On the usual drive into work today I turned onto Columbia Street off of Expo Blvd. and rolled to a stop at the red light at Keefer St. This is an old part of Vancouver. This area is known as Chinatown. A beautiful artificial soccer field sits to my left and directly across from that is a power station.
I thought this morning how it looked so out-of-place appearing as a lab with giant electrodes protruding skyward. Often I’ve wondered why they don’t have all of this covered as it just sits behind a fence with some nasty looking barbed wire cresting the perimeter.
Sitting just to my left on a park bench a young man perhaps in his late 20’s? And just as I noticed him, I watched as the needle slipped into his arm. His expression was one of intense focus. For that moment I was mesmerized, horrified and profoundly saddened as the emotions washed over me. It’s been a while since I’ve witnessed this. Many addicts use the services of INSITE over on Hastings St. which is only a couple of blocks away.
His eyes closed as I continued to observe him only to be pulled from the scene that was unfolding before me by the honk of a car horn. The light before me was now green. One last glance at the young man and I continued on my way.
I wondered what had happened in his life that had drawn him into drugs in the first place. I wondered how he’d gotten the cash to purchase the drugs that had just been injected. Wondered what, when he was a little boy, had he dreamed of being when he grew up. Then I wondered if he ever thought about those dreams now.
Many condemn drug users. They are considered the scourge of the earth at times it seems. And yet, drugs much like alcohol, are typically symptomatic of an underlying problem. Once engaged in their use, however, both drugs and alcohol will demand to be fed and will take precedence over everything else.
Drugs are a cruel taskmaster. They demand to be fed and if that demand is not met, the sickness exacted can be devastating. And so I sent out a silent prayer to the young man on the bench and all of those who suffer from addiction that they might find their way out of the darkness, out of the despair.
We had the war on drugs for many years. “JUST SAY NO!” was the mantra repeated over and over again.
Perhaps the reason that this campaign didn’t work is that we weren’t addressing why young people were using drugs in the first place.
Oh, you can say they’re curious, that they just want to experiment but we don’t give young teens the benefit of actually being intelligent and capable of having good judgement in such situations. Perhaps we should.
With my daughter I educated her. I didn’t tell her to simply not do something and demand that she listen to me. I took her to the Downtown Eastside and let her see what could happen should you make poor life choices.
We also come from a family that has a history of alcohol abuse and she has seen family members sink into the abyss of addiction. I knew that she would be offered drugs, I knew that she would be offered alcohol as a teen and I gave her as much information as I possibly could so that she could make an informed decision.
Also, I wanted her to know how to drink in a responsible manner.
She also watched a schoolmate of hers make the wrong choices. A beautiful young girl, smart and sweet, but lacking the confidence and support as she placed her trust in someone she loved who then got her strung out on heroin. A life forfeit it seemed.
And what to do when you see this occurring? That’s the tough one.
For Nicole, she just slipped in between the cracks so seamlessly. Just fell off the radar. Perhaps we should have been trying to catch her before she fell too far. I don’t know.
But today I was reminded once again of the fine line I have walked myself. Of hurting so badly and not knowing who to talk to or what to do; of having a continuous scream in my head that just would not go away and taunted relentlessly.
And trying to explain that initially, hell, I didn’t even understand it myself just that I was caught in hell with no apparent way out. So perhaps the war should be redirected. Don’t talk at your children, but talk to them.
Getting strung out on drugs may dull the pain initially, make you feel fabulous for a nanosecond, but the price is devastatingly high. So let’s not judge…let’s try to be solution oriented rather than confrontational. Who knows? It just may work.