To The Addicted Population on Vancouver’s East Side, I’m Sorry.

For the addicted persons on Vancouver’s east side, I know the chances of you reading this aren’t great. You’ve likely pawned your electronics and the money you spend buying drugs, leaves you without money for internet. I don’t mention this to challenge you with the facts. I mention this to challenge your contributors, with them.

I see your glazed over eyes and swaying bodies as I walk past you. I don’t judge you. Instead, I think to myself: there for the grace of God go I.

I want you to know, I am sorry.

I’m sorry my brothers and sisters. I was once homeless and addicted, too. Unlike you, everyone stopped ‘helping’ me. At the time I was furious! But looking back, I know it saved my life.

I’m sorry that no one requires anything from you. I know you can’t require it from yourself. You’ve reached a point in your addiction where very few people believe you can recover. Sadly, society leaves the choice up to you which is unfortunate as your brain chemistry has been altered. It’s consumed by one thought only… More!

I’m sorry people are willing to help you hurt yourself. People don’t understand this illness. Unless you’ve been addicted, it’s hard to understand. When I was using I manipulated many into doing things for me, I easily could have done for myself. Each time they did those things, I believed I was entitled to them. Instead of feeling grateful, I demanded more. It was the self-perpetuating cycle of my decline.

I’m sorry our medical system does not treat addiction the same way it does cancer. If you had cancer there would be no expenses spared to get you well. It wouldn’t matter how long it took, or what it cost. The main goal would be to save your life. There would be no stigma attached. You would know you were sick and you’d fight for your life. But you don’t have cancer. You have something far more insidious – addiction. It’s the only disease that tells you, you don’t have it. It’s stronger than your will to live. And it lies to you, in your own voice.

I’m sorry society has made you the face of addiction. You’re not. You are only one percent. Most addicted persons still have homes. They work and are raising families, just as you once were.  Had you gotten help a long time ago, your life would look very different today.

I’m sorry people keep giving you money when you panhandle. They think they’re helping you when they see you on the streets begging for money. They tell themselves you will buy food, shelter or clothing with their money. They ignore the little niggly voice inside their head that says; don’t give him/her money they will only buy drugs with it! They can’t know the shame it creates for you – each and every time a coin is tossed into your basket. Your shame is so demoralising and crippling, you need to get high to escape it. Even worse, they don’t know you loathe panhandling but its easy money and you can’t stop yourself from doing it.

I’m sorry for your pain. For most of us, addiction is about pain. Or more precisely, avoiding it. Whatever trauma you faced, you’ve made it worse by ingesting poisonous, toxic substances. Where once you may have been a victim, now it is you, who victimizes yourself.

I’m sorry you gave up. I understand the allure of not giving a shit. Apathy is the last stage. You don’t care what happens. Your need to get high is greater than anything else you face, even death.

I’m sorry I haven’t spoken up sooner. As a recovering addict I’ve been struggling with my conscience for some time now. I am concerned about people building you safe injecting sites and making it so easy for you to use. Don’t get me wrong, I not against harm reduction in the way you might think. If it’s used to promotes quality of life, and wellness, I’m all for it. But I don’t see these sites improving your quality of life, I see them as enabling your addiction. Maybe it’s just me. But as an addict, I know how you think. If I was still out there, I would use these sites to justify continued using. I looked up the meaning of harm reduction.  Harm reduction is a set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing negative consequences associated with drug use. Harm Reduction is also a movement for social justice built on a belief in, and respect for, the rights of people who use drugs. This brings me to my next, I’m sorry.

I’m sorry we believe you have the right to choose whether you use or not. Clearly you wouldn’t choose this. Your brain, thoughts and actions have been hijacked by your addiction. Addiction owns you. It stole everything good and worthy about you. It left you broke and despairing and living in hell. Your heart still beats but you are a shallow grave looking for a place to lay down. Without interruption or mandated commitment to a long term treatment facility, with the proper medical and psychiatric care, your chances of recovering or living to a ripe old age, are slim.

But know this.

I believe you can recover. I believe there is hope. But you can’t make the choice. You lost that ability a long time ago.

Going forward we need to do things differently. If people really want to help you they will stop throwing money in your basket and start demanding better health care services and more treatment beds for you.

From here on out, I won’t play it safe. I will speak for you, because I’ve been in your shoes. Requiring nothing of you, is terminal. You don’t need society to enable you, you don’t need another place to shoot up. If your life is going to be saved, you need long term treatment, a sober living environment and aftercare. Maybe if we stop listening to your demands, and start listening to the folks who have turned their lives around and are living in recovery, we can make that happen.

If you believe we need to increase funding for treatment beds, please share this post. Because the only end to the overdose crisis, is recovery.

(c) 2014 Jagged Little Edges All Rights Reserved

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  1. Oriol Rhodes

    I am in agreement. Harm reduction took my young addicted son into court. He was mandated into our patient rehab with a harm reduction focus. This fed his delusion that he could manage drugs and his life. He is now in jail.

    I was informed when I raged against the system that my son has capacity and rights and that includes the right to kill himself with drugs. He is not mentally well and not thinking with a clear mind. He is a harm to himself and does not have capacity to make decisions for his health and recovery.

  2. Kathy Smith

    I blame us! We took treatment away from the ill when we closed facilities that were in place to help the less fortunate and people with mental illness. We were so much more compassionate back then. Don’t get me wrong I am strongly against throwing our tax dollars at people that do not care enough about themselves to even care if they die or not. Why try?? BUT, if we open “live in” facilities to treat these people as we had in the past I am all for that.