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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To the Missing Island Youths

Where have you gone?

police tape, news cameras

thousands of Facebook posts

not a word, not a trace

five lives, teens, youth

are there more of you?

more—that vanished like morning fog

look, search, question, follow-up

find nothing

what does it take to erase a person—five people

surely more than a week, a month

Where have you gone?

pouring over each clue, seek similarities

island born, under twenty-five, slight build

odd ones out, queer, creative—different

too different to connect, to alike to ignore

are you together, wherever together is

lost, but not found

you leave a space greater than you occupied

hundreds search, thousands weep

Where have you gone?

taken, stolen

escaped, free

questions without end

will you be seen again

five people,

do you rest without

those who best love you

Where have you gone?

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Son of Mine

October 17th.

Happy 12th birthday son of mine.

I hope Heaven is getting better weather than we are.

Love you.

Mom.

Why I Have Trust Issues

**Note, events in this post are as I remember them, through a child’s lens, and may not reflect actual events!**

 

In class, we had a writing exercise where we were to think of a memory. This memory was to occur before the age of twelve and have a great impact on us. Below is my free written (writing without stopping or editing) response to that prompt.

When I was eleven, I learned that I was on my own in life.

The wind was blowing; it was a normal summer day for Cultus Lake. Hot humid air on my skin that was still damp from the water. It was one of those days where you didn’t need to change out of your swimsuit to dry off. My family and I were at the water park for the day. We had stopped at a gas station/café for lunch and I had to pee. I went inside to use the restroom and when I came out, I could see the car driving away without me in it. I ran as fast as I could after that car. My running shoes hitting the gravel driveway and then the pavement. I ran faster that I had ever run before, yelling and screaming, arms waving over my head. The car slowed. I got in trying not to cry. My mom said to my older brother, without turning around, “Why didn’t you tell us she wasn’t in the car?” and we drove home. I stared out the window and spoke to no one for the rest of the trip.

IMG_5450.JPGNext we were asked to rewrite the experience looking back from our present self. It was through this second phase of the exercise I came face to face with the root of major misbeliefs in my life.

I remember feeling completely unloved and alone, and also in panic for my safety. I was far enough away from home that there was no way for me to get back. I was eleven. I had no money in my pockets and we were hours away from the city we lived in, never-mind local transit. I was so hurt. How could they forget me? Was it on purpose? Was I so insignificant that they didn’t want me or notice my absence? I think this is the turning point in my life where I decided to be noticed, to be obnoxious. Running after the car that day, after being left at a truck stop, I resolved in my heart to look out for me first. My older brother never once spoke up saying I wasn’t in the car. My mom had two kids, how did she not notice. All I can think now, is that the guy she was with didn’t want to wait for me, and they were too afraid to face him. It makes sense looking at other encounters with this man.

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This week, my trust was further triggered when private events were disclosed without my permission. Over the course of my life, I have learned to travel between the extremes of obnoxious attention seeking and hiding my true self. I want people to love me but I am afraid to show them my heart. I’m afraid to get close because experience is a cruel master. 

I go through most days feeling like that younger self. I feel alone, unloved and in a panic. Due to the shattered trust of my younger years, the considerable repeat stories, and the fresh traumas of my recent past–I am suspicious of everyone and trust no one. What’s more, I don’t trust myself.

I know that I blame my family for a lot of hurt I received as a child, and probably they blame theirs. The responsibility for a healthy life is on ME now. No amount of he said she said will erase the past. It’s up to me to correct the damage. People are broken. All of us. Learn to love and trust yourself, then you’ll be able to do the same with others

Writer Wednesday: Greg White

This week’s post comes from a man named Greg White. I met Greg on social media. Social media, especially Facebook groups and Google Hangouts, have become a safe haven for marginalized people groups of all walks of life to gain support away from those who would cause injury. Greg’s recent Facebook post resonated with me and many others. It’s a reflection on the events in Orlando after the media has moved on to other things. It’s a reminder of how people are hurting, not helping. Most importantly, it’s an honest account from someone like me. 

