March 15, 2015 - Craig (an update)
Ego. It can be like a poison that leeches life, into the spiral of water swirling round and round, before it disappears down the drain. I planned to head out and find today’s story, then sit in a coffee shop and write. I saw Craig just a few blocks from my house. I first met him last year (Day 266), and we had chatted for The Stranger Project. (*Fact Check - see link below.) Three days after first sharing his story last year, I ran into him again. I made sure he read all the wonderful, supportive messages that people left for him. It was truly satisfying to share that encouragement with him.
The last time I saw Craig, he wasn’t as talkative as usual. He stopped long enough to tell me he was homeless and sleeping under a bridge somewhere.
This morning, he was sitting at Tom’s Bench, and I stopped to say hello and have a chat. Craig has struggled for years with drug addiction. We come from very different backgrounds, yet there’s a mutual respect. There's also a genuine kindness between us; Craig is a friend. He may have a tough, street-smart kind of guy exterior, but he isn’t afraid to share his vulnerability. Tom, my good friend from Day 10 whose story really set in motion what The Stranger project would become, had introduced me to him. Last week Tom mentioned to me that Craig was in hospital.
I mentioned to him that Tom had told me about his situation. I asked him what had precipitated all of this.
“My wife chose drugs over our kid,” he said, almost defensively. He and his wife haven’t been together for some time, and I’m not even sure how often he was seeing her or his daughter.
“The Government have my kid now.”
The news of his daughter going into care was the precursor to his latest relapse.
“My life has been such a roller coaster ride lately, man. I relapsed, and had a nervous breakdown. I checked myself into the hospital,” he told me.
“I started to hear voices, and I was considering finding a good knife. My plan was to tie weights to myself, slit my wrists and then jump off a bridge. The voices were telling me to do it. I checked myself into hospital instead,” he told me.
“The upside is I’ve been clean and haven’t used drugs in almost a month.” We spoke for a while about suicide and the relationship with the insanity of addiction.
“I don’t drink. I’ve been pretty much sober for probably twelve years, but I don’t seem to be able to apply that to drugs. I think I’ve had maybe two mickeys of booze in all those years.”
Craig’s relapses involve crack cocaine and crystal meth. They are two of the most commonly used drugs amongst heavy drug users. Both are highly addictive substances. He prefers to smoke his drugs.
“That batch of the crack was so pure. It was incredible,” he told me, slowly and with a reminiscent smile. He hadn’t heard about the recent police warnings of Fentanyl being used to lace street drugs in the Downtown Eastside. Fentanyl has a heroinlike effect, and in many cases, it's misuse can be fatal.
“Shit, that’s not good,” he said.
“I’m glad you told me.”
I asked if he was afraid to die from Fentanyl.
“Yeah dude, of course.” I pointed out that apparently he didn’t want to die, or commit suicide.
“I’d hate for my wife to tell my daughter when she was older that everything was all my fault. For her to blame everything on me.” I suggested that was all the more reason to stick around, to let his daughter know that he’s not to blame for everything.
“That’s a good point,” he said.
While in care, Craig managed to make arrangements for housing, which means he won’t be on the streets or in a shelter. After two weeks of being in hospital, Craig was told they no longer had a bed for him. He is still ten days away from moving into his apartment.
“They don’t have a bed for me in the hospital, but they’re paying for a hotel room for me. It won’t cover the entire time until I move into my place, but I’ll get that worked out. It seems ironic that they don’t have a bed, but can pay for a hotel. They told me it was a budgetary management thing,” he said.
While he’s staying at the hotel, Health Services has a healthcare support worker visit with him daily, to make sure he’s doing ok, and not suicidal.
“It’s a different person that comes over each time. We hang out for maybe half an hour and shoot the breeze. I’m seeing my social services worker tomorrow. At least I know her and she knows my story,” Craig said.
He doesn’t go to any support meetings.
“I don’t want to sit around and listen to a bunch of people tell me how shitty their life is. I’ve got my own story. I know how shitty it is. I just wish I had never started using drugs. Ever,” he said. When I asked Craig what the aversion to going to meetings was, he thought about it for a bit before answering.
“I guess I want to be able to say I did it by myself,” he said. Ego. He knows it takes a village, and community and connection.
I asked if I could take a picture of the two of us and write an update about our conversation.
“Yeah, sure,” he said. I took several photos and we looked at each of them. I’ve never liked photos of myself. Craig looked very serious in the one I was okay with.
“I like that one of me,” he said. I told him I wasn’t going to use it, and he laughed, suggesting I take another photo if I wanted. I did.
After we said goodbye, as I walked away, I mulled over whether or not I was going to use our conversation for today’s story. Did I really want to write an update? Part of me wanted to meet a new stranger, with a different narrative. I'm personally doing fine, but I've spent a lot of time thinking about depression, drugs, mental health and addiction for the past few days now. Especially since meeting Nikki on Thursday. I’m still getting messages from folk about her story.
I questioned my own reason for hesitating about continuing with Craig’s story today. Ego. Sometimes the story, result, action or finale happens and while it might not be clear at the time, there's a reason why. I’ve put my ego aside, and right here, in this sentence, I know it’s the right thing to do. Maybe that’s the lesson in itself. #notastranger
*Fact Check - http://on.fb.me/1MDekpm
Today’s story is sponsored by Moii Cafe, 2259 Cambie Street, Vancouver