who use illicit substances is that you are categorized – you are identified by your drug use or your drug of choice, not as a human being or who you are.

For me, coming from such a small community, once your community starts talking about the substance abuse that was in your life in the past – even when you get to, or if you get to, a point of abstinence – you still always have to carry that label. People will never believe that you moved past that, and you’re just stigmatized in that way. In larger cities, people are a little less identifiable so it’s a little easier for people to move on with their lives.

For me, the biggest concern I have with discrimination is around employment. People are always concerned that somehow you’re non-functioning. That you aren’t capable of doing the work, the tasks at hand. They are minimizing your worth, I guess. I have also heard lots of stories where people are feeling discriminated against when accessing services. It’s quite prevalent.

The funny thing about this is that in my past drug use – I don’t like the term addiction, but I was obviously living with addiction – I had jobs during that time where people never knew I was using. I was usually one of the most liked and hardest-working employees. There are a lot of people who believe that people who use illicit substances, or any substances for that matter, are non-functioning, that they aren’t able to work.

I think that people who use substances aren’t any different than people who don’t use substances when you’re trying to find someone for a position. You have to find someone who suits that position. People who use substances have a wide range of experiences as well and you can’t judge them simply because they use substances. No matter what, you have to judge people on their performance. As an employer, you have to get productive work out of whoever you are hiring. I just think that employers need to not put people in a box and not assume that because they’ve heard, or because they know, or maybe because somebody has disclosed that they do use, that that makes them non-functioning. You have to look beyond that and give them an opportunity.

I have been involved in peer work since 2010. I was the peer leader for a research project regarding illicit drug use in my community of Quesnel from 2010 - 2013. I work for the BC Centre for Disease Control, I also do peer work for the First Nations Health Authority. For me, the term “peer” means having lived experience. Some people have different views on what peer is, but for me, “peer work” is working for and with people who have past or present lived experiences with illicit drug use.

When I did the Opening Doors to Harm Reduction research project in 2010, we found that by engaging peers in work, we actually gave them purpose and they made better life choices. It was unfortunate that there weren’t a lot of work opportunities and the work didn’t last very long, but we really saw people make healthy adjustments in their life. It gave them purpose.

I think housing is the first step in order for people to find gainful employment and make those better choices in their lives. For people to have their own space in which to lay their head down at night. If people have stability in their life like affordable housing, food, employment – all of those things cater to a healthier, better perspective.

The environment in which people have to live is really important. It sets forth the mindset for the choices you will make for yourself. It’s important for people to have the option of a safe and healthy environment where you have food, clothing, heat, water, and hopefully loving, caring people.

The idea of “safe and healthy” can be expanded, too, if we are talking about services. For people who are accessing services, it can be literally the receptionist at the front door who can make the difference of whether that person is going to feel comfortable accessing that service. The receptionist alone can change your experience. The doctor can change your experience. So it’s important for us to be mindful and try and keep a healthy environment for all people when accessing services or even just in the community or the home in which they live.

The message an unsafe environment sends is that those who use substances are not worthy. That the people who can help make things happen – affordable housing, all those things – are not taking the steps they can to make sure that all the people in the community have safe and affordable housing, food on the table, and so on.

One solution to this is the project I’m working on as a provincial coordinator called “Compassion, Inclusion, and Engagement.” This is my plug! In that project, we’re taking peers in their communities and we’re doing a couple of days of what I like to call “capacity building” because the term “training” scares the hell out of people. We take champion service providers and champion peers and bring them together to have open discussions about health care service provision. Through that, we are trying to reduce stigma and discrimination. We get those service provider champions to foster those perspectives back to their workplace and peers to take it back to other peers so that we can all work together to improve services. I’m really excited to be a part of this process. It is imperative to have buy in from leadership to support this type of initiative, without that, the compassionate work in Harm Reduction will not be well supported.

The opportunity for peer engagement is absolutely amazing. Watching how people were unsure of each other when they first got into the room. By the time we were done at the end of the day, everybody was holding hands and hugging and exchanging business cards and emails. We’re starting; we are making change.

I think that the words “Compassion, Inclusion, and Engagement” themselves really get people thinking: is it really that hard to be compassionate to others and to not pass judgement?

Compassion is trying to understand people’s perspective from their world. Just being empathetic to wherever they might be at in that point in their life. When you meet people on your life’s path, they’re not always in the same situation so you have to meet them where they’re at, in that moment. Just treat people with kindness and respect – I believe that’s what compassion is.

We should treat others with dignity and respect. Especially those vulnerable populations. We have youth, homeless, many different vulnerable populations within our communities. It’s really important as community members to validate their experiences and treat them with respect and do what you can to improve their lives. For me, I’d like to be treated how I treat others. Treat people with compassion and respect. Meet them where they are at, non-judgemental. I think you get what you give.

As a peer, to me inclusion means to include peers in the creation and adapting of services that they access. It means that our voices are important, that we are heard – because the services need to be tailored to their needs. For me, that’s what inclusion means.

The barriers to compassion, inclusion, and engagement towards others are discrimination, ignorance, lack of empathy, unrealistic judgements and expectations of others, and people not necessarily understanding the power imbalance and the vulnerability of certain populations.

To include any type of vulnerable population in any type of activities makes positive changes for them and for their life – whatever that might look like for them. To exclude people from a community event or anything like that is really a negative feeling for people. It alienates people who have already alienated themselves in many cases. It’s really important to bring them in and include them in things. It gives them purpose, it gives them a sense of belonging, and I really think it helps people make better choices in their life. As humans we love community. That’s who we are.

