Odette has been a daily drug user for over 16 years. What started as a recreational activity to help her overcome severe shyness has rapidly become the centre of her world in a way she could never have imagined. “It’s not a life, its not living. It’s existing at best. It’s lonely and empty. It has been years since I’ve been interested in anything other than this lifestyle. Being an addict consumes your life. Either you spend your time looking for drugs, finding ways to get money for them or doing them. I’m stuck and it has destroyed my confidence and self-worth.”
Growing up in Kitchener, Odette had a tough childhood. Frequently bullied and with very few friends she was shy and introverted and typically sought refuge in reading and crafts. Living next door to her grandparents provided some comfort and like many people, she too has fond memories of family vacations and trips to Buffalo and Florida.
Odette never intended to become an addict. In her twenties she began taking the occasional pill when she went out with friends as a way to help her come out of her shell. One fateful night at a party she decided to try what she thought was cocaine. It turned out to be meth and the addiction was immediate. “It was an instant rush. I felt really good. I was social. I wasn’t shy and I had so much energy. It was something I never wanted to try because I had heard about how addictive it was. I ended up doing it by accident and it ruined my life.”
Odette was already using drugs when her mother passed away after a brief battle with cancer. Her mom’s death was a further push into the downward spiral of addiction for Odette as she reflects back on that time “My mom was diagnosed and died within three months so it was really quick. She wanted to die at home so we were taking care of her and she ended up dying on my watch as I was feeding her.” The guilt was too much for Odette causing her to further spiral into her addiction.
Meth was Odette’s main drug of choice and she found herself using it daily until five years ago when she decided to try opiates. “I was looking for something to make my head be quiet. When my mom passed away I kind of blamed myself and I was looking for a complete escape — it was no longer recreational.”
In the early days of her addiction, Odette was holding down a job in the insurance industry. Over time as her addiction grew, her ability to hide it from her employer became impossible and she eventually lost her job. “I was late every day and I just couldn’t do it. I was dealing with all of that on top of trying to hide my addiction from everyone.” Not long after losing her job, her addiction was revealed to her family. This caused major friction in their relationship with her dad and lead to Odette being kicked out of the house. Now with a full blown addiction and no job, Odette found herself living on the streets and trying to survive.
Eventually Odette started to make connections through outreach and harm reduction programs. She met a Public Health Nurse named Kathy who made her feel like a person again and broke down some of the stigmas that she had faced — especially when dealing with health care. Over time she developed a trust and relationship with the Kathy that led her to seek out treatment options. Today Odette is awaiting placement in a treatment program and although this isn’t her first time seeking treatment, she’s optimistic that this time that she has the right supports in place to be successful. “It’s a sickness that I can’t control — it controls me. I can work hard to change this but it takes time. I can’t just change overnight. It takes patience.”
Odette is grateful for the non-judgmental support she’s been getting through her interactions with Kathy and other outreach workers she’s encountered. The simple act of being treated like a human being is a foundational piece of harm reduction strategy and has gone a long way to giving Odette the confidence she needed to seek out a better life for herself. “I didn’t understand how powerful addiction was until all of this happened to me. I wish there wasn’t such a negative stigma about it because maybe I would’ve asked for help sooner — I was so afraid people would judge me.”
For more information about help for addiction, overdose awareness and harm reduction initiatives in Waterloo Region visit the Waterloo Region Integrated Drug Strategy.