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
Goofy, Caring, Warm
Susan was a very loving and warm person with a great sense of humour. She was an introvert and very sensitive. Susan was the oldest of three children and her childhood years were difficult. Her father had a significant problem with alcohol and this created difficulties at home.
As a result of her father’s alcoholism (now in recovery for over 30 years), Susan’s parents separated when Susan was a young teenager. Susan tried to cope with all the tumult of alcoholism by withdrawing deeper into herself and into depression. Susan dealt with great emotional pain that overwhelmed her.
As an introvert, Susan was uncomfortable and anxious in social situations. She did not like school and did not get a sense of belonging there. By the age of 13, Susan was associating with a peer group who used alcohol and marijuana. She gravitated towards those teens where she felt most socially accepted. In this group, she met her long-time partner and father of her children. Susan discovered that drugs helped her feel more at ease and reduced her feelings of anxiety.
Susan went through a period of relative calm after high school and until she was about 32 years old. She had her first child and a functioning life with her partner. Although never entirely free of drugs and alcohol, she had a job and a home. However, her relationship with her partner began to falter and that put strain on the family. Susan and her partner escalated their drug use over time to include cocaine and ecstasy and their lifestyle eventually became toxic for all involved. It ended abruptly with Susan’s family removing her and the children, aged 10 and 1, to a new city. Despite this fresh start, Susan started to use drugs, including heroin, in her new environment. She became very addicted.
Over the years and with the full support of her family, Susan tried treatment many times. Each time she went to treatment, her family took care of her children. None of the programs seemed to make any lasting difference and after all of them, Susan relapsed. Susan’s addiction to heroin, highlights the terrible power of addiction. Those who are addicted continue to use drugs despite repeatedly experiencing very negative consequences. Even though Susan loved her children very much, heroin continued to have a powerful grip and time after time Susan would use again.
Susan’s family continued to be supportive of her but they were also concerned about her children. The Ministry of Children and Families supported the idea that kids belong with their parents. So often Susan’s kids were returned to her even when the Ministry knew that Susan was still using drugs. This was a constant source of stress and concern for Susan’s family. Susan’s family was continually anxious about Susan and her children. Eventually her drug use would get to the point where it impacted her ability to care for her kids and Susan’s family received a court order to remove the kids to the custody of their grandparents.
Susan intensely felt the impact of the stigma of using drugs. Ultimately, stigma prevented her from asking for help. She felt so much shame and guilt over using and of the impact using had on her kids. Susan knew that at times she was just not able to be present for her children due to her addiction. She felt ashamed of her continued drug use and for not being the parent she wanted to be. Susan often felt that people looked at her with such disdain and so she tried to hide her drug use. Susan’s sister believes that if Susan had felt less shame, she may have asked for help instead of trying to conceal the difficulties of her life.
Susan’s sister is blunt when it comes to how a safer supply might have impacted Susan. “She might not be dead. She might have gotten help. For Susan, addiction was such a silent killer. She had a place to live; she was not homeless. She overdosed at home. If she could have had access to a safe and regulated supply, she may have come ‘into the light’ and maybe felt less shame so she could have asked for help.”
Susan’s family believes we are all missing out on Susan’s laughter, and a warm, funny, loving person who was always giggling and such a loving and warm mom. Susan’s sister wants people to know that “the stigma of addiction impacts the person with addiction and everyone in their life. The stigma doesn’t end when the person in addiction dies. It continues to impact Susan’s children, grandchild, my parents, and myself, all of whom struggle to accept and understand what happened to Susan. The Sudden Silence project helps to push back against the stigma, and gives us the chance to tell the world that we are proud of our people who have passed for doing the best they could with the cards they were dealt and that they were so loved.