Lives get back on track

Narcotics addiction

Editor’s note: Narcotics addiction can affect anyone and not always the people who look like stereotypical addicts. Narcotics addicts could be anyone’s family members, friends, neighbours, acquaintances or co-workers. Following is the second in reporter Cara Brady’s series on narcotics addiction, which looks at personal stories of how addiction can happen anytime, anywhere, how three people overcame their addictions, and the help available in the community.

Harris and Nicole were the perfect couple. They were happily married, well-educated, had good jobs, four children and everything they wanted. The world of drug addiction was unknown to them, it was something that happened to other people. When they did become addicted, they hid it from their children, and it did not take long for them to persist in seeking help and getting their lives back on track. This all happened in a city in another province several years ago before they moved to Vernon. Harris wrote about it through his and his wife’s hopes to be able to help others overcome the shame and sense of worthlessness of drug addiction and get help to get their lives back.

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Once I was introduced to the drug world, I quickly realized that it wasn’t the hardcore tattooed people I expected to meet. Yes, they were there, but mostly who I met and continue to meet, are people from all walks of life, people who at some point in their lives lost their way, made some bad decisions and after some time in that world can’t find, or believe they aren’t able to to return to a “normal” way of life.

The other thing I discovered is how many people have been affected by addiction in one form or another, directly or indirectly. Family members, friends and coworkers who become enslaved to drugs or alcohol can create havoc for the family, friends and employers who love and support them, as well as the police and health care workers who interact with them, and the taxpayers who pay for these services.

It’s my opinion we spend most of the tax money on ontaining or dealing with the results of addiction. Police, the courts and correctional facilities attempt on society’s behalf to contain the flow of drugs and drug-related crime. We lost the war on drugs; today we pick up the wounded.

How can a community fight a global war? The wounded are the addicts and the victims of this war. We provide health care and counseling support systems, which can be hard to access. There aren’t that many people and organizations ready, willing and able to help. It’s just fragmented, underfunded, and can be hard to find.

In a recent conversation with an RCMP officer he stated that if it wasn’t for drugs and alcohol there would be no need for the RCMP. At first, I thought this was an exaggerated statement born of frustration but after speaking with him for awhile I came to think the same way.

I have an inside perspective as a former addict myself and am now working to educate and help those seeking recovery, I live daily with a foot in both worlds. This may be hard for some people to understand but it’s almost like two dimensions exist — one the addict’s world, that the average or “normal” person doesn’t see, and the other normal world that the addict can’t understand.

Today I live in both worlds but it wasn’t always that way. Not that many years ago I was an average man living in the normal world, married with children and a career, and then it seems overnight I was an addict.

Several years ago, when we had just moved to a new neighbourhood, neighbours told us about someone they knew, a young man and his mother who had lost everything after the father and husband was killed in an accident and who were homeless and living in their car. I had lost my father when I was young  and I tried to help them with a little money and eventually gave them a spare room in our house.

The woman and her son were drug addicts and our normal family was about to be anything but.

The young man had worked for a drug dealer as a driver and stole drugs and money from his boss to support his own habit. Now the boss was looking for him and found him at our house. The young man and his boss made an agreement to pay him back by leaving my garage door open so that $50,000 worth of tools could be stolen. I had no idea what had happened, even asking the young man to try to help me find the stolen tools.

(About that time, the young man started giving Harris and his wife drugs as a way to pay rent. They had used drugs occasionally before with no problems and used them again recreationally. This time, for reasons they still can’t figure out, both became addicted. They managed to keep up what appeared to be a normal life.)

The young man stole from his boss again and this time the boss came to our house with a gun in his hand and took him and his mother away. He explained what was going on in a very matter-of-fact way, like it was acceptable, and in his world, it was.

There were no charges laid because the young man wouldn’t cooperate with the police and had given me false names.

I was frustrated, angry and fearful, but mostly ashamed at allowing this to happen to my family. We had opened our hearts and our home to help and this was what had happened. You would think I would have seen what was coming but I knew I didn’t want to live in that world. We knew we weren’t being the parents we should be and that we needed help.

(Harris and Nicole found that they had to persevere to get help with addictions but were able to attend a residential treatment centre and have been drug-free for several years.)

We still want to help people but through proper channels. There is a lot of denial about how much drug addiction exists and lack of education about how people become addicts. I don’t think anyone plans to grow up and become an addict but anyone can become an addict in the wrong combination of circumstances. People who use drugs are not bad people, they have made bad choices but they are not bad people. We as a community need to be doing more with education to prevent addiction and to help those who are addicted.