Stigmatization is one of the barriers for individuals stuck in the cycle of addiction and for family members seeking support for themselves and their loved ones. Understanding the deeper personal stories of those who use prescription and illicit drugs as well as those who gamble (some casually, others regularly), is one way of debunking slurs.
Revealing why people choose to try and continue using drugs or gambling is one way of understanding how addiction affects so many people in our community. They are someone’s son/daughter, husband/wife, father/mother, brother/sister, uncle/aunt, nephew/niece, cousin, grandchild.
Their Story is a space for those who are struggling (or have overcome) to share their stories and experiences. The interviews are compiled by Eileen MacLeod, a retired Kamloops resident who has a passion for social justice.
For privacy reasons, KamloopsMatters will not be publishing the identity of those who contribute to this column. If you or someone you know is interested in participating, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250-572-0369.
What is your current shelter/where do you live?
I live in a house.
You own your own home?
What’s the first mood/mind-altering drug you used?
I guess alcohol, then weed. I first tried alcohol when I was 14. And then I had some weed, up until my 20s. Then I stuck to alcohol. In my early 20s I tried ecstasy, MDMA, and those types of drugs. Never liked them. I never really liked the drugs where you lose control. I always drank a lot. Every weekend I was a party-goer. Loved going to parties. Liked getting drunk. Liked that feeling of freedom. I had good parents and stuff but they always pressured me to do well in school — “Do this, do that.” So I had these pressures that I was always trying to do well at everything, Being popular. Sports. School. Keeping up with everything. But I never felt good enough, ever. I pushed myself to keep achieving but it didn’t fill that void. So I think, when I drank, I always felt free and I felt nothing could get me.
When I tried drugs like ecstasy and that, I didn’t like the loss of control, so I never really stuck with them. I got sick a few times and it made me not want to do them again.
When I tried cocaine for the first time, when I was 27 or 28, you could be in control, confident. Nobody really knew you were on it. The first time I tried it, I was like, “Wow, why isn’t everyone on this all the time?”
It sounds like cocaine became your drug of choice…
What does it give you now?
It gives me energy, focus, inspiration and also the feeling that everything is OK. I can stay up, I can get more done. It’s a false freedom because you only get that energy while you’re doing it, and when you stop doing it, now that I’m older, it’s a couple days of not feeling good after. It’s a short-lived thing, but when I am on it, I feel great. I get all the housecleaning done (laughs). It’s a catch-22 because you feel great but then it sucks you, and the next days you don’t get anything done.
When you use cocaine, do you stay up for a long period of time and then crash?
Yeah. I’ll stay up for maybe like a day or two sometimes. Then I’ll crash but I’ll need another day or two to rest. But because I’m using in secret, everyone’s wondering why I’m so tired or hyper.
What made you try cocaine?
My boyfriend at the time, he had always dabbled with drugs and I always used to be really scared of it. I was like, “Cocaine is bad. Bad people do cocaine.” I think when I started doing drugs and I liked it, I struggled with that stigma that I’m bad now and I’m a horrible person because I’m doing drugs and I like it. I would always feel really guilty after. It becomes a vicious cycle of beating yourself up and also not wanting people to know.
The first couple of years, I could use it once every couple of months. I would just do it at parties and stuff. And then eventually, after five years, it was wanting to do it every weekend. Then, wanting to do it during the week; then when you wake up. And then spending all your money. ... I was living this high life, earning lots of money with my boyfriend, going out with all these well-to-do people, having these weekend benders, then going to work all week, being able to do whatever I wanted, buy whatever I wanted. And then eventually, my boyfriend finally said, “You’re getting too involved. What’s happening? You need to slow down. You need to stop.”
So when I stopped, I was like, “Oh my god. I don’t know what to do with myself because nothing feels as good anymore.” It was so hard to stop because I was always craving that high.
Finally, when it did come all unravelled is when I left my boyfriend. I told my parents we had been using.
How do you think your parents feel about your drug addiction and other people knowing about it?
They’ve told a few people. I feel that they don’t know what to do. The last time I told them was about three weeks ago. I was so worried they were going to leave me. … There’s a point that they’re just going to stop helping me and they’re going to be embarrassed by me and (I thought), “I’m a horrible daughter. I’ve already been in treatment once. Why am I doing it again?” So I felt like I couldn’t ask them for help again. I was so scared but I wanted to. Recently I said, “How many times are you going to be picking me up?” My mom said, “As many times as we have to.”
I’ve been ready (for treatment) for a couple of years, but nothing seems to be sticking. And there’s that craving that takes over me. I’d be happy in my life if I could never do cocaine again, but there’s that itch that takes over and I can’t stop it.
Sounds like you’ve been to a few treatment options and that one-size doesn’t fit all…
It has to be at the right time. I found the best treatment for me recently has been the cognitive behavioural therapy because you’re actually getting real tools. It helps you understand the addiction, the science of the brain and what you can do to stop it.
I’ve tried everything. But recently now I’m looking at things that have worked in the past.
How do you think people see you as a drug addict?
The people who look at me and don’t understand it, they just don’t understand. Lots of people wouldn’t know I’m a drug addict because I use it in secret to keep up — my job, my life.
There are two types of people in my life — the people who understand and want to help and see me as a regular person who has a problem, and there are people who don’t understand it, that whole, “You can just stop if you wanted to.”
I can still have one or two glasses of wine and stop. But if I have two grams or five grams (of cocaine), I will not be able to let it go. I have to do it all at the same time until it’s all gone. No matter how much it was ruining my life at times, I’ve still gone back to it, and I feel shameful for it. … Then there’s the whole issue about fentanyl. Sometimes I don’t even care. I would just want to die. (I thought) if I died, I would be happy, it would all be over, but I have to continue to think about the people I love and what that would do to them.
I can’t stress enough that no one chooses to be an addict. I do agree that I chose to try drugs, and I need to take responsibility for my actions, but no one chooses addiction. It slowly takes over you until one day you look at yourself in the mirror and think, "How did I get here?" There needs to be a clearer path forward; so when you’re ready to get help, it’s there.
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