Sunday, March 09, 2008

Recovery sparks drive to do more for others
Feb. 29, 2008

By the time Thea dragged herself into the health authority’s drug and alcohol centre on Quadra Street in November, she was drinking so heavily that death was looking like a terrifying possibility.
The 35-year-old was knocking back a bottle of vodka, two bottles of wine, a six-pack of coolers and a bottle of Baby Duck every day by that point. “And using heroin and crack on top of that,” Thea recalls. “If that’s not a cry for help, what is?”
What she needed was a detox bed. What she got was an appointment for two months down the road to see a drug counsellor, who would then decide whether to refer her to one of the region’s scarce detox placements.
“I told the guy I didn’t have two months - hell, I didn’t have two hours,” says Thea. “But it didn’t change anything. I remember crying on the phone to my friend, telling her, ‘They can’t help me.’”
That night, Thea called her sister in Chilliwack and begged to use her address in order to fake her way into a detox bed at the Chilliwack hospital for a week. Four days later, she got one.
She’s been mostly clean and sober for a shaky eight weeks now, and is back in Victoria living with a friend. And she’s got a pressing new cause: More treatment services for people with addictions.
“Yes, we’ve made a choice to do dope. But shouldn’t we have the choice to get help?” she asks. “We don’t have that choice, so we end up choosing to keep doing dope. Choosing to vandalize to be able to pay for it. Choosing to work the streets.”
Addicted for 10 years and “hard core” for the past two, Thea has paid for her habit through sex work and petty crime. Recently sentenced to do community hours at Our Place street drop-in, she discovered that the work was igniting a passion in her to help people with addictions get treatment.
“I love it there, but I’m seeing so many people wasting away. It’s sad to see - all these young guys, early 20s, and they already look like shit,” says Thea. “I can’t imagine what they’re going to look like at my age.
“One day I started asking everyone I saw in there whether they’d go to residential treatment if it was available. Only one person said no. The reality is that there’s nowhere to get help. Nowhere. I can’t emphasize that enough.”
The streets have become significantly meaner in the last couple of years, says Thea. She worked a corner on the Rock Bay stroll during much of her time on the streets, but says she wouldn’t do it anymore now that the drug dealers have moved in.
“They took out the pay phones down there because they didn’t want people calling their dealers. But the girls aren’t going to walk five blocks to find another pay phone, so the dealers are now coming to the girls,” she says.
“That means that crime’s going up down there and the cops are around all the time, which jeopardizes everything for the girls. You’ve got guys on bikes selling $5 rocks (of crack cocaine). The johns think the dealers are pimps, so they’re not happy, either. And now I’m hearing of guys from Vancouver coming over to try to run things.”
Like many people with addictions, Thea ended up disconnected from her family during her ride to the bottom. She’s working hard to turn things around, but notes that it took her father being in a serious motor-vehicle accident in Vancouver to bring her back in touch with her family, including her 14-year-old daughter.
“I don’t want to go back. I don’t want to lose contact with my daughter again,” says Thea. “I did my rock-bottom. I’m not totally cured, but I’m OK, and I want to make a difference.”
Her immediate plans are for a petition calling for residential treatment and more detox beds. She’s also getting involved with the Greater Victoria Commission on Homelessness, which has a working group of people with personal experience on the streets.
“I used to be so proud of Victoria. But when I think of it at night now, I don’t think of those 3,333 lights on the parliament building, I think of drugs and crime,” says Thea.
“It’s like a lifestyle is starting to happen out there. It reminds me of Hastings Street. We’ve really got to do something to help people get out of this.”

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