We are all somebody’s someone. He was my Mike.
I don’t have the perfect words today. So I was hesitant to share anything. I wanted to put it off for another day. However, maybe I’ll never have the perfect words. And who knows if I’ll have another day. (Don’t worry, according to my therapist it’s just an existential crisis.)
It’s International Overdose Awareness Day and I hate everything about it. I hate that since it was declared a public health emergency in 2016, over 7,760 people have died from drug toxicity in British Columbia, and over 21,000 across Canada. I hate that there is stigma around people who use drugs that prevents them from getting help. I hate that we need to be reminded to have compassion for other people. I hate the failed “war on drugs” and decades of policies that mean what should be a health issue is treated as a moral one and one of criminality. But perhaps most of all I hate how unaware I was until it was too late.
In case you’re unaware, the north American drug supply is poisoned with fentanyl (a synthetic opioid that is 80-100 times stronger than morphine).
I struggle with the term ‘overdose’ because it implies there was a dose to start with. It suggests that the substances were known.
How could it be an overdose when the substances were unknown and lethal?
How could it be an overdose when there was no correct “dose” to begin with?
Mike died from unintentional “acute fentanyl toxicity”. That’s what it says on the coroner’s report.
When I talk about how Mike died I usually say ‘fentanyl poisoning’ or ‘drug poisoning’. I don’t use the word ‘overdose’, however other people might and it is referred to that way in the media.
Despite hating all of this about Overdose Awareness Day I feel compelled to share.
I don’t know who needs to hear this, because I didn’t know I needed to hear it.
I want to speak in case it helps prevent a future me.
If I had known then what I know now maybe it would all be different.
But I didn’t.
One thing I wish I had known before was that if someone has substance use disorder, relapse is likely.
People love to tell me how common relapse is now, as if it’s helpful. (It isn’t).
I didn’t know.
Mike had been in treatment and recovery for a long time – including our whole relationship. He gave no indication that a relapse was possible and I feel he believed he was fully recovered.
And despite his best efforts, some of which I wasn’t aware of, he slipped up.
One slip and he paid the ultimate price due to the poisoned drug supply.
I miss him terribly. I’m never not missing him.
I love him dearly. I will always love him.
The world is a darker place without Mike. Without his humour, his intelligence, his rants about everything, his listening skills, his appreciation of the moment, his understanding, his compassion, his smile, his sweet beard, and his world class hugs. The world is a less bright place without his light shining in it.
I wish I could change the stigma against people who use drugs. If there was less stigma perhaps Mike would have been able to talk about how he was feeling. It’s another thing on the long list of what ifs, alongside all that I would have, could have, should have done that I torture myself with.
One thing we can all do is to question our assumptions about people who use drugs. Also, we can look at the stigmatizing language we use and shift to less stigmatizing words. It’s important to use person-first language, for example ‘person who uses drugs’ instead of ‘addict’. If you want to learn more this is a summary or a lengthier discussion can be found here. I am still learning this and I’m sure it will evolve.
It’s important to understand that people with substance use disorder aren’t using drugs to get high, but to escape pain.
While I will never know the extent of Mike’s pain, I know my own pain in losing him. I often feel misunderstood and like I can’t ever fully explain myself or my infinite pain. You will probably never understand another person’s pain: you don’t know what they’re up against. This is why compassion and kindness are vital.
Tonight, while I hold space for Mike in my heart as always, I also hold space for all the other lives lost to this preventable death, and the people they’ve life behind. And I’ll light a candle for all these lights lost.
I found this book Overdose by Benjamin Perrin very helpful in understanding the crisis.