People who have substance use – past, present, or future – are capable of providing healthy services to their community to help better people. Look at who I am and what I do – not everybody is what you think they are simply because they use substances. People are more than their behaviours.

Is there anything you’d like to share about overdoses?

I think that overdose is a very complicated issue. A big part of the problem with overdoses is stigma. That’s why peers are sometimes not accessing naloxone training – because they don’t want to be identified. I’ve heard from others that people don’t want to call first responders because of the stigma, the discrimination, the chance of being charged, and the way they’re treated by police and ambulance. There’s just a lot of stigma that feeds into the prevention of people taking healthy steps to prevent overdose and to deal with overdose when it happens. I think that stigma and discrimination is the second largest issue regarding overdose other than the actual drugs themselves.

I think if we can lessen discrimination, people will access services and there’s a better chance that people won’t have to die from overdoses. We’re losing lots of community members and it doesn’t have to happen. That’s the biggest injustice of all and it’s through stigma and discrimination in large part that people are not accessing the knowledge that’s out there through harm reduction services, naloxone, and others. It really is stigma and discrimination that keeps people from asking questions and getting the help they need – and from helping each other or calling frontline RCMP and ambulance. And it’s a problem.

The battles we are fighting to get harm reduction services, safe injection sites, for people who are using substances, to keep them safe, it’s an uphill battle and it just doesn’t make any sense. It’s that “not in my community” and “not in my backyard” response. I think people have that perspective until the impact is in their backyard – and what I mean by that is, until it’s their son or their daughter, at which point they tend to take a different perspective. But before that, people have this idea that substance use “is a choice. They’re making this choice.” I mean, how many people are going to make that choice? “Yeah, I want to grow up and be street-entrenched and homeless, and starving.” People don’t get that there is so much more to substance use than that.

We need to start with trying to have community members have a better understanding of substance use, substance abuse. How do you start? Would be by educating and becoming involved. Lead by example. We need to address the issues for positive outcomes and be proactive to be a part of the solution. What I mean by being part of the solution is when you see injustices, when you see things that aren’t right, when you see that people are being treated poorly, if you can make a change for the better for anybody then I think we owe that to our community members.

As a harm reduction coordinator and peer, I work with vulnerable populations. I supply harm reduction services for people. I share knowledge. I try to treat my clients, friends, community members with respect and dignity. I meet them where they are at and just try to improve overall wellness.

There are a lot more services within the Lower Mainland and they are a lot more accessible. In northern communities, there are little to no services in some communities. Those who need to access them need to travel long distances. The hours of operation don’t make sense sometimes, locations are an issue as well. In the work that I do, I’m trying to make change so that health services are available to all community members.

Tell us a bit about yourself – what do you like about northern B.C.?

I like the small community feeling. I like that there is no hustle-and-bustle. My children keep me here. My work keeps me here. By having an understanding of small northern communities, my voice can make a difference when we start services, add services, or make adaptations to services for people who use substances. It is very different in small northern communities so I think that my voice and my experience is really important. That’s a big part of why I don’t want to leave the community.

What makes me happy? My children, my grandchild, my home, camping, being outdoors, my partner, my dogs. The simplicity of my life now makes me happy.

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Lenora

Lenora"Every time I hear the ambulance it scares the hell out of me because I’m thinking it is someone I know."

I'm 50 years old and I’m the mother of two daughters. My daughters are smart and amazing and I’m so proud of them. They make me happy. I’m a grandmother and my grandbabies make me happy. Just being with them and being able to be alive, and clean, makes me happy.

I was born in the States, my parents moved us to Canada. I grew up in an alcoholic environment. I was the black sheep in my family. My mother and I were never really close. There was a lot of abuse, physical and mental, as a kid. I live in Prince George now and I’ve been fighting addiction for many years. It’s been crazy. I live in second stage housing and I really like it, it’s helped me be clean for the last 3 years.

It is important to have a safe house. Housing is really important because if you don’t have a proper home or house, it’s not safe. It’s crazy out there and it’s getting crazier. A healthy home is clean, maybe has some security, like a buzzer door so someone can’t just boot your door in. A healthy home is clean, safe, in a nice area.

I’m a people person. I believe that there is good in everybody. I don’t judge anybody. I feel good about helping people out, being there for someone who is down and out, letting them know that they’re not alone and that things are okay. Just making someone feel good and not scared or worthless makes me happy.

The way I help people is with a smile on my face and a "hey, hi, how are you?" I start a conversation if I see someone struggling. I’m always like "good morning" or "how are you doing today?", helping an elder walk across the street – that’s what it looks like for me, just being happy and sharing my happiness with whoever is in my path that very moment. If I can make someone else smile, that makes me feel good.

For me, addiction is chaos. It’s collateral damage. I’ve destroyed myself being sick with HIV and Hep C. Addiction had a big impact in my family. My parents and my siblings, we don’t talk because I’m pretty much shunned for where I’m at.

My daughters are very supportive. They love me no matter what. Unconditionally. They don’t judge me. They’re there for me for anything that I need or just loving me unconditionally, not looking down upon me or being embarrassed of me or anything like that. I just thank the good lord they are not following in my footsteps. They’re really supportive.

