Maybe you had a bad day at school, or mom or dad was extra violent, and you end up at a party where someone offers you a joint or a pill, or an edible, or perhaps a needle. It seems like a good idea at the time because how bad could things really get?

Twenty years later you’re on the downtown eastside of Vancouver, you’re homeless, your skin is covered in scars, your face is sunken in, and you can barely remember your own name.

There is a lot that happens between someone’s first use and their last use. There is an entire life filled with adventure, fear, worry, demons, angels, and Gods, that happens, but when the average non-drug using human is walking down the street, they don’t know that.

All they see is the fact that you are dirty, you may have one shoe or two if you’re lucky, your pants have holes in them and yes, you definitely stink, but you’re so out of sorts you don’t even know it.

Time and time you sober up and the memories nearly kill you as you fight for your life. You get clean and you look back at that time and find reasons to laugh, you’ll never do it again. But then you do. Something happens to trigger that part of your brain that says “just one” and before you know it ten hundred thousand uses of drugs have gone by. Again.

It’s a cycle, and it usually starts with a traumatizing event involving some kind of violation. At least that’s what I’ve learned from the hundreds of people I have known who used drugs in their time. I remember working at a church in Surrey British Columbia when a new development was proposed for the spot across the street.

The new neighbors were pissed off we were there because they were afraid the “drug addicts” would bring down the property values. They built the building to look like an upside-down heroine needle, we were all laughing about it as we smoked outside on Christmas eve one night. That was the same night the building got raided because one of the condo owners was running a brothel out of the place. It had only been open for six months.

Drug addiction is a cycle of violence, ignorance, misinformation, bullshit, and outright lies designed to destroy the lives of the most vulnerable. Not one person I have ever known grew up saying “man I can’t wait to be on heroin when I get older…” they had hopes, dreams, wishes, and wants for their futures. And time and time again their dreams were destroyed by the same people that should have protected these innocent children.

When I was being abused in North Delta it was grown men calling the shots, today most of them are either dead, in jails, institutions, or on the streets addicted to drugs. Everyone knows what they did, and they’ve heard the excuse “it was the drugs, it wasn’t me.”

Drugs are to humans what Vampires are to Angel and Buffy, they bring out the absolute worst in you, and condition you to believe that you can do whatever you want because it’s all about survival.

It’s only when you put the drugs down and the fog clears that you realize all the horrible things you did in the name of your addiction. Often times the work it takes to repair the damage drives far too many back to drugs because life on the street is a lot easier than being accountable for their actions.

Most people who don’t live with those who have issues with addiction, don’t understand that beneath the addiction to the drug, is an addiction to escape. Pain, anxiety, and depression are all symptoms of PTSD that are sometimes too overwhelming for some folks to handle.

One man I know was a fully trained soldier and he worked his way all his life into the highest levels of the Canadian Armed Forces, he lives in a tent now, because the things that he saw in Afghanistan and other awful places are too much for him to handle. He can’t live inside, because he is deeply claustrophobic. At least twice that I know of, his tent was set on fire while he was still inside of it.

Another was tied to a post in his family’s basement where he and his two brothers were beaten for three days, and no one came for them. Not a cop, a teacher, or a social worker thought to ask if any of them are okay. He’s dead now, his one brother in Alberta, another on the downtown East Side, both living in extreme poverty.

A third was kicked out because he was transgender at the tender age of eighteen with nowhere to go and no one to help, a fourth – a woman – was homeless while she was attending nursing school. On and on and on the stories go, each of these people, these HUMAN BEINGS having suffered the worst humanity has to offer, each of their lives disregarded with the term “drug addict” because all the AVERAGE person sees is someone living in a tent.

Every person I met while working at the church, was someone who had faced extreme poverty, and the lowest amount of human support, many of them survived, but many more did not. Many more are still fighting against the same demons they were fighting against as children. The only difference is that now that they are adults people have less empathy for them because “why couldn’t they just figure out their shit and get over it?”

How do you get over a parent beating you for three fucking days? How do you get overseeing the worst of the worst in a country that isn’t your own while you fight for your life against the same people we call here at home, terrorists? How do you face the darkness all alone and come out in one piece?

For each of us, the demons take different faces, and different situations, but for too many of us, the result is the same. Drug addiction, institutions, jails, and death.

I went to a conference where I asked the Minister of Housing and Development if we know how many people who are houseless, are also addicted to drugs, his answer was “does it matter?

YES MOTHERFUCKER IT MATTERS. If we do not know what issues people are facing, then we don’t know how to help them. That soldier I mentioned has far different needs than the man who was beaten for three days, or the houseless nurse, each of them has different requirements for survival and for health and wellness, and each of those issues needs to be dealt with appropriately.

It’s not cannabis that leads to drug addiction as we were taught in the 90s, it’s isolation, neglect, hunger, depression, anxiety, misery, loneliness, it’s ignoring the basic needs of humanity that lead to drug addiction, which leads to crime, which leads to injustice. If we can help people find healthy dosages so that they can maintain a healthy life, we can change the world. But the world is not ready to have that conversation, because there’s too much money in death.

Sending all my love,

Devon J Hall

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