Commentary  Interview with an addict

Amy G. is a recovering drug addict. During her recovery from addiction – a process that never really ends – the boundaries between counsellor and addict, sponsor and sponsoree, have blurred. She has worked officially and unofficially in recovery for years, giving speeches at high schools, speaking at meetings, counselling “angry young men,” and looking out for those around her. More from Amy G. on page 7.

The McGill Daily: What is it like having addicts helping addicts?
Amy G.: Addicts have serious self-esteem problems, and now they’re helping other people. You can imagine the shit you bring into that. But on the other hand, addicts – or a lot of them – can be really, really sensitive and smart in that way…. They are going to be able to see, or be willing to see, a lot that other people just don’t want to.

My sponsor has put up with so much fucking shit from me it’s unreal. No human being would ever put up with that in the way that he has – that’s all – no one would do that. With him, it’s not to help his ego, it wasn’t to fuck me, it wasn’t to try and control me, it was none of those things. It was because he saw in me what I was too blind [to see]. I don’t think that someone who hasn’t been an addict would. It’s not that they wouldn’t have the heart to, it’s that they won’t understand when four months later you relapse and sell everything again…. Why would someone who’s not an addict even tolerate that? And if they did, it would probably be some kind of weird pity-contempt kind of shit going on which wouldn’t be effective for either of us.

MD: What are some of the other organizations that help addicts in Montreal?
AG: There are organizations that will help addicts out, like Cactus. But those are not programs of recovery. Those are programs of “Let’s try to not let people die on the streets.” I’m totally pro anything that helps people not die on the streets – but that’s not recovery.

There’s other places I know of that do [heroin] maintenance programs [centres that provide medicinal heroin], but I have my issues with that, too. I understand, and it’s probably better that you get your shit from somewhere and not have to rob a bank – fine. But there is no God damn way you are going to have a life as long as you are putting a needle in your arm – you’re not. And I can say it because I did it.

I didn’t get clean to get clean; I got clean to have a life. The idea was that life is big and wonderful, right? We were missing out as an addict, and now you are going to live.

Like I said though, there are detoxes and rehab programs, which are very valuable – I want to make that very clear. Getting clean is essential. Some people need some downtime, some fucking safe-place time.

MD: What do you think about addicts that are ordered into programs by courts?
AG: In most rehabs, you will find people who were ordered there by the courts. It was be jailed or get clean. I’m gonna say nine out of 10 times, unless within that time that you’re there you realize [you want to get clean] – it’s not gonna work. I really, really don’t think that someone else is going to ram the love of life down your throat. It doesn’t even make fucking sense to me – “you have to love God or go to jail!” No, that’s not gonna happen.

I think interventions have a place too. My friends and family intervented on me, but I was ready to be intervented. And so it was effective. They have a place.

Sometimes the best support you can give might not appear that way from the outside. I think some people might have watched my sponsor and thought he was pretty fucking brutal, but I needed a lot of serious encouragement. I’m not talking about some kind of yucky work-camp ethic where it’s like “Destroy the person! Make them nothing!” I mean I’m already nothing coming in there. If you are doing intervention, or that kind of really urgent [work] – trying to bring a person out of hell – someone you see is ready, but you want to bring them out of hell as quickly as possible, it’s really important that you don’t enable them in their lies. It’s awful; it’s a drag; you love the person so you kind of want to believe they’re really gonna try.

MD: How would you define what is different, what separates that work-camp ethic from a sponsor being harsh because they see that there might be a desire to get clean?
AG: Maybe for the average cop or person, watching someone who’s drunk peeing themselves on a park bench, you kind of have a lot of judgment going on – or you have this weird sort of pity. I think that what most addicts know – even if they don’t want to say they know it – is that they are always that man peeing himself on the park bench, and they always will be that man. When you really know that you’re always going to be that man, you are much more interested, and [you] much more urgently move to get that fucking man off the park bench.

—compiled by Sam Neylon