Why Addicts Do Not Choose Overdose

In the US, 43 982 people die of a drug overdose each year, averaging to about 120 deaths per day.

And with movements such as Bell Let’s Talk Day gaining traction, trying to reduce the stigma that people struggling with mental health related issues face, you’d think that we’d be talking a bit more about addiction, and the stigma that surrounds that. I mean, if the above statistic proves anything, it’s that this is not a small issue in our society. And the two issues are not inherently connected, no – dealing with a mental illness does not mean that you will also deal with addiction. But there is plenty of research that suggests that addiction is often rooted from a deep-felt and terrible emotional pain.

As addiction expert Gabor Maté says, “all the addictions are meant to soothe the pain”.

This might be a pain stemming from neglect or abuse – one of those life events that we as a society have all mutually agreed is terrible and meriting certain sympathies and allowances. It might be a pain that we all deal with, in one way or another, like low self-esteem, or just your average, everyday existential crisis. It doesn’t matter where the pain comes from; all that matters is that it is pain, and the addiction serves to alleviate that pain a little bit.

Now, why am I talking about this? I am not personally addicted to drugs. I have never been addicted to drugs. In fact, at this point in my life, I am actively trying to avoid most sources of addiction, because I know that I am precisely the sort of person who would get addicted: a highly sensitive empath with tendencies toward depression, anxiety and self-harming behaviour. I see myself too much in the addict to risk it.

But I, like most everyone reading this right now, know people who have dealt with drug and alcohol addictions (it’s too prevalent an issue in our society for this to not be the case).

And recently, I found myself watching a video by Juggling The Jenkins Blog, wherein blogger and former addict Tiffany Jenkins reacted to such comments (directed toward another individual) as, “if you overdose, you know, cause you’re a drug addict… I’m not saving you” and “stick a needle of f*cking poison in your arm… and die a pathetic death on the shitty floor of a shitty public bathroom… Nice choice buddy”.

I like to think that beliefs such as these, that addicts deserve to die because they “made the choices” that led to their overdose, are in the minority. And maybe they are. But nonetheless, it is a belief that I have heard many try to defend. It is even a belief that has bled into our medical system. In 2017, Sheriff Richard K. Jones of Butler County, Ohio declared that his deputies will no longer will be supplied with a product needed to save the lives of anyone experiencing an overdose. In another part of the same state, it has been proposed that emergency responders not be dispatched to help anyone experiencing their third overdose.

“I’m not the one that decides if people live or die. They decide that when they stick that needle in their arm,” Jones has been quoted as saying.

I honestly cannot believe that I am sitting here, trying to argue that lives are worth saving.

Because I could begin, quite simply, by pointing out that addicts are people. They exist. They think, they feel, they pick up on the messages that society gives them and they know when they are not being valued as human lives. They have families – maybe a mother, a father, a significant other, a child, anything. And as much as I hate the argument that people only have value in connection to their relationship with other people – if it was your loved one dying of a drug overdose, wouldn’t you want everything possible to be done for them to save their lives?

Even if we can’t picture ourselves as the addict, we can at least imagine the addict as a person with worth, can’t we?

This idea that addicts choose to die the moment that they take the drug in question comes from such a place of superiority. It is entirely wrapped up in this misconception that we as society have that non-addicts are somehow better than addicts, that addicts are stupid because they said yes to a drug that the rest of us either said no to, or we just weren’t put in a position where we had to find out what our answer would be. It is associated with this idea that addiction is caused by stupidity – except I have already discussed this. Addiction isn’t caused by stupidity. It is caused by pain.

And, truly, think about it: how are any of us any better than an addict? Seriously, answer that question without any generalizations that addicts are ‘stupid’, any classist assumptions of the addict as dirty or impoverished.

And I’m not trying to diminish the fact that addiction is a terrible thing. Addiction can and has led many to hurt other people, to hurt themselves, to lie, cheat, and steal to serve the addiction. I am aware of that. But what we are talking about right now is whether or not an addict deserves to die, whether or not they chose to overdose. And I fear that, when we answer this question, we remove ourselves from the equation. This becomes an issue of us, and them, and we are very separate, worlds apart, from them.

