No one should die that way: a personal story of the opioid epidemic in Canada

Guest Post

Content warning: discussion of abuse, drug related death, attempted violence, trauma, mental health, loss. If you or anyone you know is in immediate crisis call 911. Those experiencing less immediate crisis can find help at Crisis Text Line.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lys Morton is a Queer Canadian writer who is learning to call Vancouver Island home. A Creative Writing student at VIU, you can find his work and what he’s up to on Facebook at Lys Writes Now and Twitter @LysWritesNow.

Let’s talk about abuse, the opioid epidemic, overdose, and the general tone of comments you see around these topics.

June was an odd little month this year. I’m in this part of PTSD healing where my brain goes “dude, you’re doing so well, you’re so much calmer! Here… process this” and then dumps a bunch of memories that have been sitting in the repressed bank for some time. The start of June found me shifting through quite the collection of these memories, much of them centering around one individual. We’ll call him Jack.

Jack and I were in grades 7-10 together, and he is the guy that created the “glorious” moniker of She-Man. I don’t quite remember when he coined it, but I do remember it spreading like wildfire in the school. And the various times teachers accidentally called me that moniker because they heard it more in reference to me than my actual name. And when I started responding to it instead of my name.

Jack also has the privilege of being the guy that introduced me to “Saved Your Life: Boss Level.” Sounds harmless enough, right? Everyone and their dog played “Saved Your Life” during my teen years. Push someone and then immediately pull them back, shouting “saved your life!” It was the hip Tide Pod challenge in my days.

“Boss Level” was Jack pulling this stunt when I was near stairs, at the busy intersection where the city buses rolled through, beside the car lift in mechanics class, operating the burner in science class, and numerous other occasions. On average it was a daily occurrence. Jack’s face has more traumas tied to it, but I’m not exactly ready to FB post that stuff.

As I said, June found me shuffling through a lot of these memories, coming to terms with them and doing that whole healing thing. As I’m doing this work, I get a message from an acquaintance who knew both Jack and I. Simple message, quietly informing me that Jack had died from a fentanyl overdose that month. Now, wasn’t that news met with a roller coaster of emotions.

I would be lying if I didn’t say that there was a strange sense of relief at this news, which was then promptly followed by frustration. Because yeah, Jack put me through some horrible things, but that does not change one very key fact in this world.

No one should die that way.

It’s no secret that we are in the middle of a crisis. You see it on the news, on Netflix, strewn across social media. Since the beginning of 2016, Canada alone has lost over 10,300 people to opioid overdose. And over 90% over those deaths were accidental.

Like many large problems in our world, there is no simple answer to this particular crisis. There are numerous factors that come into play, countless flaws in systems that people fall through. There is no “on/off” switch to any part of this crisis.
But one single fact stands. No one should be dying from an overdose.

We have tools in this war; harm reduction strategies, safe consumption sites, naloxone training, legalization. But people are too wrapped up in their scorn to even contemplate these strategies.

I don’t care how many times Jack put my life in jeopardy, he did not deserve to lose his this way. Not when there are tools that could have saves him. And if he didn’t deserve this, no one did.

My friends have lost too many of their friends in this epidemic. The list should not be as long as it is. And then they have to deal with the comments of people who refuse to sit for a moment and contemplate the scale of this crisis. The faces of it.

Better writers than I have noted how similar the opioid epidemic is mirroring the AIDS epidemic that started back in 1981. The similarities in people’s scorn for those caught up in this battle. The front line workers screaming for support. The governments that only seem willing to shrug their shoulders at this war. As a queer guy, this scares me. To sit and watch this story play out once again. Because I’m in a community still healing from the generation that was lost to AIDS and to people’s apathy towards it. How long will it take communities to heal from this loss?

As I said, there is an odd sense of relief I feel knowing that Jack’s never going to be able to hurt me again. But that’s my thing to work through, because that initial fact still stands. He should not be another number in this war. We have the tools and ability to end this crisis.

Can we get some compassion going so we can stop this?

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Family Portrait: chapbook sneak peek​

I’m getting excited about this project. To give you a small taste of what I’ve been working on, I thought I’d share the introduction to Family Portrait with you.

