Making the opioid crisis personal: stories, poetry and art

In Uncategorized by Lea

Mary-Jo Dion is at the microphone telling her story at the Bissell Centre at the centre's Cycles and Circles - opioid awareness book launch on Friday, Jan. 18, 2019.
Mary-Jo Dion tells her story at the Bissell Centre at the centre’s Cycles and Circles – opioid awareness book launch on Friday, Jan. 18, 2019.

In a crowded room, a room full of people who still have their jackets and tuques on, people are telling stories. Their stories are of living with opioid addiction, knowing someone who struggles with it, or dealing with the loss of someone who is not here because of drugs. These stories are being shared at the Bissell Centre’s Making the opioid crisis personal: stories, poetry and art – opioid awareness book launch.

There is an opioid crisis in our country. People are overdosing every day — people from all lifestyles and backgrounds — and dying. Opioids are pain medications made up of natural or synthetic chemicals based on morphine, the active component of opium. Heroin is an opioid as is fentanyl. Between January 2016 and June 2018, over 9,000 people have died in Canada because of opioids. Many of those deaths were accidental. (Source: Health Canada.)

Bissell Centre is a place for Edmontonians to get out of the cold (or in summer, the heat), have a cup of coffee as well as have access to a wide range of programs and services for vulnerable people. The centre sees the devastating impact of the opioid crisis and wanted to do something about it. So to raise awareness and show everyone just how personal the opioid situation is, it decided to put together the book, Cycles and Circles: Stories, poetry and art about addiction created at Edmonton’s Bissell Centre.

The book Cycles and Circles.

The Bissell Centre calls the book, “a community handbook about healing and hope amidst the opioid crisis.” There are up-to-date resources on where to find help for opioid addiction, information about safe consumption sites as well as where to pick up free naloxone kits (the drug naloxone can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose). The book also has poems, paintings, photographs and stories from those who have firsthand experience with addiction or have experienced the opioid crisis as community members.

The art, poetry, photographs and stories were created in weekly workshops at the Bissell Centre this past summer. I was the facilitator of the writing sessions. Twice a week in July, I worked with participants to shape their experiences into stories to share with Edmontonians. The writers never held back their thoughts and feelings from the page. They never hemmed and hawed over what to keep in or what to keep out – thinking they might be stigmatized over their stark words. Their writing is heartfelt and honest and they put their struggles, hopes and desires in black and white.

On Friday, standing in the warm room full of people at the Bissell Centre, I listened to two authors tell their stories. Not only were they sharing their words but pieces of themselves. The contributions to the book are all deeply personal and there’s no shying away from what’s happening in our communities. The opioid crisis needs our attention. Now.

To read the book Cycles and Circles Book: Stories, poetry and art about addiction created at Edmonton’s Bissell Centre, click here.