If everyone treated me the way my daughters treat me, that community would be awesome. Because there shouldn’t be judging and stereotyping people because of a sickness or because they’re on welfare or because they’re HIV+ or because they’re an alcoholic. It’s stupid. There is no reason for it to be like that. We’re all supposed to be equal. We’re all supposed to love our neighbour and it’s not like that anymore. It’s horrible. Once you’re an addict, you don’t stand a chance, really. I’ve been clean for going on four years but that doesn’t matter, that doesn’t get looked at. I’m already labelled a drug addict. I am no good. How can you look at me like that? You don’t even know me. It’s sickening that society is like that.

I’ve seen the way I get treated as soon as the doctor or hospital run my CareCard number: "Oh, drug addict. Go sit down. We’ll get to you later." It’s just wrong. I’m not that kind of person. I’ve never judged anyone, ever. Some of us have different walks of life, it doesn’t mean we chose to be that way. You just feel empty. Why try, because it doesn’t matter.

Just treat me how I would treat you. No judgement. Know me first, before you make a decision about me. You don’t know me. Take a few minutes to get to know me. The downfalls in my life shouldn’t matter. A lot of us didn’t ask to be in this situation, it just happened to be that way. A lot of us struggle really hard. It’s not easy when you don’t have the support. I would like to be heard. Get to know me – or say you don’t want to get to know me – but don’t look down on me, you don’t even know me. We’re supposed to "love thy neighbour," "support thy neighbour." That’s changed.

For the overdose crisis, it’s not going to stop. People are going to use, they’re not going to stop. That’s the way it is. Maybe if we had an injection site where there’s a nurse around, that could help out. Maybe more of us having a Narcan kit. I don’t know. And overdose is impacted by judgement. The judgement that because this person has an addiction problem, that they’re no good, worthless pieces of shit. Excuse my language. But it’s been going on for years, I don’t know how to change it. Every time I hear the ambulance, it scares the hell out of me because I’m thinking it is someone I know. I just lost a friend of mine four months ago. It’s horrible.

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Trevor

I was born in Dawson Creek and raised in Prince George; grew up on the Hart Highway. I came from a good home – my dad drove a chip truck, my mom was a housewife. I went to Kelly Road Secondary.

I didn’t do too well in school, got kicked out in grade 8. I was in and out of different schools and left home on my own at age 16. I ended up hanging around downtown. I didn’t ask to be a drug addict, it just happened.

Me and my spouse, we’re homeless at the moment. We’re both struggling with addiction right now. I’ve been clean off and on for a couple years now but every now and then, we still slip. Homelessness is an ongoing thing we go through. When we don’t have a place to live, we’re stuck wandering around the streets downtown and there are no places to go. People shun you away because they see you downtown all the time and they just label you. It’s really hard when you’re looking for a place. And not only being a drug addict, but being native, too. That’s another thing – as soon as they look at me, they figure I’m an alcoholic. I haven’t drank for 8 years.

What do I want people to know about addiction? That it can happen to anybody. It doesn’t matter what colour you are, what race you are, where you come from. TrevorI’ve seen a lot of people who owned their own companies, who said “it’ll never happen to me.” But it does. It happens. It’s crazy. We don’t ask for it.

The impact of addiction on me has been pretty rough. Like at the hospital, the nurses, as soon as they know you are a drug user or even an ex-drug user – I could not be using for 10 years – and they just label me as drug-seeking. A lot of people won’t even go to the hospital because of the discrimination.

I feel judged by everybody – looking for a place or going into a business, they just take one look at me and label me right away “you’re no good,” “you’re a drug addict.” Just walking around downtown and stuff, you can feel the way people are looking at you, like you’re not supposed to be there. It’s hard.

I’m just as human as everybody else, I just have an addiction. These labels are hard, it’s sad. It makes me feel non-human, almost. It’s really hard.

I’d like to be treated like everybody else – a little bit more respect. Don’t shun me away. If you don’t know me, approach me and ask me a question. I’m happy to talk to people. I do peer counselling for another organization, I go to schools, I talk to children about not following in my footsteps. I don’t want them to end up where I am. Hopefully I get through to a couple of them – then it would be worth it.

I just need people to understand that addiction isn’t something I asked for. It’s like a disease. It happens to anybody, any walk of life. Start treating people with respect and don’t just think of them as a drug addict. Everybody needs help.

Another thing I wouldn’t mind getting across is about all of the overdoses going on in Prince George. I think that a really good thing would be to get a safe injection site. You won’t stop people from using drugs, but at least you can have a nurse be there when you’re using and not be by yourself in an alley or somewhere in the bushes. At least if there is a nurse there, they can give a Narcan shot. That’s one thing I’m trying to get going for Prince George.

Stigma is why it’s so hard for us to get a safe injection site in Prince George. You’ve got people and business owners who are against it, trying to stop safe injection sites. And stigmatizing people, that’s why they go hide and use on their own. And that’s why there are so many overdoses. There wouldn’t be as many overdoses if there was a safe injection site.

When you see people and you think they’re a drug addict, don’t shun them. Walk up to them and talk to them. Ask them, listen to their stories. You’d be surprised who these people are. Like I said, it can happen to anybody. I never asked for this, I never thought this would ever happen to me. It can happen to anyone.

What do you want people to know about you? What makes you happy?

I like walking around, going to parks. I like talking to people. I like being with my common-law spouse.