And, end of day, haven’t we all done things that we knew were harmful to us to serve an addiction? Perhaps not an addiction to drugs, but addiction can come in many shapes, ways, and forms.

Can you imagine a world where a doctor refuses treatment to someone suffering from heart failure because “they chose to eat all those burgers”? Or where a smoker is denied the lung transplant that will save their life because “they chose to smoke all those cigarettes”?

And perhaps this is where the issues gets a little bit personal for me; do you remember my mentioning that I have tendencies toward depression, anxiety, and self-harming behaviour? While I have not dealt with drug or alcohol problems myself, I have dealt with eating disorders and self-harm, and I would hope that, had I ever been hospitalized or had my life threatened by either issue, someone would be there to help me. They wouldn’t just stand back and say, “well, she did choose to do that to herself.”

Yes. Yes, I withheld food from my system. Yes, I cut into my own skin. Yes, an addict took that drug, knowing full well that it is a drug. But in every case here, the choice was not made out of a direct desire to die. It was to temporarily alleviate an outside pain that needs to be dealt with so that the person in question can lead a healthier, happier life.

The only difference between these scenarios is that, in this post-Bell Let’s Talk Day society, I feel more confident in someone else recognizing that don’t want to die, then I do for anyone who is addicted to drugs.

And this shouldn’t be the case. We should live in a society where we know and accept that everyone has worth, that everyone has the right to live and be safe and supported by their government and their society. We have already let people who are in pain slip through the cracks as it is.

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Here’s to Strong Women

When I was thirteen years old, I started to get into comic books. At the time, I was particularly partial to superhero comics. And as a young girl, I heard all the jokes about how, of course I was so absorbed in a genre that followed traditionally handsome, muscular men dressed in skin-tight clothing. It didn’t seem to matter much if I said that that wasn’t what drew me to the genre; everyone was simply convinced that that must be what it was.

I had a hard time convincing people that, when I opened a Batman comic, I didn’t do it for the sad, rich boy with abs; I was there for the tragic cat burglar who wanted love, but never at the expense of her freedom or independence. I wanted to read about the clown girl who fell head-over-heels for the wrong man, and then learned to recognize the abuse, and, with the help of her best friend (another woman who had faced mistreatment from an entitled and careless man) she got herself out of that situation.

I am, of course, talking about Catwoman, Harley Quinn, and Poison Ivy, respectively. Three fictional characters who are not only strong, capable, and fiercely independent – they are, quite simply, unapologetically female.

When I was thirteen years old, these were the sorts of fictional characters that I was attracted to, in all forms of media: power fantasies. More specifically, feminine power fantasies. I loved Buffy the Vampire Slayer, because she was allowed to (un-ironically) love shopping and make-up and gossiping, while still being able to kick some demon ass and stand up for herself. I loved Wonder Woman, because she was fierce and strong, but nurturing and loving all at once. I loved Xena, because she could be both warrior and princess without question.

When I was sixteen years old, my attention began to turn a little bit more toward celebrities, because I suppose that’s what you do when you’re a teenager (or, it was what me and my friends did, at least). The celebrities that I sought out were much the same.

I loved rocker chicks, like P!nk and Joan Jett, women who weren’t afraid to challenge what was expected of women. I loved celebrities like Lady Gaga, who insisted on expressing themselves in the way that they saw fit. I loved Emma Watson, and any woman who was willing to brand themselves a feminist or stand up for women’s issues.

I loved female celebrities who will go unnamed here, simply because there is not time and space to mention all of them.

When I was eighteen years old, I became more aware of the women in my own life, in my family (as you tend to do when you’re facing the possibility of moving out and moving on).

I heard stories about my maternal grandmother, and how much of a firecracker she had always been. I heard about this five-foot-tall woman, growing up with nothing to call her own and having to build her own life from scratch. I heard about the time that her own brother made fun of her until she could stand it no longer, and she stabbed him in the hand with a fork.

I remembered growing up with my mother, who was covered almost head-to-toe in tattoos and dyed her hair a new colour every week. I remember her pictures being published in tattoo magazines, her name being made as a small-time tattoo model, even when she had two fully grown daughters. I remember her telling me that the people who thought she shouldn’t be who she was at her age didn’t matter. I remember her telling me how important it was to be true to yourself, and to be proud of who you are, no matter what that means.

