Reprinted from "Cannabis" issue of Visions Journal, 2009, 5(4), p. 16
I was one of those children who simply “fell under the radar”—no one knew I was unwell. I was sexually abused as a child and have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) since I was about 11 years old. Despite a suicide attempt at 17, I was never given the help I desperately needed.
I smoked pot in my teens—it was easy to get because I knew someone who sold it. But I stopped at the age of 17 after making myself ill by smoking too much on several occasions. I didn’t drink much because it was too hard to get a hold of the alcohol.
In my first year of university, though, I started drinking a lot of alcohol. I was experiencing insomnia and night terrors, and drinking helped me get a few hours of sleep. I did stop drinking when I was 25, but unfortunately my PTSD symptoms kicked up a notch. Intrusive thoughts and memories, flashbacks, persistent nightmares and difficulty sleeping made life intolerable.
So, I spent five years in my late twenties trying various psychiatric medications (and staying sober), but was overwhelmed by side effects. These included uncontrollable stuttering. I isolated myself because I was so embarrassed by my inability to speak clearly. These drugs turned me into a zombie who could barely stay awake to care for my young son.
Eventually, at the age of 29, my pain and frustration led me to use heroin and crack cocaine. Over the next 10 years, my life spiralled out of control. I contracted hepatitis C from sharing needles. I supported myself as a sex trade worker for five years—then found myself at rock bottom and homeless in the fall of 2004.
Just when my life had become absolutely intolerable and my ninth attempt at detox had failed, a close friend offered me a different life. I needed to remove myself from the environment and people with whom I used. With his loving support, I moved from the suburbs of Metro Vancouver to his home in East Vancouver to start on my road to healing.
I decided to go on methadone to ease my transition off of heroin, but found that the symptoms of my PTSD returned to plague me. I was becoming frustrated with my recovery and fearful that I’d relapse if I couldn’t find something to alleviate my symptoms. I absolutely refused to consider psychiatric medications again.
A friend suggested that I get in touch with the Compassion Club* and try smoking pot again. I was now 40 years old and hadn’t smoked cannabis since I was 17.
I was very nervous about this idea; I was afraid that I’d simply be exchanging an addiction to heroin for an addiction to cannabis. By this time, in the spring of 2005, I had made some amazing new friends while attending support groups for sex trade workers at two agencies in the Downtown Eastside. All were recovering addicts—some were practising harm reduction and some were practising abstinence. I also connected with an amazing therapist, also a recovering addict, who I still see today. I talked it over with my friends, my therapist and the doctor who was supervising my methadone. All of them felt that cannabis represented real possibilities for me.
I agreed to try it.
The Compassion Club and cannabis—worked for me
The employees of the Compassion Club were extremely knowledgeable about the varieties and strains of cannabis. They worked with me to find the type that was best for me.
During the first year, I smoked pot to help me to calm down and sleep at night. Pot also stimulated my appetite, which was suffering due to the hepatitis C. After years of barely eating or sleeping, I put on weight and was able to consistently sleep through the night. A healthy diet and lots of sleep is the best treatment for hep C in its early stages. Within nine months, my liver enzymes had returned to normal and I no longer needed to smoke pot to help with eating, though I continue to use it to help with anxiety and sleep.
Cannabis also helped me stop taking methadone—I got through a withdrawal process that took 30 days. I haven’t touched heroin or cocaine in nearly four years and I’ve been off methadone for three years.
Cannabis = harm reduction = a blessed life
I am so grateful to have found a harm reduction plan that works for me. Smoking cannabis means that I can live the life I want to live without being enslaved to an addiction or suffering side effects that limit my freedom. I never wanted to be medicated 24 hours a day, seven days a week with alcohol, heroin and cocaine. And I definitely don’t want the side effects of psychiatric medications. Cannabis has eliminated the harms I experienced from these other substances.
I have since married that dear friend who took a year off work to hold my hand through my first year of recovery. My son and I are closer than ever, and I am now blessed with a lovely stepdaughter as well. I’ve found incredibly meaningful work as the coordinator of a Downtown Eastside non-profit agency that helps sex trade workers. In my work, my past experiences, dark and horrible as they were, have daily meaning and value. I’m proud to model a harm reduction lifestyle for the women that I work with every day. I lead an authentic life and am loved for the person I am.
About the author
Kerry is 44 years old and was born in Vancouver. She is married, with two children, and runs a small non-profit organization in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, which provides assistance to sex trade workers