Jasmine and Gwen Donaldson are part of the CAT team working to reduce stigma for marginalized groups in Campbell River. Photo by Marc Kitteringham, Campbell River Mirror

Jasmine and Gwen Donaldson are part of the CAT team working to reduce stigma for marginalized groups in Campbell River. Photo by Marc Kitteringham, Campbell River Mirror

Jasmine’s story: Stigma can be the hardest hurdle for those overcoming addiction

Recovering B.C. woman says welcome, connection and community key for rebuilding after drug habit

Of all the hurdles people dealing with and recovering from addiction have to face, the most difficult is the stigma.

That’s what Jasmine, a harm reduction HIV and Hepatitis C outreach worker with AVI’s Campbell River office has discovered.

Jasmine, who did not want her last name used in this story, has a history of drug addiction and homelessness. Through her long difficult journey she found that the stigma and othering that people feel towards addicts is the most difficult thing to overcome.

In her experience, it is people who do the exact opposite and treat each other like human beings who make the real difference.

Jasmine started using drugs in high school, though at the time her use was more about partying and having a good time. Eventually, she ended up encountering heroin, which changed everything.

RELATED: Vancouver Islanders navigate addiction recovery during the pandemic

RELATED: Public consultations on controversial Duncan recovery centre coming soon

“Long story short, eventually me and heroin, our paths crossed and that was kind of like I found the one for me. It was the ultimate relief,” she said. “I was travelling a lot through the States and Canada… Eventually, I (found I) can’t dabble in a drug like opiates at all because… it kind of locked me in place in Vancouver. I couldn’t travel because I would end up getting sick.”

After a few years, Jasmine found herself living in a tent on one of the main streets of downtown Vancouver with winter fast approaching. At the time she lived with a partner, and her partner’s family ended up tracking the pair down and moving them out east.

“The state we were in at the time, I didn’t have any ID, I had a dog, we couldn’t just jump on a plane or jump on a bus. His mother flew to Vancouver and rented a van and drove us to New Brunswick,” she explained. “The woman was a trooper, because we used all the way across. I know it was so distressing for her, but we didn’t feel at the time that not doing that was an option.

“We ended up kicking it in a farm in Sussex, New Brunswick. It was wild.”

Jasmine and her partner recovered at the farm, but recovery from opiates is one of the most difficult things a person can do. Eventually, her partner’s mother brought them to the hospital.

“There was a doctor there… when I walked in the room he sat down and said ‘Jasmine it’s really nice to meet you. This is the best decision you’ve made and I’m so looking forward to you becoming a part of my community,’ ” she said. “I can’t tell you… the emotions that that brought up, just having a doctor be kind and welcoming me to his community and like saying that he was looking forward to it.

“A click happened and this belief in my self kind of happened. I realized ‘OK I can be a part of the community, even the doctor wants me here.’ We all know doctors are seen as some of the leaders of the community… it has been 13 years and that is still something that brings up emotions in me to this day.”

Jasmine stayed in Sussex for two years after kicking her habit, learning how to be a person again. Her partner’s family had no judgments, and helped her learn certain social norms and rules. After a while she returned to B.C. and started building a life here again.

“It has been a long journey,” she said. “There’s a lot of emotional stuff you have to deal with. My belief is that stigma is by far the most damaging thing to people, especially while they’re living it, while they’re homeless, while they’re using and even after. Afterwards you have a hard time connecting with people, and that’s what you need.

“You need the connection ultimately to really thrive, and its really difficult to connect with people because you know that there’s a stigma to that.”

After a few years of living in B.C., Jasmine got news that her partner with whom she had travelled to New Brunswick had died of an overdose. She became determined to be a part of the solution and started working with AVI, which works to break down barriers and stigma for people like Jasmine.

Through her work, Jasmine found a community that did not judge the life she used to live, and that built her confidence.

“I wouldn’t have told you this story three years ago,” she said. “I would have been absolutely terrified that you would have judged me, and now through these groups I found the empowerment of wanting to break through that wall of stigma more than being worried about being stigmatized.

“It’s incredibly empowering to not see the life that I lived as a shameful part of my life, but just a part of my life. And also to be told that having the knowledge of that lifestyle is valuable, that is something that allows me to bring better understanding to the work I do now.”

Since the pandemic started, Jasmine said her clients at AVI have reported feeling left behind. Things were closing, businesses were shutting down and services still have not come back to the place they were a year ago. While many people have been able to cope with the changes in some way, those most vulnerable members of the community were left out in the cold.