“Not much by way of content has changed over the past thirteen years in my poetry. I’m driven to explore familial trauma through the written word both in fiction and non-fiction. Poetry offers a nuanced way to zero in on specific language. This close-up examination of moments allows an honesty and an intimacy that is not readily available in a journalistic account of events or a fictional narrative. 

When I began to seriously consider poetry, my work was posted to a personal blog. It was confessional in style and written for no one in particular—but I knew it must be shared. Before the internet became widely accessible, my poems existed in volumes of written journals or were housed on 3.5 disks. My mother still has a stack of those old 3.5’s in her desk as sentimental paper-weights alongside a hand-bound collection of poems from my original blog.

Even in those early works, I explored themes of familial relationships, identity, longing, and spirituality. I often incorporated scenes from real life, with dialogue and identifiable characters, into musing and metaphors grounded most in colours and textures. 

 My current projects speak both to a broader audience and on behalf of marginalized voices. Over the past four years of exploration, themes of childhood trauma, queer identity, womanhood, and mental illness come together in free verse, experimental form, and nuevo-formal tradition. 

To me the fight is not content versus form, but the poem shapes into what it needs to be. Fixed form can shape an idea into a striking image by way of control. A poem about something as mundane as a vanilla scented candle can be as profound as a poem about infant loss—it all comes down to moments crafted to allow readers insights otherwise unavailable. 

This collection is comprised mainly of free form and free verse. Fixed form causes me to self-edit content that I’m vulnerable about before it ends on the page. I prefer to use fixedform for nature themes or humorous work.

 I’ve titled it Family Portrait as my two favourite pieces “Father” and “Mother” are the heart the rest of my story flows from. Both are inspired by conversations. My mother raised my older brother and I on her own from age 20. She and my father separated when I was two years old, and later divorced when I was eight. The last time I saw my father was Christmas Eve 1990. He promised to be there in the morning when we woke up. After my brother and I had gone to bed our parents had an undisclosed conflict and we never saw our father again. 

We grew up transient. We moved a lot. By age 18 I had attended 23 schools. We were poor, on welfare, and had no longterm attachments outside of my maternal grandmother Helen. Our childhood was steeped in drugs and risky behaviour.

27 years later, I received a message on Facebook from a man with a made up name. Though he appeared very aged (for a man of 56 he looked more in his 70’s) and clearly unhealthy (I could see the grey of his skin and the toothless smile he gave in his profile picture—of him and his cat), I recognized my father and my heart cried “Daddy.”

I try to write most about the underneath of it all. I pay attention to the interaction between reality and the interpretation of reality. With “To Hold a Candle” I wanted to look at how consumption as an attitude has real consequences to the world around me. A candle is an object without thought or feeling. The consumption of an object, that by nature is designed to be consumed, is something we think little of as we interact with the world daily. But what if the candle did have sentience? What if it wanted a life of comfort enriched with literature and antiques? 

How can I explore the underneath of relationships in my life? Is there a way poetry can convey truths and emotions that are difficult to pin down much less say aloud in conversation? I believe that poetics allow writers the space to create images in place of, or in conjunction with, complex and sometimes troubling topics. Poetry gives us permission to explore the taboo and the traumatic in a place of protected vulnerability. Word-craft becomes simultaneously an outlet and a sanctuary for our shadows and light.”

I’m 32 and also living paycheque to paycheque

I read an article today on #HuffingtonPost titled I’m 37 and living paycheck to paycheck. As I read, I realized how familiar the author’s story was. You see the pressure to go to events to support friends and loved ones is real—even more so during the holiday season. Many of us are just one or two unexpected expenses away from not making it.

This year we had to replace a furnace to the tune of 6000.00. (We DID get a rebate and it decreases our heating costs…but that’s a huge chunk of money that was supposed to be spent over time on other house related things.) Then, we chose to keep the cat that came with our house. This meant that he needed to see a vet pronto and get all his shots, that was 300 bucks…shortly after that appointment he required an emergency visit for dental issues and some other stuff. We decided to try and save him (to the tune of 1200.00). This all happened during a period of time where Olivia was indefinitely laid off from her long-term job and I went back to school for my final year. Our budget was tight! Then, Olivia found some work, but now it’s winter and she’s facing another potential lay off.