I miss my cat. We got a cat, we had him for six years but being homeless, we had to leave him until we can find a place. His name is Stink-Stink!

Things that make me happy? Not being discriminated against. I just like being safe. It would be really nice to have a place to go, a place to live. People with addictions need a safe place to be. Being on the street makes it a lot worse.

Things I’m proud of are when I go to school and talk to young kids. One or two of them even wrote me letters. I keep them in a file downstairs at Positive Living North. Every once in a while, I read them. It keeps me going, doing what I do. It’s nice.

I’d also like people to know that I do a lot of peer counselling. I go to schools, talk to kids about not doing what I did. I tell them my story and what brought me here. I don’t want them to make the same mistakes I did. It feels really good to be a peer counsellor. It makes me happy that I can try to make a difference, even if I reach just one or two people out there.

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Moe

MoeI was born in Dawson Creek. I grew up there and stayed until I was 18. I had kids at 13. I got kicked out of school when they found out I was pregnant at 13. They kicked me out because they thought I was going to bring it on the other girls. So I didn’t get a chance to go to school. I came to Prince George when I was 18 and I’ve been here ever since. I’m 38 now.

I’ve been an addict that long and I’ve been on the streets that long. I worked the streets. I’m a working girl, which is really hard because I get a lot of stigma around that. People label me as soon as they look at me. I get a lot of stigma around being a working girl and an addict at the same time.

As a result of my addiction, I got HIV. I got HIV by getting raped by a guy. A working girl gave it to him, so he took it out on seven of us working girls and gave us the HIV virus. So, the impact of addiction? It took my life away. It ruined my life. Because of trying to support my addiction, I practically gave myself a death sentence of having HIV. It’s hard.

When people judge me for being a working girl, it hurts. They don’t know me. They just take one look at me and I know. The reaction I get on their faces like: “oh gross” or “ew, look at her, she’s an addict, she sells her body.” It hurts a lot. I’m a good person. If they really got to know me, they would really like me. It’s hard.

I feel judged going into businesses or stores. Because I’m native, they will follow me in the store. They think I’m going to steal because of my colour or my race. Because of the track marks on my arms, they know I’m an addict so they think that I’m in there to steal to support my habit. I get that quite a lot wherever I go. It hurts. It hurts a lot.

I feel judged at the hospital, too. I wouldn’t go to the hospital even if I was on my deathbed. The way I get treated at the hospital is that I’m just going there to look for a quick fix, or I’m just drug-seeking. They just kick me out. “Oh, you’re okay,” they say, and they tell me to leave. They don’t check me over. I had one time they didn’t want me to be with the other patients. They did their check out on me in the waiting room. When I left, they wiped the seat down like I was infectious. It was a horrible feeling the way they made me feel. They made me feel like I was a germ. I will never go back there again. It was a horrible feeling the way they treated me that day. I don’t feel like I belong there at all, and it’s a hospital. I am supposed to go there to feel safe and I don’t feel safe at all. It’s pretty bad that I wouldn’t go there on my deathbed because of the stigma I get.

The way I’d like to be treated is with respect and dignity and like a human being – the way everybody else gets to be treated. Welcome me and ask me if there is anything you can help me with. Ask me how my day is going, instead of just trying to rush me out or just trying to get me out of the store or the business or wherever I am. Instead of just looking at me and judging me for my addiction and my appearance and for being native.

I would feel more belonging in the community if there was less judgement, less stigma – if people weren’t so quick to judge a person by their appearance.

Preventing overdoses

When people are released from jail, they don’t realize that their tolerances are zero. If they are an addict, someone should give them a pamphlet or let them know their tolerance isn’t the same. And if they are going to go out there and use again, they need to be very careful. Do a tester first. A lot of people start off where they finished off and that’s why there are so many overdoses – because people think their tolerance is the same and they don’t know any different. They automatically do the same amount that they did before and that’s why they overdose.

A safe injection site would be awesome, too. Because people go and hide. They feel their addiction is not supposed to be in the open so they go and hide in the back alley. Because they are alone, they overdose. There is nobody there, so a safe injection site would be the best thing, I think.

What would you like people to know about you?

I’m a good person. I like to talk to people. I like to talk to kids, making people laugh. I give back to people and it makes my day. I’d rather give than receive any day.

I’ve never been anywhere but the north. I’ve just been here. I’m here with my honey and my cat. I actually like it, it’s a beautiful country.

I have a lot of talent: I like beading and singing; I like to paint. I do nice native art. I got into beading when I was in jail and I found I had a good talent. I’ve been artistic for almost 18 years now.

My spouse, Trevor, and my cat make me happy. My cat makes me the happiest – he is so smart! The elders say he’s an old spirit because he’s so smart. In fact, if it wasn’t for him, my honey and I wouldn’t be alive right now. Once, there was a fire and our cat ran and jumped on my chest. He roared and wouldn’t stop until I woke up and realized there was a fire. So I yelled and woke Trevor up. The fire was on the coffee table. He picked it up and went outside. For the cat to know that was dangerous and to wake us up, he was very smart. I owe that cat my life!

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George

GeorgeI was born in Prince Rupert. I was one of the youngest crab skippers out there, and I loved it. I loved the thrill, it was better than any drug. Man, sitting behind that wheel and catching fish, making money. I got the chance to run a million dollar crab boat. I kinda risked the lives of my deckhands because I had to prove to everybody that I could fish just as good as anybody. And I fished rough weather when I shouldn’t have – you know there weren’t too many days out on the Hecate Strait where the weather was good. We were catching lots of fish, but when it was nice out and the traps were loaded, there is no better feeling to me in the whole world. It was awesome. I miss it.

