It is always a flattering proposition when one is solicited for advice. The mere act evokes all of the wonderful appeals to wisdom and affluence upon which the ego nourishes itself. Unfortunately when one’s area of expertise stems from having a close and personal relationship with OxyContin and cocaine, it makes these moments bittersweet at best. That being said, there are very few people who can claim to have had the experience of puking up a stomach full of Percocet and OxyContin then combing through the waste to find largely intact remnants of undissolved 40mg tablets only to swallow the damned things all over again. If such an experience endows me with a certain credibility that others lack, then… it is what it is. My former group leader at C.A.M.H. (The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health) told me to “think of my 4 or so years getting high as field research”. That made me smile.
Several years back a friend of mine embarked on a rather pathetic, self-righteous diatribe denouncing formal education in favour of pretending to be a Buddhist and writing terrible poetry. Her exact words were “there are some things you can’t learn in a classroom”. Who would have thought she was on to something?
In the past month alone, several different people have come to see me to solicit my advice on what to do regarding friends who clearly have serious drug addictions. I tell them all the same thing: Don’t enable them and if necessary, cut them off entirely until they get their shit together. This is what the social workers told us in rehab. It is also what the fine people at George Brown teach their students in the Social Service Worker program (I should know, as I am one of those students). The methodology underlining this approach to addiction is rooted in pragmatism. Accelerating someone’s descent to rock bottom is compassionate. Tough love and all that. Yet the maddening frustration and impotence involved in watching someone you care about self destruct is not an easy thing to do. This is why Social Workers are called “professionals” and friends are called “friends”.
A large part of my cerebellum still sort of feels like “fine, if you don’t want help, I will fucking force it down your goddamn throat!”. There might even be a conceivable argument to make in favour of coercion and force. If, you know, there was any proof whatsoever that sort of thing worked.
My roommate in rehab was a fellow by the name of X. He had a shitty life. X lived with foster parents until stealing from them to buy drugs and being kicked out. X lived on the street after that. Recently, I bumped into him on the corner of Bay and Bloor where he had returned to his panhandling ways. It was a tough thing to see him like that. Especially considering how much clean time he had under his belt back when we were living together. We talked for a while. He asked me for money and I laughed and told him to go fuck himself. I gave him my number and told him to call anytime, day or night.
X’s proceeding timeline:
– Two weeks later I get a call at work from X who informs me he’s back in a detox and is 10 days clean.
– I go to visit him, bringing with me the standard issue rehab care package; consisting of cigarettes, junk food and those terrible decaffeinated soft drinks deemed acceptable by most rehabs and detox facilities.
– X blows up my phone for the next week or so with the manic Charlie Sheen-esque urgency common to brains that are jerked into sudden action after long periods of stasis.
– X applies for a special subsidized housing program which operates under a mandate of harm reduction
– X gets his apartment
– X leaves detox, moves into his new apartment
The next time I see X, he’s back on the same corner panhandling. He still has his apartment and colour in his face, but the beer store isn’t a charitable organization and one way or another, money must be raised. We still speak frequently. Although, there isn’t a hell of a lot I can do for him besides offer some camaraderie.
A realization which dawned on me that was considerably unnerving…
X had been the beneficiary of pretty much everything the system has to offer. From tax-payer funded treatment facilities staffed with trained professionals to being a recipient of a rent-free apartment specifically designed to accommodate people who occupy the revolving door between emergency rooms, detox facilities and the street, and it was simply not enough.
How could this be?
How could any social worker expect to really help someone who has absolutely no support system? How are a bunch of policy-wonks and bureaucratic do-gooders supposed to travel back in time and insist that perhaps parents shouldn’t be disciplining defenceless children with their fists? Or change the reality of growing up in a ghetto and juvenile facilities? How is a person supposed to denounce the only emotional bonds they’ve ever formed, even if those bounds are with drug dealers? How can we as a society expect people not to sell drugs when a policy of complete and total prohibition makes the sale of narcotics the most lucrative and in some cases ONLY viable economic engine within large segments of a city? How is a social worker supposed to insist that someone rejoin a “society” whose legislation has criminalized the very segment of the civilization it claims to be offering an olive branch to?
Such notions of personal and societal responsibility are not abstractions. They have real consequences. Children who are beaten are going to be fucked up. Fucked up people are going to medicate. As long as the illegality of drugs keeps them profitable, people are going to sell them for large bundles of cash. These same people are going to fight with one another over market share. Some of these fights will involve guns. Despite the common prevailing wisdom in conservative governments worldwide, they won’t just kill one another. Innocent bystanders will be murdered as well. Sometimes they will be 15 year old children like Jane Crebra. Sometimes these shooting will occur in cosmopolitan shopping centres and will actually catch some attention in the press.
As I tried to explain to Prime Minister Harper in the most recent of the many an e-mail I send him – there aren’t enough prisons in the world to maintain the status quo of this reactionary cycle of perpetual death and addiction. In my limited wisdom, working within a deeply flawed system I have arrived at a rather simple solution to what I feel is a deep and entrenched societal problem. This ongoing quest for compromise and pragmatism has led me to offer up the following suggestion:
Why don’t we as a society spend more time locking up the people who beat their children and NOT focus all of our energies on imprisoning those same children, who may one day decide to use a fucking drug?