As drug overdoses continue to grow across Canada, Six Nations held a powerful and informative event aimed at overdose awareness last week at Veteran’s Park, where community members who formerly struggled with addiction inspired guests with their stories of recovery.
Eve Kahama, integrated drug strategy coordinator with Six Nations Heath Services, said, “Today serves as a reminder of countless lives lost to overdoses and the devastating impact it has in our community. Today is an opportunity for us to reflect, to educate and to act and to shed light on the tragedy of overdoses and reinforcing that every life is worth saving.”
Rod Miller did a traditional opening before Six Nations members spoke about their healing journey and recovery from addiction.
Taylor, who grew up with parents who drank, said his childhood was complicated because of that.
Things happened during his childhood that he didn’t understand, he said.
“My parents would drop me off at my grandma’s for weeks on end. I didn’t know why. It was because they couldn’t take care of me.”
Alcohol was his gateway drug, at only 11 years old.
“Alcohol was the first substance I used. I never felt at peace with myself. I never felt complete. I never felt content. I was 11 when I had my first drink and it solved all of those problems instantly. I finally felt at peace with myself. I finally felt, just, myself. I remember thinking, ‘I want to feel like this for the rest of my life.’ Any chance I got, I would be drinking and eventually, that turned into drug use. I drank every day up until I left high school.”
He was also prescribed opiates by his doctor in high school.
Taylor said the opiate prescription launched his career into drug use.
“That took over from drinking alcohol.”
He was in high school at the time. He said he hated high school and couldn’t relate to what he was being taught.
“I learned different than other people. I got to a point where I could not manage myself. I could not take care of myself. I dropped out of high school. At this point, I had nothing to do, so addiction became my kind of full-time career. Opiates took over my addiction. Other drugs also came into the picture.”
Some time into his drug use, a close family member attempted suicide in his presence which was sort of a wake-up call to him, he said.
“I didn’t care about my own life at a certain time. It was very sad.”
Taylor said all the positive feelings he felt upon his first drink went away and he felt ten times worse.
“I was lying, I was cheating, I was stealing, I was hurting the ones I cared most about.”
He said his family member’s attempted suicide made him take a closer look at his life and realize there had to be a better way to live.
“It was almost a perfect storm of things that helped me get sober and into recovery.”
He went to a detox centre in Simcoe to start his healing journey.
He saw people smiling, having fun and connecting with each other.
“These are things I hadn’t experienced in years, like, pure connection and understanding with each other. “
After detox, it was tough deciding where to go, he said.
“I didn’t have anywhere to go and I couldn’t be on my own. If I was unsupervised, I knew I was going to use. I found the first treatment centre that would take me.”
The treatment centre was in Ottawa.
“It wasn’t a great place. You would walk out the treatment centre doors and find people actively using drugs.”
He stayed there for about eight months. After that, he was able to get into an addictive supportive housing program for a year.
“I was able to see my parents improve their lives as well,” Taylor said.
He also went back to school and achieved his high school equivalency diploma.
“I always thought I was dumb,” he said. Getting his diploma helped change that thought.
He eventually went to college and graduated a couple of months ago.
The crowd at Veteran’s Park cheered and clapped for him.
“I was actually on the dean’s honour roll, which I never thought possible,” said Taylor. “Prior to that, I couldn’t write a proper essay. I couldn’t write a proper sentence. I was achieving these things I only ever dreamt of. I have friends and family in my life. I have mentors. It’s very gratifying. It makes me feel at peace without having to pick up a drug.”
He said being in the recovery community is, “amazing. You get to meet so many new people; people you would never associate with otherwise. The hard part about it is, you lose those people. Some stick around. A lot don’t.”
He said he had a lot of friends who are no longer here due to overdoses.
“The first person I had a drink with is no longer here. They overdosed on opiates and that was preventable.”
Taylor himself was almost a victim of an overdose.
“I would not be up here if it wasn’t for Narcan.”
Narcan is an emergency opioid antagonist that can be administered by laypeople in the event of an overdose. Opioids are drugs that reduce pain sensations, like Oxycodone, morphine and heroin.
Narcan temporarily reverses the effects of an opioid overdose in the short term until medical help arrives.
Taylor now helps other people struggling with addiction.
“Those people – I was them. I am them.”
The night was capped off with a candlelight vigil for those lost to addiction.