I miss fishing; I miss being out on the water. Because of my addictions, I lost that job. If I could do it all over again, I would never have started drugs because it has taken away a lot. I’ve lost a lot and it’s hard to get it back.

Since my addictions, and different diseases I’ve gotten with my addictions, it’s like everybody is scared to be around me. They think they’re going to catch something from me. It closed a lot of doors. And I’m still me. I’m still that guy that’s got it in him to go out and slay fish and work hard, but people don’t see it. They build up these stories or get these ideas in their head, and it’s so hard to change somebody else’s thought on how a person is when they are addicted. No matter how you try to show them and prove to them that you’re still you, they don’t see it.

In the beginning, it was more of a recreational thing to do. We’d all be in from fishing because the weather was blowing, and we’d buy a bunch of booze and somebody would buy a little bit of dope. When I was younger, it was mushrooms, acid, that kind of stuff. As we got older, it progressed into cocaine, heroin, stuff like that. And after a while, it wasn’t recreational any more. Everything revolved around it. It was something a person needed, or had to have. And then after a while, I got so addicted that if I didn’t have drugs, I’d be sick. And sometimes I think I’m going to try to make it through the sickness, but I never seemed to last long enough to do it. I’d end up going and trying to score to try to get better because it hurts to be sick.

Anybody that gets addicted usually goes from one drug to another and before you know it, you’re injecting, because you’re always looking for that better high. Eventually, if you aren’t safe, you end up getting infected with different diseases. A lot of them are incurable. There are a lot of days I wake up and my mind wants to do things but my body can’t. I don’t have the strength or the endurance I once had. It really sucks. I wish I could go back and never have done drugs. But once you do it and you like it, it’s so hard to quit. Because when you’re bored or things aren’t going right, it’s so easy to get high and try to escape reality.

One thing I would say to the youth is to not get into the dope. Don’t get started on the drugs. It’s not a good life. Even when you think you’ve got it under control, you don’t.

I moved to Prince George about 6 years ago. I moved here for medical issues and I was trying to get away from my addiction problems. I thought if I relocated it might help but it turned out that it really doesn’t. Your problems go with you no matter where you go. Since I’ve been here, I’ve been stuck in the downtown core. I’ve been homeless. I’ve slept outside for four winters. I wouldn’t call it living, more of a survival than anything since I’ve been here.

My previous girlfriend, they said she overdosed. I woke up one morning and she was dead. That was pretty tough. The coroner said it was an overdose but to me, I don’t see how. It’s bugged me ever since. To me, she didn’t overdose, it was impossible. We had $60 the night before, bought an 8-pack, went to McDonalds, and shared a 20 rock. And she woke up the next morning. She was hungry, we had breakfast, and went back to sleep. When I woke up, she was blue. I’ve tried to move on but it still makes me wonder. Maybe the dope was laced somehow? Because it just ain’t right to smoke a rock and overdose. Even if she were to have passed away right away, it would be hard to accept that she OD’d. Because you hear people ODing when they shoot, inject, and stuff like that but not from smoking. Though I have heard lately because they’ve been lacing drugs with fentanyl, that somebody did overdose this year from smoking a joint. Apparently it was laced with fentanyl. You would never suspect a joint being laced, but it doesn’t matter what type of drug you’re doing, how easy it could be to OD. The girl I’m with now, she got into heroin and she’s had about seven overdoses in the past year. I brought her back from three of them. It’s just crazy. It’s a pretty crazy world I’ve been living in lately.

When people know you’re doing drugs or are addicted to drugs, they don’t trust you. They think that you’re going to rob them or they tend not to hire you because they figure your drug addiction will keep you from showing up for work. It makes it hard. I grew up in a small community and it seemed like once I started doing drugs, everybody knew about it. Even though I tried to hide it behind closed doors, it only took one or two people to start talking about it and before you knew it, the whole town knew. And they paint a picture of you, whether it’s false or true, whatever they thought is the way they’d talk about you. “He did this” or “he did that”; “it’s probably because he is messed up on dope.” Even though something might have nothing to do with your addiction, everybody seems to blame certain things on a person’s addiction. I’ve heard so many different stories of employers saying, “they didn’t show up, they’re probably getting high.” Meanwhile, I know that employee is actually home sick. But even if you told the boss that, they don’t believe it because that’s what they got in their head. It’s hard enough to survive and make it in this world but when people don’t have faith in you, it doesn’t matter. It’s hard. It’s a hard world.

Even though I got my addictions, I’m still pretty trustworthy. I work hard for everything I get. I’ve never stolen a thing from anybody on the streets here, but yet I get robbed three or four times a week and on top of it, I’ve got the city taking my stuff. I have a hard time but it doesn’t make me go out and rob people. I’m not that type of person. Not everybody who does drugs is a hardcore criminal who would rob a person or do harm to others. Even though I have an addiction, I’d like to be treated equally, the same as anybody, until I prove that person wrong. We all come from a mom, we’re no different, we’re all humans.

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Margaret

MargaretI was born and raised in Prince George. I’m 36 years old. My nickname is Pinky because my hair is always pink and I wear pink a lot. It used to be “Shorty” but there were too many people going around with the same name so I had to change it.