I remember growing up with my sister, who has never once considered not speaking her mind. No matter what, even if what she says is considered rude or incorrect, she will say it. If others tell her that she should be humble, then she will climb to the highest rooftop just to scream out how much of a gift she is to the world. If someone tries to hurt or slight her, then she will do precisely what she needs to do to protect herself, because that is precisely the sort of strong, independent woman she is.

Now, I am twenty-two years old, and I am more aware now than ever that strong women are a gift upon this world.

As women, we are too often told to be something very particular; we are told to be soft, humble, passive, sweet, whatever – my point is, whenever a woman does not subscribe to this limited definition of what a woman can be, the effect can be truly inspiring.

Because the fact of the matter is, women don’t have to be one thing. Women shouldn’t be one thing; there are millions and millions of us, and we are all different. We all look different, act different, think different, love different, and we should reflect all that in how we live our lives.

A woman who does not perfectly reflect society’s definition of beauty, and yet still loves herself and owns what she has, is a rare and beautiful thing – specifically because society tells women that they shouldn’t do that.

A woman who unapologetically owns her quote-unquote ‘unfeminine’ traits, like ambition or assertiveness, is, again, a rare and beautiful thing.

A woman who is, quite simply, herself, regardless of what that might mean, is a rare and beautiful thing.

And the reason why am I writing this, more important than simply reminding the world that strong women are a gift, is because we need to remind the strong women in our lives that they are strong, that they are amazing, that they inspire us. We need to support our fellow women, to encourage them to continue being themselves. Because we exist in a society that sometimes seems intent on tearing them down, but if we can remind them that what they do is important, then maybe they can find the strength to continue.

As women, we need to build one another up. We need to be there for one another, to make one another better, instead of constantly trying to prove that we are better than them. On top of telling women what they should be, society has also tried to trap us in a constant cycle of competition with one another: we must be the pretty-est, the most loved, the best mother, but the truth is, we don’t need any to accept any of this. We have the option of supporting our fellow women, of helping them to become stronger. Because we all deserve to be and feel strong.

Why We Should Not Blame Gun Violence on Mental Illness

On November 5, 2017, Devin Kelley walked into a Texas church and killed twenty-six people with a gun.

In the wake of this undeniable tragedy, many have been arguing about the best way to prevent it from happening again in the future. I mean, as many of us are probably aware, this is not the first time that there has been a shooting in the United States. In fact, according to the Gun Violence Archive, between January 1, 2017 to November 5, 2017 alone, there have been 307 mass shootings, averaging 7 mass shootings a week.

So, yeah, I think we all agree that this is a serious problem that needs to be stopped. But that begs the question: how do we do it?

Well, the answer for many people has been in creating stricter gun laws, something that has in fact worked for other countries (Americans are 10 times more likely to be killed by guns than people in other developed countries). And, personally (just to get any potential bias out of the way now), I agree with this approach. But guns are not the only thing receiving the blame following a shooting.

Following the Texas shooting, comedian Chelsea Handler tweeted: “Mental health issues without guns are people with mental health issues. With guns, they become murderers“.

Now, I’m sure that when Handler tweeted this, she did not mean to imply that, if you give any random person with mental illness a gun, they will immediately start shooting. I’m sure that she did not mean that any person with depression or generalized anxiety disorder or schizophrenia is just one gun away from murder. That would be an insane generalization to make. But, at the same time, it is very common for people to blame mental illness when mass shootings like these occur.

In fact, following the Texas shooting, Donald Trump did not even mention the issue of gun control, rather calling this a “mental health problem“. More than that, 63 percent of Americans believe that shootings have more to do with mental health problems than they do with gun control.

And, I mean, sure; why wouldn’t that be considered? It has been a common theme throughout many of these shootings. Devin Kelley, the Texas shooter, escaped from a mental health facility in 2012 and had a violent history. James Holmes, who killed 12 people and injured 70 more at a shooting in Aurora, was diagnosed with a schizophrenic disorder. Stephen Paddock, responsible for the 2017 Las Vegas shooting, was on anti-anxiety medication and said to be susceptible to bouts of depression. This does seem to be a theme that comes up, again and again, so why wouldn’t it be at least mentioned?

