While struggling with a decade-long opiate addiction, Sean put together the pieces he needed for recovery: advocating for others, methadone treatment and finding an apartment where he could have a cup of tea, undisturbed.
I grew up on a Canadian Armed Forces base. I left home at the age of 13 to escape an abusive situation. I was put into emergency care and I was sexually abused there. It really took away a lot of my trust in the system. I put myself through high school. After that, I hitchhiked from Nova Scotia to San Francisco, and got into university. It was going really well. I had a security job at a bar in town, I was a disc jockey and I fell in love. I finished two years of school and my girlfriend got pregnant. Unfortunately, she drowned seven months into the pregnancy. Out of that sprung my addiction. I turned first to alcohol, then opiates. Long story short, it turned into a pretty bad addiction. I pretty well lost everything that I worked for all those years, and ended up homeless and addicted to opiates.
I was in and out of shelters for about nine years. A huge step in improving my health was being housed. Initially, when I got out of one of the shelters, they put me into housing where there was still a lot of drug use going on. Every day and on every floor, there was a dealer. I eventually got back into drugs and lost my housing.
The next time, I decided to do it myself. To pay my rent, I delivered flyers for six cents a flyer. I lived in a really modest place. Where I am now is pretty modest, but that was pretty well a closet. I lived there for three years and it gave me privacy and safety and security. That was really huge.
It’s the small things you take for granted when you don’t have them. Like being able to wake up and have a cup of tea or read a book in the afternoon. I wake up every day now, happy. I used to wake up and wish I could go back to sleep because facing the miseries of the day was so rough. Now I wake up beside someone that I really love, in a cute apartment just blocks from my work and a place where a lot of change is happening. It really empowers me.
Getting a taste of that normalcy again really drove me to want more of it. I started exercising and doing a lot more self-care. Other than buying drugs, I’d buy clothes or books, or… I’m a huge fan of punk rock music. I play a lot of instruments, albeit badly.
People deserve to be housed regardless of their addiction, their mental illness. It’s the first step as far as I’m concerned. It wasn’t until I got housing that I was actually able to make positive changes in my life. It’s nice to belong somewhere.
Another really important step for me was going on methadone. My methadone practitioner was a fantastic doctor. He never judged me. He always believed in me. I didn’t even necessarily deserve the faith he put in me. Your priorities are really messed up when you’re using. I had this infection on my elbow. It was very deep, and it was basically six weeks of antibiotics. But I was more worried about getting the drugs I needed to get through the day than my health care. I can’t believe I was like that, but I was.
There are some hospitals and clinics in this city that are really good, and some that aren’t very good toward people that use drugs. Some of the things they said to me in regards to the infections I had when I was using IV drugs—they were just horrible. The first time I went to get a blood test to start on methadone, the nurse or the technician was having problems finding a vein. She asked me how I could do this to myself. I was embarrassed enough as it was—I really didn’t need her saying that!
I am now working as a peer support worker. I try to provide any type of support that’s needed. That might mean accompanying someone to a medical appointment or a court date. They get frustrated. Or they have cognitive difficulties and they can’t remember the date or the details they’re supposed to provide. A lot of people have a hard time navigating the system. I have an advantage because I have used a lot of the services that I am taking people to.
As I got healthier, I started to do a little bit of advocacy for people who use drugs. I founded a non-profit called Drug Users Advocacy League, or DUAL. It’s basically to provide a voice for people that are marginalized drug users. Most, if not all, decisions that affect drug consumers were made by others, and like any marginalized group they deserve a say in what affects them. Despite our lack of resources we continue to grow.
The further I went into the advocacy, the healthier I was able to live. The healthier I was able to live, the more I was able to do advocacy. So it wasn’t just harm reduction that saved my life, but harm reduction and advocacy.
I know what I survived, and I don’t think I would survive it again. I wouldn’t be able to get back into the whole world of addiction. I’ve been there; I’ve done that. There’s this phrase I use all the time, “Sick and tired of being sick and tired.” I am just not going to do that to myself ever again. I’ve been in recovery for four years now. I am working, and in love. I have a partner who I adore who helps me in every regard. I have a job I love and I think I am making an impact, bettering my community. So, yeah, I am fortunate! It’s been quite the turnaround, I guess.
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