I started doing drugs when I was 11 and have been on the street ever since. I don’t really know what impact addiction has had on me except that I’ve been using for years. I don’t know why I use. I just don’t know.

I get judged every day because I’m an addict, because people don’t like the way I dress or how I look, or just because people recognize me from certain downtown areas. I’m very recognizable because of my height and the colour of my hair. People remember me. I go into shopping centres, places like that, and I get followed around. I’m kicked out of just about every store in town. I don’t know why. I don’t know why people judge me that way. A lot of the times, when I get clean, I try to go shop and I can’t do it without being escorted out of the store. Usually it’s because I’m Aboriginal and I’m labelled as a drug addict. A lot of it has to do with my race or the colour of my skin.

People look at me as a junkie or a ho or a drug addict or a drug dealer. Rather than Margaret. They don’t see me as Margaret, they see me as a drug addict.

A lot of the times, street people don’t have anywhere to go and use drugs so they use it right out in the open. It’s because they have to have the drug. If they don’t, they’re going to get dope sick. That’s the only way they know, because that’s how they’ve been brought up. They know no other way. It would be nice to have a safe injection site – somewhere the street people could have privacy in doing their drugs, if they need to do drugs. Some place that will offer us detox, treatment centres, counselling, a safe place to go and keep warm. If there was a safe injection site, the amount of discrimination would come down. A safe injection site would decrease the number of overdoses happening because it would have a nurse on site, counsellors, and be someplace where the cops won’t keep coming and bugging us.

We get harassed quite a bit by the cops down here. It’s a non-stop thing. I could be walking down the street today, not using, not high, no drugs on me, and I’ll get shook down by the cops. They don’t know what it’s like to be living out there. They just know that we’re the “bad guys” and they’re the “good guys.” They’re trying to clean up the streets and we’re the mess of society.

Addicts here are looked down on. People look at us like scum of the earth pretty much. I’m sure it goes for everywhere – like the downtown eastside of Vancouver, they are looked at as scum of society. We’re not respected, we’re frowned upon, we’re shunned by our families, by other people. Most of the time, I feel like an outcast, a black sheep. It doesn’t matter where I go. Even if I get clean, I can’t find a happy place where I fit in because I’m always looked at differently.

When I used to be on the street, before I got my place, people would literally step over me while I was sleeping on the street. There was this one time I was sleeping in a cubby and a photographer came up and offered me $20 to take my photo for the front page of the newspaper. I didn’t want their money, I just wanted to be left alone because I was really sick from the drugs. As I covered my head, they turned around and still took my picture. They plastered it on the front page of the newspaper. My kids saw that. We went to the newspaper and they wouldn’t talk to us, they wouldn’t come out. That was a sign of discrimination. They said because it was a public place, they could take pictures wherever they want, of whomever they want. Because it was in a public place, even though I was sleeping, it was OK and there was nothing I could do about it. That’s not right. I don’t think it’s right. If I said I didn’t want my picture taken, it doesn’t give them the right to come and take my picture. Especially when I was sleeping. What if I needed medical attention and they step over me and take my picture?

I’d like to be treated how everybody else is treated: with respect. Treat me like a person, don’t be fake. A lot of people are fake about it, and you can tell a fake person from a real person, especially if you live on the streets all your life. Just be real, have compassion, be honest. Don’t act “better than” – make me feel equal to you, I guess.

I’d like to be respected, cared for, have somebody who cares and loves me; not judged, not labelled, not looked upon as something bad. I’d like to be accepted into family outings, barbeques, community events, and not be labelled or singled out because I’m an addict. At those kind of events, a person will feel singled out, like they don’t belong or fit in because of the past that they lived. I think that a sense of belonging would be feeling like you have a family somewhere – not feeling alone and doing everything alone. I don’t know what it feels like to have a sense of belonging.

I’m in a situation right now where I’m being looked down upon because of drug addiction from my past. Now, I’m trying to clean up my life, but they don’t see me as cleaning up, they still see me as that youth from 10 years ago who is still addicted and who has a bad rep. I had a bad rep at one point in my life, but as I got older, I kind of changed that around. I still have struggles with my addiction every day. That’s normal.

My past is always brought up. To get a job in town would be hard for me because right away, they’ll bring up my past, like my criminal record. Or my drug addiction will come up. It’s hard to get a job, it’s hard to get into any courses, it’s hard to get a simple babysitting job because of my past. I’m judged and labelled as being a bad parent because I’m an addict. I got three kids and I can’t even see them because of my addiction. They were told I was a junkie – that I was bad and I did bad things. My oldest was told stuff about me and now he’s in his 20s and he doesn’t want anything to do with me.

I’ve been out of the jail system for a year now – off probation and everything. I’m working my way up to changing my life. I just started a program so I’m just slowly trying to work my way up the ladder. I don’t know what my next step is going to be. I’m still trying to figure out who I am; I don’t know who I am yet. It’s a sad thing. I’ve had my head so wrapped up in doing drugs all my life.

What makes me happy is being with my kids, being able to see my grandchild. If I was to gradually get a job, that would make me happy. To have a house, a home to call my own, not to have to live by other people’s rules, not being told what to do all the time, how to do it. To be treated like an adult rather than a kid.