It’s been over a week since the events of Orlando, and it seems everyone has had their say. Forgive me if I’m late to the conversation, but I’m still trying to piece together my feelings about it. I find myself utterly heartbroken. While I floated through Sunday in a sense of shock, and even went to a candle light vigil in a strange disconnect, reality set in on Monday night.

I’d come home from work having spent the day in a numb haze, and decided to decompress by making soap. It’s a simple hobby, one that requires little concentration and lets my mind wander through the day’s events and prepare for the stressors to come. As the bars of soap began to congeal in their molds, I began to sob uncontrollably. I cried first for the victims, every precious soul gunned down in the Pulse nightclub. I cried for their families, for their friends.

Suddenly the face of every LGBT person I know flashed through my brain and all I could think was, “It could have been him. It could have been her,” and finally, “It could have been me.”

In the days that followed, I found myself torn by grief while tending wounds that I thought had healed shut. Theological debates about the six “clobber passages” regarding homosexuality came roaring back into focus. My sense of public safety was suddenly shaken. The true face of bald, unbridled homophobia was unleashed in that hail of gunfire, and in its wake, those sympathetic to the gunman’s hatred were emboldened to speak. Fringe public religious figures like Pat Robertson pointed their fingers back at the LGBT community, and some even praised the killings.

But most painful of all, my beloved denomination put out a well-meaning but tepid response. They were sorry and saddened by the events. They were praying for the victims and their families. But where were these words when LGBT kids were killing themselves? Where were those prayers as queer people were denied their rights, kicked out of their homes, suffering depression and religious trauma, bullied, or ostracized?

We have told our stories over and over, and it seems they’ve fallen on deaf ears. Does it really take the worst mass shooting of the century to elicit a response? Decrying the violence, the Church never even condemned the cause. They never said the words “homophobia,” “LGBT,” “gay,” “lesbian,”“bisexual,” “transgender.” And so, the only word that really mattered to me was the word they’ve used to describe homosexuality in the manual; “perversion.”

It simply isn’t enough to stand up against mass murder without condemning the more subtle, institutional forms of bigotry that enforced it. I’m not a pervert, I’m a human being. I’m not an issue, I’m a child of God. I’m not a problem to be solved, a policy to be debated, a statement in a manual or even an out-of-context Bible verse.

How could the denomination that I love so dearly be so tone-deaf? Maybe it’s politics. Maybe it’s blind conviction. Maybe it’s fear. Maybe it’s a love too bewildered by a changing world to know how to express itself. All I know is that it doesn’t seem to be listening.

And yet, in the midst of all this heartbreak, I’m reminded of the text messages and phone calls from my sisters, brother, parents, friends, asking if I was okay. I’m reminded of the extra long hugs I received at church before I even realized I was going to need them for the week ahead. I’m reminded of my church friends marching alongside me in the candle light vigil, crying for justice. I’m reminded of my pastor, who preached repentance from bullying and lamented with me. His precious wife told me that she recognized my hurt, opened her home and let me know I wasn’t alone. Two friends had me over for dinner, let me pour out my anger and frustration, and made me feel understood. During communion, a friend looked me square in the eye, reached out, and clasped my hand in support. Countless conversations, notes of solidarity, and messages of comfort began to put me back together.

Is this what Jesus looks like? Is this what he meant when he said, “the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand”?

I want more than anything for my denomination to understand, to listen, to learn to love more fully. I want them to recognize the depths of pain their policies cause, to recognize that homophobia doesn’t only manifest itself in bullets. Sometimes it looks like smug superiority. Sometimes it looks patronizing. Sometimes it’s disgust disguised as moral righteousness. And sometimes it’s a child learning to hate herself.

But then, I guess policies and manual statements were never really Jesus’ M.O. The Holy Spirit transcends issues of doctrinal and theological debate. And God, it seems, is reluctant to work through imperious power or righteous fiat, but rather through individual acts of love. We are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus, and my congregation, family, and friends have been that to me. I only hope the broader Church can one day do the same. I long for the day the Church can be that for each member of the LGBT community, and not only in times of crisis.

You can view the original post here. 

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~Cheryl