Drugs were in my system since I was two years old. And it wasn’t just opioids. Whatever was available was there for me. My mother was a hooker. My dad was a drug addict and died in prison. So when you come up in that lifestyle, that kind of home... the only difference between me and others is that they went to school and they had a childhood. Yeah, there are the opioids. But there is also the life line that gets you there.
I got off drugs because I went to prison. I was walking in downtown Ottawa and saw myself in the mirror. I weighed 87 pounds and thought, “I am going to die.” I kept trying to go to jail and they didn’t want to put me in jail because I had AIDS and hepatitis C, and they didn’t want me to die there. They would catch me and then let me go. I had to do a lot of stealing, breaking and entering to get into jail! I was basically one step away from dying. When I got into jail I got off drugs cold turkey.
But then I got raped. Being raped was the best thing really, because when I got raped I realized what it was like to be dehumanized. Because I had been clean for a year, I was feeling things for the first time in a long time. If that had happened to me before, I would have been, “Oh well, whatever.”
When I got raped, it just flipped everything. Everything that I knew, I didn’t know anymore. Jail to me had become like home. And then all of a sudden I couldn’t live there anymore. And I didn’t think I could live out here either. But I would rather live out here than go through what I did with the rape. Being raped gave me back my identity. I always tell people that it took something dramatic to put me in jail, so it took something dramatic to get me out.
People on opioids come from different ranges of life but we all have one thing in common. We all had a crisis that got us there. So never mind the opioids. Talk about the crisis that got us there. And no one is doing that. People say, “Oh yeah, he broke his back. The doctor put him on medication.” OK, sure, the person broke his back. But what was going on in the home before he broke his back? The opioids are a problem, I get that. But why not fix the problem that put people there in the first place?
My drug use wasn’t so much because I was in love with them. It was the only thing that I was in control of. In the end, drugs started to hurt me, but in the beginning they allowed me to do things that I would not have normally done. And when people take that away from you, it’s really devastating because you’re thinking to yourself, “You just took away my best friend!”
I would say people who are on opioids have more of a chance now because of these safe injection sites. But we are not giving people a home. I get in arguments with people all the time because I am like, “You want people to change but you won’t give them a home.” And they say, “Well, we give them a home and then they lose their home.” Well, how are you supposed to keep a home when no one teaches you?
If you can take all that bad stuff and turn it into fuel, imagine what you could do. And I have proven it. For a guy who can hardly read and write, I have an awful lot of diplomas. I went to apply to a college and I talked my way in there. I not only graduated but I won an award. I mimicked a lot of people. I saw them do certain things, so I started doing them too. Like the way that they dressed, the way they talked to people. I had to learn how to do everything all over again.
I strongly believe that we will never, ever fix someone that’s broken unless they really want to be fixed. But we can mend a fence along the way. And if you keep mending the fence, eventually the fence will hold on its own. And I am living proof of that.
I was lucky because I had a life coach. If it wasn’t for him and my husband, I would probably be dead. My husband was always encouraging me to do things. Like I wanted to quit school and he would tell me I could do it. He would fight with me to get up and get going. I think that’s what we need. That one person that will give you that push. Not to push you over the edge, but enough to keep going. I think a lot of the reasons I do the things that I do is because of my husband. We’ve been together 10 years and married for five.
I tell people I used to be a prostitute. I tell people everything. No one can help you if you can’t tell people who you are or what you are going through. For many years I couldn’t explain myself. I never used to talk like this. Because when you feel like you don’t have nothing to say, you don’t say it. Now I talk all the time.