Sudden Silence: Hidden Voices
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Sudden Silence: Hidden Voices is an adaptation of a photo voice project funded through a Vancouver Community Action Grant. The purpose of this project is to highlight the tragedy of the overdose crisis and introduce some of those who have been lost. Their loss is most keenly felt through their loved ones. Their grief cannot be described in words and is their constant companion. This project also focusses on the impact of the stigma for using drugs and of how safe supply might have made a difference.
Photo by Gabrielle Beer
Renée Anne Forever 20
Loving, Artistic, Generous
Renée was a loving, generous, kind person. She cared about all people and had many friends from all walks of life. Her smile and laughter could light up a room, and she was loved deeply by her family and friends.
Renée lived her life with great passion, determination, and courage. She was an honour student in high school and graduated from Kwantlen University in Public Safety (Emergency) Communications. She was also a licenced hairdresser and loved to make people feel beautiful.
Renée loved animals, especially dogs and horses, and was a talented rider. She was gifted as an artist, and from the time she could hold a pencil she was always drawing and painting. The artwork she left behind is a small comfort to her parents who miss Renée beyond measure.
When Renée entered the ninth grade she started smoking and drinking and eventually started using party drugs as well. Her parents hoped that this was just a normal teenage phase, but as her alcohol and drug use worsened, they became concerned.
They registered her in an after-school program for teens with problematic substance use but this was of little help. At age 19 Renée agreed to go to a private abstinence-based treatment facility where she lived for 5 months, but within half a year of leaving treatment, she relapsed.
Renée’s parents struggled to understand what was happening to her. They were not aware of any severe trauma in Renée’s early life, but they knew that she suffered terrible harms and traumatic events while using drugs and alcohol.
Renée strained to hide her addiction from the family, fearing judgement and rejection from loved ones. This stigma, this negative view of people who use drugs, permeates our families and our society, and causes great harm to those suffering from addiction.
Renée had a substance use problem that was not accepted or understood by those around her. Avoiding her family and friends to conceal her troubles, Renée became increasingly isolated and alone. She felt ashamed, she felt like a failure.
Renée was treated with contempt, disdain and even violence by people, including those working in health care and law enforcement. Because she used drugs, she did not receive the respect, help and protection that all people are entitled to.
Renée’s parents continually searched for a way to help her and were told by addiction professionals to let her “hit bottom”. In desperation they tried “tough love” for a short time which only caused greater harm and pain to Renée. With the current toxic drug supply, “hitting bottom” means death for a person who uses drugs.
Renée wanted to live, she wanted to get well. She wanted to get married and have a family. With tremendous courage she tried again and again to overcome her addiction, enduring the tortures of detox and withdrawal so many times. But no matter how hard she tried, the addiction stayed with her. In her journals she wrote about addiction as the “monster that wanted her dead and alone”.
Her family believes that if Renée had had access to a safe supply of drugs, she would not have died from fentanyl poisoning. If she could have found the help and support that she needed to cope with her addiction, she would still be with us today. Stigma and the toxic drug supply killed her. Hiding her relapse to avoid condemnation, she used alone and died alone.
This world has lost a beautiful person. Renée cared about others. She took care of her grandma, she was loving toward her family, she made food for her neighbours, she went to the hospital to give haircuts to patients, and she took blankets to the homeless. Renée loved and was loved deeply.
In the backyard of the family home is Renée’s Garden. It is a beautiful spot to sit and remember all that she was. Her parents Stuart and Lisa have broken hearts that will not heal. Like so many who have lost a loved one to toxic drugs, they advocate for change so that others will not have to experience the deep pain of losing a child.