Well, one thing that I think should be stressed is that, of the three examples that I gave above, only one of those men was actually diagnosed with a mental illness. Stephen Paddock was never diagnosed with anything, and Devin Kelley, while having escaped from a mental health facility, was there due to his accusations of spousal abuse and violence. He was never actually diagnosed either. In fact, only 14.8 percent of shooters in the United States are diagnosed as psychotic.

And of people in the general population who are diagnosed with mental illness, rates of violence are surprisingly low. In fact, it is estimated that people with mental illness contribute to only three to five percent of all violent crimes in the United States. And of these three to five percent of violent acts, most of these do not involve guns.

In fact, a mentally ill person in America is more likely to be the victim of their own gun-related violence. In 2013, guns killed 33, 636 people, and nearly two-thirds of these were suicides.

The problem that needs to be addressed here is not mental illness. There are hundreds, thousands, of mentally ill people who go their whole lives without once wanting to kill anyone with a gun. I happen to be one of them. Saying that shootings are a problem of mental health contributes to this society that sees every person with dissociative identity disorder as Norman Bates, and every psychopath as Hannibal Lecter. It inspires fear against the mentally ill, fear that has contributed to the fact that those with mental illness are actually ten times more likely to be the victim of a violent crime than the general population. It also creates an environment that makes it that much harder for people with mental illness to actually seek help, because they know that if they do, then others would constantly fear what they are capable of. They do not want to be perceived as dangerous, and so they suffer in silence for society’s sake.

As Jeffrey Swanson, professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University School of Medicine, said, “Imagine if [Trump] had said, ‘veteran’ – that this was a ‘veterans’ issue. He’d besmirch the whole community. Well, that’s what he’s doing with mental illness.”

We need to stop blaming violence on mentally ill people, because the fact is that we are not solely responsible for it. We need to stop stigmatizing individuals who need help, who should be made to feel safe and supported so that they can reach out. Nobody should have to deal with a mental illness alone, but that is exactly what this sort of conversation is causing.

And if you are someone who is dealing with a mental illness right now, I sincerely hope that you find love and support from your community. I hope that you find or have someone who you can talk to, who won’t judge you or look down on you, because you do not deserve any of that. You are a beautiful, wonderful, valid individual, and I sincerely hope you know that, even in the wake of all this mess.

To The Men Wondering “What Can I Do?” #MeToo

Let’s create a scenario here: you’ve been hanging out with friends. It’s about two in the morning, and it’s time for you to go home. You didn’t plan on driving home, and there’s a short walk between the place that you’ve been staying and the bus stop. It’s late, dark, and none of your friends are planning on accompanying you to the bus stop because it’s only about five minutes away and no one else is heading in that direction.

So, you head out. As you’re walking, you become aware of how empty the streets are, so late at night. At some point, however, you become aware of movement behind you. You look behind, and there’s a man following you. No, not following you; walking behind you. He’s just another human being, on his way home like you are. You continue walking, but the knowledge of that figure behind you has not left the back of your mind.

You turn a corner, and just out of curiosity, you glance over your shoulder. The man turns the same corner, still walking behind you.

Your mind flees off to the stories you have heard before, of the girl who got off of work late at night, pulled into an alleyway and beaten. Of the man who was stabbed on his way home from the bar, and had to drag himself, bloodied and weak, to get help.

You become aware again of the fact that, if this man were to do something to you, help would be a long way away right now.

But, of course, something like that won’t happen to you. He’s just walking behind you. There’s no proof that he wants to hurt you.

Still, just to be safe, you reach into your jacket pocket and slip your house key between your middle and pointer finger. Just to be safe.

The man is getting closer. Your chest tightens. But nothing is going to happen. You’re going to be fine.

He’s getting closer.

He’s beside you now. Your breath catches, but he keeps on walking, going on with his business. You release your breath and, in your pocket, your house key.