It’s getting better, though, it is. From where I was 10 years ago, I’m a totally different person now. I’m not using as much as I used to. I’m staying out of jail, thank God. My appearance is a lot better. I’ve gained weight, from 90 pounds to 130 pounds – that’s pretty good. My health has gotten way better. Being co-infected with HIV and Hep C and being an addict at the same time has taken a toll on my health but my health is under control. I’m doing good so far. I’ve come from the bottom.

I’ve changed a lot, I’ve grown a lot, I’ve learned a lot. I’m still learning. I’m not perfect. I’m going to fall and make mistakes, I’m human.

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Jolene

JoleneWhen I got the call from the needle exchange to have a meeting, I knew in my heart that it was not going to be good news. I mentally prepared myself to support my mom and whatever they were going to tell us. At that meeting, they didn’t just tell me that my one brother was HIV positive, they told me that both my brothers, my sister, my dad, and my brother’s girlfriend – so five people off the bat – were HIV+. It was kind of like a punch to the face. Half your family is really sick now and if they don’t help themselves or have people to help them, we’re going to end up losing them. So that was a really big eye opener for me.

Being the youngest of the family, I watched addiction from the time I was 6 years old. That was when I realized what was going on in my family and I kind of made a decision then that I wasn’t going to go down that road like my siblings. It’s a sad way to look at it, but they were teaching me what not to do as my older siblings and my dad. So I just made that pact to myself that I was never going to go down that road. I was always going to be the supportive person in my family and was going to do everything I could to educate myself and my mom and anybody else in my family who was wanting the education.

Addiction is a really hard thing. There is conflict. People think that it’s a choice whereas I think it’s a disease. It’s a fight for that person. People don’t see what we’ve seen as a family – waking up in the morning and seeing my family really sick, unable to get themselves to the bathroom. They cannot function. It hurts to see your family that way. And to understand that they actually need that drug so they can function. It’s hard when you try to explain things to someone who doesn’t understand addiction for them to accept it – and for them to be caring, empathetic and supportive towards the people – because they just don’t see it that way.

Something people should know about me is that I’m a huge advocate for my family. I dragged myself through school specifically so that I could advocate for my family. I may seem grumpy to a lot of people, but I keep a lot of stuff in. It’s just hard to see your family struggle the way they do.

It’s been really hard, but at the same time it’s given me that drive and strength to be there for my family. A lot of times I was going with them to the hospital when they were sick to be their voice, because nobody is going to listen to an addict. But when I sat there and advocated for them, it’s kind of like, “oh, OK, maybe I should help this person.”

When my dad and my brother were passing away, that was also hard for me. There were times when I’d get to the hospital and my brother’s dinner would be sitting outside of his room. He was in quarantine and I would ask the nurses’ station, “why isn’t my brother’s food in his room?” “Oh, we just haven’t had time to bring it to him.” But it was two hours past dinner. That, to me, was this sense that you’re treating my brother like he’s contagious. You work in the hospital, you’re educated, you know how HIV can be contracted, and yet you can’t bring my brother his food? It was getting to the point where I was having to bring my brother’s food to him. I was making sure that I was there at mealtimes to make sure that my brother’s food was brought in there.

At one point, I had a nurse tell me “your brother has AIDS.” I lost it. My brother doesn’t have AIDS, he is HIV+. There is a difference between HIV+ and AIDS. She was a younger nurse, she looked lost, and she didn’t know what to say to me. It’s little things like that where I needed to be that rock for my siblings and my dad and support them no matter what.

At the same time, I am educating my own children to be empathetic and caring – homelessness, addiction, HIV, all of that. There needs to be more education on it for people to be more open to it, and that’s what I’m teaching my children. I have a 9 year old, a 12 year old, and a 14 year old, and I find them more caring than a lot of people in society right now, which is really sad. I think our communities would benefit from education on addiction and HIV.

I started bringing my children downtown at a very young age – these were family members: their uncles, their aunties, their grandpa. Showing them the rawness of it, educating them on top of it. I think there needs to be more of that in the community. I don’t think people should be so hush-hush about it. I think kids need to be taught at a very young age that this is very real and that compassion and caring and acceptance is what’s going to help these people want to change. If they don’t have that caring, why are they going to get out of addiction? Why are they going to care, to take care of themselves, if they have no one to care for them?

A simple smile can help someone downtown, give them hope. A hug goes a long way. Asking them how their day is. I just think little things like that play a huge part for all those people downtown who are struggling and fighting, just so they know someone cares. Like I said before, if they feel like nobody cares, then why are they going to care? You have to show you care. We’re all made to love and care for people. Why can’t we show everyone – everyone! – that love and care? Not just your family, but strangers, too. They say a smile goes a long way. You smile at someone downtown, you get that smile in return. We get a lot of love and respect from the people downtown because me and my mom are like that. And I just think that if more people were like that in the community, we could build that hope for everyone.

Being the youngest, I thank my family for the things I’ve seen because it’s just made me that much stronger and wanting to help them and help other people like them. I love Positive Living North, I love the street people - they call my mom “mom” and they call me “sister”. When they were all stuck in those really bad addictions, I had these rules where they weren’t allowed to come to my house but we still went out daily to find them. We still went out to make sure they were warm, to make sure they had food, to make sure that they were somewhat functioning and somewhat healthy. A lot of times, I brought my boys down so they had that raw experience that this is real, this happens to families, and we need to be there to love them, we need to be there to support them. They’re still human beings, they’re still our families. There are still families out there who care for their family members and it hurts to see them treated the way that they are.

