Jasmine and Gwen Donaldson are part of the CAT team working to reduce stigma for marginalized groups in Campbell River. Photo by Marc Kitteringham, Campbell River Mirror

Jasmine and Gwen Donaldson are part of the CAT team working to reduce stigma for marginalized groups in Campbell River. Photo by Marc Kitteringham, Campbell River Mirror

Jasmine’s story: Stigma can be the hardest hurdle for those overcoming addiction

Recovering B.C. woman says welcome, connection and community key for rebuilding after drug habit

Of all the hurdles people dealing with and recovering from addiction have to face, the most difficult is the stigma.

That’s what Jasmine, a harm reduction HIV and Hepatitis C outreach worker with AVI’s Campbell River office has discovered.

Jasmine, who did not want her last name used in this story, has a history of drug addiction and homelessness. Through her long difficult journey she found that the stigma and othering that people feel towards addicts is the most difficult thing to overcome.

In her experience, it is people who do the exact opposite and treat each other like human beings who make the real difference.

Jasmine started using drugs in high school, though at the time her use was more about partying and having a good time. Eventually, she ended up encountering heroin, which changed everything.

RELATED: Vancouver Islanders navigate addiction recovery during the pandemic

RELATED: Public consultations on controversial Duncan recovery centre coming soon

“Long story short, eventually me and heroin, our paths crossed and that was kind of like I found the one for me. It was the ultimate relief,” she said. “I was travelling a lot through the States and Canada… Eventually, I (found I) can’t dabble in a drug like opiates at all because… it kind of locked me in place in Vancouver. I couldn’t travel because I would end up getting sick.”

After a few years, Jasmine found herself living in a tent on one of the main streets of downtown Vancouver with winter fast approaching. At the time she lived with a partner, and her partner’s family ended up tracking the pair down and moving them out east.

“The state we were in at the time, I didn’t have any ID, I had a dog, we couldn’t just jump on a plane or jump on a bus. His mother flew to Vancouver and rented a van and drove us to New Brunswick,” she explained. “The woman was a trooper, because we used all the way across. I know it was so distressing for her, but we didn’t feel at the time that not doing that was an option.

“We ended up kicking it in a farm in Sussex, New Brunswick. It was wild.”

Jasmine and her partner recovered at the farm, but recovery from opiates is one of the most difficult things a person can do. Eventually, her partner’s mother brought them to the hospital.

“There was a doctor there… when I walked in the room he sat down and said ‘Jasmine it’s really nice to meet you. This is the best decision you’ve made and I’m so looking forward to you becoming a part of my community,’ ” she said. “I can’t tell you… the emotions that that brought up, just having a doctor be kind and welcoming me to his community and like saying that he was looking forward to it.

“A click happened and this belief in my self kind of happened. I realized ‘OK I can be a part of the community, even the doctor wants me here.’ We all know doctors are seen as some of the leaders of the community… it has been 13 years and that is still something that brings up emotions in me to this day.”

Jasmine stayed in Sussex for two years after kicking her habit, learning how to be a person again. Her partner’s family had no judgments, and helped her learn certain social norms and rules. After a while she returned to B.C. and started building a life here again.

“It has been a long journey,” she said. “There’s a lot of emotional stuff you have to deal with. My belief is that stigma is by far the most damaging thing to people, especially while they’re living it, while they’re homeless, while they’re using and even after. Afterwards you have a hard time connecting with people, and that’s what you need.

“You need the connection ultimately to really thrive, and its really difficult to connect with people because you know that there’s a stigma to that.”

After a few years of living in B.C., Jasmine got news that her partner with whom she had travelled to New Brunswick had died of an overdose. She became determined to be a part of the solution and started working with AVI, which works to break down barriers and stigma for people like Jasmine.

Through her work, Jasmine found a community that did not judge the life she used to live, and that built her confidence.

“I wouldn’t have told you this story three years ago,” she said. “I would have been absolutely terrified that you would have judged me, and now through these groups I found the empowerment of wanting to break through that wall of stigma more than being worried about being stigmatized.