Due to the lay off over the summer, my minimum wage job just covered expenses and we were not able to save anything. This is the reality for most folks. What’s more is most folks don’t have the ability to put unexpected expenses on credit. We thankfully did, but now we have balances to pay each month on our already taxed budget.

Please know I’m not sharing this to whine, but for the folks who find themselves in a similar situation. We see you. You are not alone. If all you can do this Christmas season is to tell people how much you love them, please don’t feel guilty. AND if you’re hard up for food, reach out—there are plenty of resources available in Nanaimo where we live (and other communities if you’re not from here), and you can always come to our house for a modest dinner if you live close by. The challenge is to escape the shame of poverty. If so many of us are (or have been) in a similar situation, why are we reluctant to be honest and to access resources available to us?

This year when people ask what we want for Christmas we have two answers. First, we cheekily reply home depot or PetSmart gift cards (because the cat and the house are eating all our money). Second, for those who are closest to us, the reality is we need time with the people we love that has no financial cost…this can even include gas costs. We’d love to come to see you, but we can’t afford the gas bill—we need it to get to work.

Doubt: Watch Me

Doubt is a nasty germ. It creeps in subtly when things are going well and begins to breed in the background. First, it will show up disguised as rational thinking. Should I really be doing this? I know ________ is more qualified at __________ than I am. We begin to compromise. Before long, we avoid the things we once loved—things we know we’ve been good at before—for fear of failure.

I struggled for two weeks to write a short story in October. I am in fourth year of creative writing and have published several stories, poems, and non-fiction pieces. I was long-listed for a prestigious literary competition and have won prizes for my promise in writing. I’ve been paid for not only my own content but to create pieces for others’ websites as well. I’ve been solicited for publication from links I’ve shared on Twitter and been hired out for events due to my creative prowess. All this is true and I still struggle to create.

I’m not trying to humble-brag. If anything, I’m trying to remind myself that I am extremely talented at making something great out of thin air and sheer will power. I have three novels in progress but am terrified to complete them. What if they aren’t good? What if I publish them and only sell ten copies? Worse, what if I publish them and someone expects MORE? Doubt is a jerk.

I say to look doubt right in the face and say watch me.

When I finally buckled down and quit the debilitating habit of self-censoring, I produced a short story in under five hours that is already receiving positive feedback. It’s even spawning the idea for a chapbook of short stories unlike anything that is currently being done. It just might be that accidental best idea I’ve ever had. It was full of typos and a little rushed—I was outrunning doubt after all, and we all know doubt is a marathon runner.

That thing you love, that you miss, but you doubt you’re good enough/brave enough/_________enough to take it on again—it misses you. Tell doubt watch me. You’ll be glad you did.

Fall Semester Challenge: A novel in 91 days.

On the first day, of my last year, of University, our Advance Novel Prof asked us to do some math. MATH. From CREW students. He asked how many days are in September….we all paused and someone, thank God, said “30”. Then he asked how many days were in October, this I knew because Halloween, obviously, “31”. Again he asked how many days were in November, turns out there’s also 30. That gives us 91 days. Then he asked his room full of upper level students if it was possible to write 1000 words a day.

Yea. We do that all the time for assignments, but what was he getting at? Class continues until December 5th, so obviously his questions weren’t for class right? Wrong. Last question, how large is the average novel? 80,000 to 100,000 words. You’re welcome. So, all the math. If we write 1000 words a day, for 91 days, we will have 91,000 words—a novel.

WHAT?! But novels are hard to write, and I never finish them. I get to chapter three and crap the bed, shove it in a drawer, and cry myself to sleep until I have a new idea. The life of an aspiring writer. First assignment, outline (with as little or as much detail as is developed for your current idea) due next class for the entire project. Who is in it? What do they want? What gets in the way? The normal story questions. But over and over again until you can “see” the skeleton of a story. Then the 1000 words a day begins. I’ve started….two days ago. Current word count, 756. After two days. I suck at this. But I’m going to do it.

Want to join me?