Jim’s life changed the moment he picked up the needle.
This was 16 years ago. But today, at 41, Jim’s mind still boggles at how different he is now from then.
Then, he had strength, health, good looks and more money than he knew what to do with.
Now he is a cripple who struggles every day with the urge to shoot up or snort cocaine.
“I can’t tell you if I’m going to relapse today or tomorrow. I don’t have a clue,” he said on Monday.
Jim spoke during a National Addictions Week event, organized by Many Rivers Counselling and Support Services, on the condition his last name not be printed.
He started working at age 16. He’d go into the bush to work as a linecutter for mineral exploration companies.
Some days he would hike many kilometres. Today he has trouble climbing a set of stairs.
Jim is not only crippled by addiction. He is HIV positive. He also has hepatitis C.
Disease has stripped away much of his muscle. His legs are prone to buckle.
He never imagined he would end up like this.
By the time Jim reached his early 20s, he knew he liked money. He wanted more. He got it by selling cocaine.
“I was a regular dealer, preying on people,” he said.
Bigger dealers enjoyed working with him because he didn’t use drugs. He was clean — until, one day, he was offered a syringe of cocaine.
He took it.
Life went into a tailspin shortly afterwards. He lost his job. He lost his ability to work. He lost his friends.
He would do anything to obtain drugs. He would steal anything he could.
“I would’ve sold your things if I could’ve. I would’ve even sold the pen in your hand,” he told a reporter.
Jim would even take his clothes, wash and neatly fold them, then pack them in a plastic bag, to make them look new. He’d tell people he stole them. He’d sell them for drugs.
“I had nothing left in me,” he said.
For seven years he stayed clean. But he slipped up last February.
He started using drugs again. To pay for the drugs, he stole from his girlfriend, Jolene.
She kicked him out. He spent the next two months on the street.
At the time, Jim blamed his relapse on Jolene. She drank.
Today they’re both sober and clean. In hindsight, they realize one couldn’t stay clean if the other was using. Rehab, for them, took two.
What is it like to live with an addict?
“You’ve got to lock your door. You’ve got to lock your car. You have to tie down everything,” said Jolene.
“That’s sad, to have no trust with the man you love. He’d do anything with his addiction.”
She isn’t exaggerating. Ask Jim.
“You’ll lie to everybody. You’ll be conniving. You’ll even pretend to be straight,” he said.
How did Jolene know it was safe to let Jim live with her again?
She didn’t. But she loves him, and she couldn’t stand seeing him living on the street.
“He’s like a lost puppy,” she said.
Staying clean is a day-to-day fight for Jim. He’s lasted seven months so far.
He doesn’t go to counselling. Both he and Jolene have hard things to say about the level of drug-rehab services offered by the Yukon government.
The 28-day rehab program may work for some people. It didn’t for them.
“You talk about your last high and you can’t wait to get out again on the street and do more drugs,” said Jolene.
Instead, Jim said he relies on his “higher power” to stay clean. And he depends on help from family and Jolene.
Yukon needs a year-long supervised living program for cocaine addicts, said Jim. It takes a lot longer than 28 days for cocaine addicts to learn to control their addiction, he said.
Yukon’s rehab services are inadequate, confirmed Patricia Bacon, executive director of Blood Ties Four Directions Centre.
Her group offers support to residents with HIV and hepatitis C.
There needs to be different types of rehab programming, she said. For example, land-based healing programs have been shown to work well with First Nation addicts.
And there needs to be support for addicts once rehab programs end. Little aftercare is currently offered.
But drug addiction is never simple. All the rehab treatment in the world won’t help some addicts until they take responsibility for their own lives, said Jim.
He plans to keep coping the only way he can: one day at a time.
When he goes into Whitehorse he sometimes sees addicts he knows. But he no longer sees the man who gave him his first needle. He died two months ago from an overdose.
Jim is a shadow of his old self. He cannot work. But he’s managed to find a gift in all this.
“I’m like a little baby. I see things with new eyes.”
And he’s discovered new talents. It turns out he has a knack for repairing old vehicles.
He’s fixed up a snowmobile. Now he’s rebuilding an old Harley Davidson.
Jim’s always wanted a Harley. When he talks about his bike he sounds like an excited little boy.
He regrets all he’s lost. But he hasn’t given up. Even at 41, it’s still not too late for a new start, he said.
“It’s like a total rebirth,” he said.
Contact John Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org.