“It’s incredibly empowering to not see the life that I lived as a shameful part of my life, but just a part of my life. And also to be told that having the knowledge of that lifestyle is valuable, that is something that allows me to bring better understanding to the work I do now.”

Since the pandemic started, Jasmine said her clients at AVI have reported feeling left behind. Things were closing, businesses were shutting down and services still have not come back to the place they were a year ago. While many people have been able to cope with the changes in some way, those most vulnerable members of the community were left out in the cold.

“For a lot of the people I’ve worked with, part of what they were feeling is left behind,” she said. “Reach out to the people that you are connected to. Let them know that that’s how you feel and have a conversation.”

People who are living outside, living with addictions or are recovering from addictions are no less members of the community, and no less deserving of compassion.

“Compassion is so valuable. People don’t realize it. No matter what you say to somebody who is homeless or using drugs, it’s never going to be as bad as the way they feel about themselves. They’re being told little tidbits of that every day anyway,” she added.

“I wish I’d known that being somebody who used drugs didn’t make me subhuman.”

For more news from Vancouver Island and beyond delivered daily into your inbox, please click here.

Campbell Rivermental healthopioid addiction

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

.
Kootenay Boundary COVID-19 cases continue to rise

Four new cases in Castlegar last week

t
Q&A with the Castlegar council candidates

Four candidates are running for one council seat

Email editor@fedwaymirror.com
LETTER: Covid blame should fall on leaders, not youth

Reader Rod Retzlaff blames leaders for COVID variant spread

A mushroom grower plans to plan new mushrooms in fallen trees in the Kaslo Community Forest. File photo
Kaslo mushroom farmer given green light for unique project

Robin Mercy will plant mushrooms in the Kaslo Community Forest

B.C's COVID-19 dashboard shows the peaks and valleys of cases prior to the record daily report of 132 on April 9, 2021. (Dashboard image)
Interior Health has record day of COVID-19 cases

132 cases reported Friday, April 9, more deaths in Vernon hospital outbreak

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

B.C. Premier John Horgan responds to questions during a postelection news conference in Vancouver, on Sunday, October 25, 2020. British Columbia’s opposition Liberals and Greens acknowledge the COVID-19 pandemic has presented huge challenges for Horgan’s government, but they say Monday’s throne speech must outline a coherent plan for the province’s economic, health, social and environmental future. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Horgan’s NDP to bring in throne speech in B.C., Opposition wants coherent plan

Farnworth said the budget will include details of government investment in communities and infrastructure

FILE - An arena worker removes the net from the ice after the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames NHL hockey game was postponed due to a positive COVID-19 test result, in Vancouver, British Columbia, in this Wednesday, March 31, 2021, file photo. As vaccinations ramp up past a pace of 3 million a day in the U.S, the NHL is in a tougher spot than the other three major North American professional sports leagues because seven of 31 teams are based on Canada. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP, File)
Vancouver Canucks scheduled to practice Sunday, resume games April 16 after COVID outbreak

Canucks outbreak delayed the team’s season by eight games

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod, seen here on April 9, 2021 with four-year-old sister Elena and mom Vanessa, was born with limb differences. The family, including husband/dad Sean McLeod, is looking for a family puppy that also has a limb difference. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. family looking for puppy with limb difference, just like 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy McLeod born as bilateral amputee, now her family wants to find ‘companion’ puppy for her

A vehicle that was driven through the wall of a parkade at Uptown Shopping Centre and into the nearby Walmart on April 9 was removed through another hole in the wall later that night. (Photo via Saanich Police Department and Ayush Kakkar)
Vehicle launched into B.C. Walmart removed following rescue of trapped workers

Crews cut new hole in parkade wall to remove vehicle safely

Four members with Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans were out at Cultus Lake on March 28 and 29 hauling trash out of the waters. (Henry Wang)
PHOTOS: Out-of-town divers remove 100s of pounds of trash from Cultus Lake

Members of Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans hauled out 470 pounds of trash over two days

As of Saturday, April 10, people born in 1961 are the latest to be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. (Black Press files)
B.C. residents age 60+ can now register to get their COVID-19 vaccine

Vaccine registration is now open to people born in 1961 or earlier

Most Read