“For a lot of the people I’ve worked with, part of what they were feeling is left behind,” she said. “Reach out to the people that you are connected to. Let them know that that’s how you feel and have a conversation.”

People who are living outside, living with addictions or are recovering from addictions are no less members of the community, and no less deserving of compassion.

“Compassion is so valuable. People don’t realize it. No matter what you say to somebody who is homeless or using drugs, it’s never going to be as bad as the way they feel about themselves. They’re being told little tidbits of that every day anyway,” she added.

“I wish I’d known that being somebody who used drugs didn’t make me subhuman.”

For more news from Vancouver Island and beyond delivered daily into your inbox, please click here.

Campbell Rivermental healthopioid addiction

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The former Summerland Asset Development Initiative building on Prairie Valley Road in Summerland was suggested as the site for a temporary transitional housing facility for the community. However, Summerland council has rejected this proposal. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
Summerland council rejects transitional housing facility

Concerns raised about short timeline and condition of municipally-owned building

Elijah Beauregard, 16, was stabbed in downtown Kelowna on June 27, 2019. He died of his wounds three days later in hospital. His family is raising money to put a memorial bench at his favourite skatepark in Penticton.
Young woman charged in stabbing death of Penticton teen pleads guilty

The teen, who can’t be named, will appear in Kelowna Supreme Court Tuesday

B.C. wineries are open for indoor tasting despite new provincial health regulations. Photo- 
50th Parallel Winery, Instagram.
Indoor wine tastings still allowed in B.C., not considered a ‘social gathering’

“Tasting is really just part of the retail experience. The analogy I use is you wouldn’t buy a pair of pants without trying them on.”

The Kampe Estate across from the Channel has been bought by a developer who wants to put up two towers. (Brennan Phillips Western News)
Residents concerned over plans for Kampe property

Some residents were not happy to hear about plans for two six-storey apartment buildings

Penticton Vees continue their winning streak carrying a 5-0 win title as of Sunday night's hockey action. (Cherie Morgan/Cherie Morgan Photography)
Penticton Vees continue winning streak

Sunday night’s 6-1 win has them with five in a row since the start of the season

Burnaby MLA Raj Chouhan presides as Speaker of the B.C. legislature, which opened it spring session April 12 with a speech from the throne. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C. NDP promises more health care spending, business support in 2021 budget

John Horgan government to ‘carefully return to balanced budgets’

A lady wears a sticker given out after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count slows after last week’s peak

3,219 new cases since Friday, 18 additional deaths

North Cowichan councillor Tek Manhas did not violate the municipality’s code of conduct by posting a sexist meme on Facebook, council concludes. (File photo)
B.C. municipality to take no action against councillor who posted sexist meme

Tek Manhas’s meme doesn’t violate North Cowichan council’s code of conduct, municipality concludes

Shayla, an 8-pound black and grey Havanese, was stolen from outside a store on Banks Road on Saturday. (Contributed)
Stolen pup located, Kelowna RCMP confirms

Mounties said on April 12 that Shayla, the 8-pound, black and grey Havanese dog, has been located safe and sound

A sign on a shop window indicates the store is closed in Ottawa, Monday March 23, 2020. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is raising its estimate for the number of businesses that are considering the possibility of closing permanently. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Small business struggling amid COVID-19 pandemic looks for aid in Liberals’ budget

President Dan Kelly said it is crucial to maintain programs to help businesses to the other side of the pandemic

The National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians says that includes attempts to steal Canadian research on COVID-19 and vaccines, and sow misinformation. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)
Intelligence committee warns China, Russia targeting Canadian COVID-19 research

Committee also found that the terrorist threat to Canada has shifted since its last such assessment

Parliament Hill is viewed below a Canada flag in Gatineau, Quebec, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020. A new poll suggests most Canadians are feeling more grateful for what they have in 2020 as a result of COVID-19 pandemic.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions increased slightly in 2019: report

2019 report shows Canada emitted about one million tonnes more of these gases than the previous year

A car sheared a Hydro pole and the driver was pinned by a fence pole on 43rd Avenue Saturday, April 10. (Carmen Jaster photo)
Suspected impaired driver ‘lucky to be alive’ after crash in Vernon yard

Impaired driving investigation underway after driver shears Hydro pole and narrowly misses being impaled

A crane stands in the middle of a fire-ravaged Glenmore Road construction site on Thursday, April 8. (Aaron Hemens - Capital News)
Evacuation order remains in effect around burned Kelowna construction site

Assessment of potentially risky crane to take place this afternoon

Most Read