Monday, December 17, 2007

Street memories fresh, and he's not going back
Dec. 14, 2007

His name is Brad, and we’ll leave it at that. He told me he doesn’t care about having his full name out there, but I don’t know whether his sisters and teenage children would feel the same way.
His is a rags-to-riches-to-rags story, one that Brad hopes he’s finally got a grip on. The 47-year-old has been clean and sober for nine months now, and off the streets after a harrowing year and a half at the bottom of the world.
“I know what it’s like to be there. I don’t want to go back,” says the former IKEA store manager. “But trying to get back to where I once was is the most difficult thing I’ve ever done.”
Brad was on the streets briefly as a teenager while making his way out of a tough childhood, but that didn’t last long. He was soon on his way to the life he’d always envisaged for himself - good job, wife and kids, friends coming by every Friday for a barbecue and a few drinks.
But that was then. Brad still marvels at how far from that ideal he ended up, and at how much effort it’s taking to try to get back.
People on the streets often talk of a series of unfortunate events - bad things happening in a bad sequence - as setting the stage for their fall. In Brad’s case, his marriage broke up, and the bitter dispute over custody and support that followed took a terrible toll financially and emotionally.
“I started to use drugs more, because I was falling apart. I’m not trying to use that as an excuse, but that’s what happened,” he says. “People talk about ‘losing everything’ on their way down - well, I didn’t lose it, I gave it away. I sold it. And finally, I made it to the streets.”
People with addictions often talk about having to hit “bottom.” For Brad, that point came in March.
By then, he was a skinny, desperately sick guy living homeless and hopeless in the downtown. He’d been calling the region’s only detox facility every day for two months, as is the requirement for anyone hoping to get access to one of the facility’s seven beds. “You’re on the list!” they’d cheerily tell him.
By early March he’d grown so sick that his alarmed doctor footed the bill for a cab to the hospital emergency department. A few hours later, the hospital refused him as well, and sent Brad stumbling away in slippers into a cold and rainy night long after the shelters had closed.
“That was it for me. The next day, I called my sister. I was just sobbing,” Brad recalled over coffee, at a downtown cafe that he notes would likely have barred him entry not too many months ago. “She called detox the next day, and I finally got a bed.”
Anyone who recovers from addiction has had to vanquish a mighty foe, not to mention survive a fragmented and inadequate system of care. The only thing that kept Brad from returning to the streets after his week in detox was his refusal to leave the place. They finally found him a bed for six weeks in a Nanaimo recovery house.
“That was the turning point,” he says.
He won’t soon forget anything about his time on the street. One morning, he woke up on the ground near Swan’s Hotel to find a rat on his chest.
“And the worst of it was that I didn’t even care,” he adds. “I should show you the video that Shaw Cable got of me from that time - 40 pounds lighter, missing teeth, beer in my hand, wearing this big coat with my crack pipe in one pocket and heroin in the other. I’m keeping that coat just to remind myself.
“It rips you apart out there. I lost my integrity. I even sold ecstasy to a 16-year-old. Hell, I wouldn’t have even given a kid that age a cigarette a year before.”
Brad is living with one of his sisters now, and grateful for the stability and support. But regular contact with his drug counsellor is equally important, because she’s there for him when his baffled and beleaguered family just can’t take it anymore.
The strongest of families can snap under the stress of trying to support someone through an addiction, and Brad is working hard to win back his family’s trust. But it’s not easy. The relapse that sent him to the streets came after a year of clean time, so “everybody’s looking at me sideways now.”
With his own life circumstances improving, Brad wants to play some part in helping others still out there.
“There’s a way to make it work. Whether it’ll cost $7 million or $7 billion, I don’t know, but I do know that we can make it happen,” he says.
“Everyone’s doing the best they can, sure, but the truth is they’re busting their hearts out to not succeed. We need to get with the program that’s going to work.”

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