Now, this man could be literally anybody. Maybe he was just walking home. Maybe he has a wife, a daughter, an elderly parent who he’s caring for. He could be a student, an off-duty cop, an activist who campaigns for the rights of the homeless. So, if that’s the case, were you wrong to be afraid of him in this scenario? Were you judgemental? Cruel? Should you have acted differently?

This is a question that I’ve seen asked from time to time, particularly in discussions around street harassment and feminism. I mean, I didn’t give a gender to the ‘you’ in the scenario, but many women, in the wake of the recent “Me Too” campaign, have come forward admitting that they do not feel safe in the streets. Heck, the scenario that I have just described has happened to me on multiple occasions, partly because of stories that I have heard, regarding horrors that have have happened to other women, and partly because I have had men yell at me in the streets, harass me, or make unwelcome comments, and the possibility that all it takes is one man to take it too far remains at the back of my mind every time I walk alone at night.

But in response to these women coming forward, there have been some men (or, at least, I’ve mostly heard men making these comments), who ask, “well, what are we supposed to do about it? Can’t you understand how bad it makes me feel, to see women afraid of me when I’m not going to hurt them?”

Every time I have heard these comments made, the intention behind them seems to be less, “what can we do to make you women feel safer in the streets?” and more, “don’t you realize that not all men attack women? You shouldn’t be so afraid of us; we’re not all going to attack you”. And, on the one hand, yes, not all men attack women in the streets. That is a fact. No one is saying otherwise. There are men who are genuinely good men, who actually do wish that women could feel safe in their presence and on the streets.

But there are also men who do attack and harass women in the streets.

According to a survey from 2014, 65 percent of women in the United States report being harassed in the street. Twenty-three percent report being sexually touched, twenty percent report being followed and nine percent report being forced to do something sexual. This is compared to twenty-five percent of men who report being harassed in the street, the majority of which are LGBT men facing homophobic or transphobic slurs. The organization that conducted this survey, however – known as Stop Street Harassment – admits that street harassment is an under-researched topic, so exact statistics are difficult to discern for certain.

And all that I know from my own empirical evidence is that I have been cat-called, insulted, followed, and screamed at by multiple men, simply because I happened to be in public at the same time as they were.

But then, this poses another question: although the majority of women are harassed in the street, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the majority of men are harassing. I mean, we don’t even know the statistics of how many men engage in this behaviour, and who would admit to it for the purpose of a survey anyway? Perhaps the majority of men in the street are perfectly innocent, and if that’s the case, is it fair to punish the innocent because we’re so afraid of the guilty?

Well, in my personal opinion, in this scenario, we have to think about what, exactly, is meant by ‘punish’. How are the innocent punished by women who fear being harassed? In the majority of cases, they are punished by women refusing to speak to them, looking away, reacting rather generally with fear.

And why do women react this way? Because, when you’re on the street and interacting with strangers, it’s difficult to tell for sure who is going to harass you and who isn’t. Maybe the man walking behind you is perfectly innocent. Maybe he isn’t. End of day, you don’t want to take the risk, because if you do engage with him, then you run the risk of him thinking that you’re ‘inviting’ his inappropriate behaviour, or fixating on you more than he might have otherwise.

And, I mean, yes, it is a shame that women cannot be open and friendly with every single man on the street, but statistics and empirical evidence give a very convincing reason for why we shouldn’t. And men should not be angry at women for reacting this way; they should be angry at the society that forces them to react.

So let’s go back to the original question: “well, what are we supposed to do about it?”

If we want women to feel safer in the streets, then there are actually things that we can do, believe it or not.

We can not react with anger or offence when a woman does something to protect herself, even if she is doing it completely without immediate reason.

We can respect boundaries, not touch people who have not given us reason or invitation to touch them, and treat them like our equals.

And if we are already doing all of this, then we can keep an eye out for the people who aren’t. When our friends decide to make loud and unwelcome comments about a woman’s body, we can tell them to stop. When we see a man groping a girl in the subway (and she isn’t making any indication that she knows the guy, or she obviously isn’t into it), we can ask her if she needs help. We can walk with women who look like they are being followed, we can offer ourselves as company to make them feel just a little bit safer. The majority of the time, women who are feeling vulnerable and threatened will be grateful for your help. Even something as seemingly insignificant as watching out for a girl who is being yelled at, or walking up to her and striking up small talk can make a world of difference.

