Stepping Stones to Instability: Abuse, Addiction and Loss

May 8, 2019. Article by: Government of B.C.

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“My biological mother was only 12 years old when she had me and my dad was 19,” says Kendra. “I was adopted into a straight-edged military family. My dad was away a lot and my mother was bipolar and abusive.

“My mother always thought there was something wrong with me, so I was in and out of psych wards for much of my childhood,” she adds. “I also experienced sexual abuse from my mother and from my mother’s male friends.”

The circumstances Kendra describes are examples of adverse childhood experiences, or bad events in a person’s early life, that can have harmful, long-term health effects, including substance use challenges.  

“The first time I came into contact with drugs I was six or seven, through my babysitter,” Kendra reflects. “The first time I used marijuana, I was 11. But it wasn’t until I was 18 or 19 that I started using hard drugs. Once I started using intravenous cocaine, I became highly addicted.”

As well as vulnerability to addiction, childhood trauma can lead someone to expect the world to be unpredictable and they may develop unhealthy ways of coping with emotional and psychological pain. For Kendra, a family loss was the first stepping stone to instability.  

“I was sober for 14 years but then my boyfriend’s mom died and we both started using a lot,” explains Kendra. “That’s when it became a full-blown addiction. We tried to remortgage our place but didn’t get as much money as we wanted… and then we ended up on the streets.”

Kendra has experienced many of the challenges that can build up for people who live with addiction. She’s had difficulties finding housing. She feels the stigma – the shame and blame – towards people who use drugs. And with B.C. facing a public health emergency where three to four people die of overdose every day, Kendra is at high risk of accidentally using deadly, toxic substances.

Challenges like those Kendra faces are often invisible to people that haven’t experienced them first-hand. But as is so often the case when it comes to substance use – what people see doesn’t tell the whole story.

Kendra shared her story in the Behind the Numbers research project, in which people with lived experience using drugs and healthcare service providers offered their perspectives to help further understanding of substance use and addiction in B.C.

Learn more about the Behind the Numbers project.

Read the Behind the Numbers stories book (PDF).