My family makes me the happiest. Knowing that my kids are going to be caring and compassionate when they are older, knowing they’re not going to be that judgemental, that they’re going to have open arms for people who are struggling – that makes me happy. My sister being clean makes me beyond happy, because she’s the best auntie in the world, and my kids love her to death! 

I love my sister. I love my brothers. I wish that we didn’t have to lose my brother and my dad when we did, but it was something that was put in our path that was supposed to happen.

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Jeremy

I was born in Hazelton, B.C. and I lived there until I was about 26. I was good until then. I lived with my grandfather; I was never in trouble.

And then I moved to Prince Rupert. That’s where everything went downhill for me, partying and stuff like that. I started getting into the drugs and got into them pretty hard, actually. And I’ve spent the last 25 years in and out of jail fighting with it.

At first, my addictions were light, just smoking pot and drinking once in a while when I was younger. When I got to Prince Rupert was when I first tried cocaine. I got into it a little bit there. Not heavy or anything like that, just a weekend party thing. Did that for a few years in Rupert, just drinking and partying.

When I moved to Prince George is when I really found out what the drug scene was about and where it could take you, because it only took me six months from the day I moved here to the day I screwed up. It only took six months for me to fall. And I didn’t even realize it had happened until it was too late. I was wired to it and had an addiction going. It just happened so fast. Ever since, it’s been in and out of jail trying to support my habit.

But it’s not where I want to be anymore. I’ve spent too many years up on the hill [in jail]. Too many.

JeremyI’ve been clean for 18 months now and it’s still hard as ever to get going because whether you’re clean or not, you still get treated like you’re using. It’s just hard the way things work that way. I’ve been putting my resume out there, working at a few places. But because I’m a downtown person, I know everybody down there. I try to help people who are downtown – just being around them, talking to them. But the more I try to talk to them and help them, the more other people label me as being with them and doing what they’re doing. Just because I’m trying to help them and be around them, people are saying I’m a drug dealer. They think I’m using.

I’ve slipped once in 18 months, and I caught onto it right away. I said, “no, that’s not where I want to be again” and I actually left my girlfriend because of it. I didn’t want to be back in that lifestyle again and so I just said no. I had to walk away from my friend because that’s just not what I wanted anymore.

I get piss tested once a week at the methadone clinic. I haven’t been using any drugs – I know that because they do my test every week. But it doesn’t matter. Even if you stay clean, they’re still gonna label you as a drug user because of your past. I’ve told people I’m cleaning up so many times that now it gets to the point of them saying “we’ve heard that before.” No matter how hard I try to fight it and prove that I’m not using and try to make it better, there is always someone to say it’s only a phase. They really don’t believe you. They keep you labelled as a drug addict and they think “sure, he’s changing now, but what’s he going to be like two weeks down the road? Is he going to go right back to it?” It keeps building up that way and people keep doubting you. The longer you go, the more they think you’re going to screw up. They think: the longer you go, the worse the relapse is going to be. For me, it’s different. I don’t even get the urge to use anymore. I’m on my methadone every day and that helps me get past it.

When you’re doing good, you expect to hear someone praising you: “oh, right on,” “good job,” and that. But it seems like the longer you stay clean, the more they doubt you. And when you have a bunch of people doubting you for the stuff you are doing, it’s like, why are you even doing this sort of thing? That’s when you have to realize you’re doing it for yourself, not for anybody else. That’s what keeps me going. But there are a lot of people out there who can’t handle the criticism from people who aren’t using. There are so many people who want to change their lives but it seems like the harder they try, the harder it gets.

The impact of addiction? It’s changed my life in so many different ways. Just when you start thinking things are going good, something else happens. You start losing hope after a while. For me, it’s use or don’t use, and I had to quit altogether. Leave my hometown. I had to move away from where I’m living because I knew too many people who are using and I had to get away from it.

I’d like to be treated with respect. People seem to think that just because you are doing good, they should try and knock you down. I try to treat people really good, because my grandfather told me to treat people how you want to be treated. Even though I’ve had a drug life, I have still tried to treat people with respect, but they don’t give it back.

“You’re just gonna die anyway.” That’s what a lot of people think if you’re a heroin addict. Every time you stick a needle in your arm, it’s like playing Russian roulette. And a lot of people think, “well, there’s another guy. Just another junkie gone. OD’d. Don’t worry about it. Probably doesn’t have family, probably doesn’t have this - who does he have?” That’s what a lot of people think about a junkie when they find him dead.

I’ve had a few friends in Vancouver who died of overdoses. I think a supervised shooting site would be a good start to prevent overdoses because there are people there, nurses, just in case something happens. They’d have the right kind of equipment there. When we were having overdoses when I was working at the Fire Pit [Cultural Drop-In Centre], all we had were those little adrenaline kits. That’s what they gave us. And for a while there, within three weeks we had two or three overdoses right down at the Fire Pit on the sidewalk. It’s crazy.

I would just like to have someone talk to me normally. Yeah, sure, I’ve had a hard life and most of the hardness is from my decisions. I’ve made my mistakes and this is what I have to do to live through it. But don’t talk down to me or like you’re higher than me. I’d like someone I can go and talk face-to-face with and not have to worry about being judged on my past or anything I’ve done. To be known as Jeremy, not Jeremy the drug addict, or Jeremy the thief, or whatever.

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