The problem is not women’s reactions to harassment. The problem is the harassment itself, and in an ideal world, when women stop having reason to be afraid on the street, they will stop being afraid. So this is what we need to focus on.

The Only Choice We Have is Perseverance

I was once told, from someone I trust, that if you want to succeed at something, you need a combination of two of three things: luck, talent, and perseverance. I heard this and I went, great. I need only two of these things, and I can guarantee that I have at least one. I mean, talent is something that I strive for, luck is an elusive bitch that I try to catch, but perseverance is something that I can control. It is within my power to decide whether or not I give up or not.

Turns out, perseverance is almost as much of a bitch as luck is.

Perseverance is easy to aspire to in the beginning, when the only obstacle in your road is actually starting what you’re going to do. It’s simple enough to say, “yes, I want this, so I’m going to do this, no matter what it takes”.

And then you actually begin, and the world crashes down around you.

You begin, and the beginning is such hard work that it leaves you exhausted. So exhausted that it’s difficult to do anything more than merely begin, even though there’s so much else to be done, so much that needs to be covered in such a short amount of time. You take caffeine pills and coffee and tea and tell yourself that you’re not tired, all the while snapping back at anyone who dares to speak to you and crying over the tiniest thing, but you’re not tired. You’re too busy to be tired.

And in those late hours, when there’s still things to be done and you haven’t gotten to them all yet, when you can think of nothing you’d rather be doing than lying in bed and staring at the ceiling because at least that would be a fucking break, the thought crosses your mind that maybe you shouldn’t do them. Maybe it would be alright if you just quit.

And when the rejections keep piling up. E-mail after e-mail, letter after letter, so many that you stop expecting anything but. You used to get excited to receive a response, but now it’s all just the same. You know what you’ll find. You’ll open it up, and you’ll read the automated message that they send to everybody, because you didn’t even leave enough of an impression on them that they cared to dignify you with anything original. And sooner or later, you inevitably began to wonder why you even bother. You just keep getting the same response, over and over and over and mother. Fucking. Over. Again. What’s going to change if you stop, really?

We tell ourselves that failure isn’t an option, and really, it isn’t. It’s inevitable. We may not choose it, and we may not want it, but it happens anyway. That’s just the way of things.

And that’s where perseverance comes in. Because perseverance is a difficult choice to make, and sometimes, especially when we’re tired and beaten down, giving up really does look like the best option.

But what would we do if we did give up? What would be left of us? Of our lives? Would it be worth it?

These are questions that we need to ask ourselves in these moments. Because, yes, perseverance is a bitch, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t worthwhile. It doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be chosen in favour of the things that matter to us. Because if it matters, if it truly, honestly matters, then we need to find it within ourselves to keep fighting for it.

Because, believe it or not, perseverance does offer a difference from giving up, even in the moments where all perseverance buys you is failure: it is the difference of possibility. If you give up, then you lose all possibility. What you want to happen most certainly will not happen. If you can live with that, then great, whatever, I hope you find happiness in something new. If you can’t live with that, then the only option you have left is to persevere, because at least with that, you still have hope. You still have that chance that something might change. That among countless exhausted, run-down days, you might have one where you’re bright and full of inspiration. That within that endless pile of automated rejections, you’ll eventually receive that one acceptance that will change your entire life.

These are the thoughts that keep us from giving up. These are the thoughts that we live for, when there is noting else to keep us going.

And, no, it’s not fair. It’s not easy. It’s not how the world should be, but it’s how the world is. And at the end of the day, you do have control over perseverance. And if you keep trying, keep trying, keep trying, sooner or later, either someone is bound to notice your talent, or you’ll simply get lucky. I wish that I could give you something more than that, some guarantee that you’ll be okay, that today’s pain can easily be swallowed away in favour of tomorrow’s hope, but I can’t. All that I can ask is whether or not it’s worth it. Can we accept the exhaustion, the disappointment, the rejections, and the labour, all for the possibility that it might work out in the end? Are our dreams worth all that for us? Because if they are, then the only choice we have is to persevere.