By Guy Felicella
I have used drugs since 1991 and started injecting them in 1997. I used in back alleys, all day and every day. I became consumed by heroin and truly believed that there was no hope for me.
Heroin was my friend. It never judged me; it was always warm and made me feel like I could do anything.
The DTES is a tough place for anyone, but it is one place where everyone who doesn’t fit in is accepted and I fit right in. I’m one of the lucky ones who escaped without catching HIV even after using in the dirtiest of places, but when you’re addicted you don’t care about health. Most people would use others' needles and share hits of drugs, but I always thought it wasn’t worth it so I used my own stuff, never sharing.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, it became so bad in the DTES with overdoses and HIV spreading at a rapid pace. There were handfuls of people handing out clean needles, but most would just share and it began to look pretty bad for all addicts downtown.
In 2003 Insite came into the picture and I was one of the first people to sign up. The staff there preached of a safe environment and a place where you can use in safety.
In 2009, 484 overdoses occurred with no fatalities, thanks to the nurses' interventions. I learned so much from the staff there and I finally felt like someone cared. You can really feel the love.
In a place where it seemed impossible to get clean, people now had the choice to change their lives. If you wanted the help, it was right upstairs. I have been a part of the recovery program at Onsite on more than one occasion, and every time I started using again, the staff never judged me. They would always say “Next time you’ll do it.”
In fact, they have saved my life on three occasions, twice in one day. I did a lethal dose of heroin and was dead for six minutes and 53 seconds. The nurse Sara brought me back and I remember waking up and crying, telling her I didn’t want to use anymore. So back upstairs to Onsite treatment I went. What people don’t understand is how hard recovery can be—and I left once again. The staff at Onsite still supported me; they never gave up on me even when I had given on myself.
In December of 2012 I became suicidal and lost my desire to live. A nurse at Insite named Cookie took time out of her day to calm me down, and it was her kind words that inspired me to give it another try. So the journey began again, and I stopped using on March 18, 2013.
I’m currently in a treatment centre and this is the most work I have ever done on myself. It is because of God and Insite/Onsite that I am where I am today. If they didn’t exist in my life, I wouldn’t be here and neither would many.
They care so much about human life from the front desk all the way down to the chill room. They give hope to people who live and struggle with addiction. They care if you use, they care if you want to get clean, they care period. They give you options and choices and it is up to you, but at least the choice is there now because before Insite and Onsite, there was no choice but to use or die.
Society puts so much emphasis on the fact that drug users are bad, but we are human beings. Doesn’t everyone deserve the right to get clean or to use in a safe environment with the support of kind staff that will break their backs to help you?
You see, compassion is the answer. Never give up on someone because you never know when your kind gesture might inspire them to get clean. I know it worked for me and it can work for countless others. Onsite is the best thing that has ever happened to Vancouver and I would go to any length to support it. After all, the staff there inspired me to get my life back.
Guy Felicella is recovering in Surrey.