My unexpected connection to Harm Reduction.
Written by Caitlin Vaux, Resource Development Associate – Leadership at United Way KW & Area
Back in November 2016, our United Way office kicked off our internal fundraising campaign, coming together to learn about the impact our dollars have on community.
We welcomed the amazing and compassionate Jenn Boyd, Harm Reduction Coordinator at ACCKWA (AIDS Committee of Cambridge, Kitchener, Waterloo & Area). She facilitates a clean needle exchange program for users of intravenous drugs to ensure that while they may not be able to quit at this time, there are resources so drugs can be used safely and reduce the spread of infectious disease.
I was excited to hear Jenn speak. Her world seems so far away from mine, and I was curious to hear about what a day looks like in her role.
But what she spoke about connected with me on a deeper level than I ever anticipated. She talked about people and the challenges they face every day as drug users. What it’s taken from their life. She shared that most of the users she works with have experienced profound trauma and how using helps them cope.
I don’t know what it’s like to be in the darkness of intravenous drug use. But I do understand trauma.
I’ve been alongside someone I love as they struggled with the impact of trauma and how it ravaged their mental health, everyday functioning, and ability to love themselves. They became unrecognizable in their grief and suffering and yes, turned to drugs and alcohol to self-medicate. Watching it at the time, I remember feeling both frustrated and helpless. “Why can’t you just ask me for help? I’m here. I love you. Let me be there for you.” As I reflect on it now, it makes me pause. When you’re in it, that overwhelming pain, why would you ever want to feel that in its’ entirety? We take a pain reliever to dull a headache. Imagine what you need to dull the pain of abuse, or rape, or loss.
It takes real courage to feel it. To be vulnerable. To me, this is what Harm Reduction is about.
This is not just handing out free needles and ‘enabling drug use’, as it’s often perceived.
It’s creating a safe place for people to be accepted for who they are, in that exact moment. Not just when they are ‘better’. They have someone to listen and care about them. This is true compassion and understanding when it’s needed most.
I’m constantly reminded that our worlds are never that far apart. You never know the life experience that exists around the table. It’s finding this human connection that makes these issues come to life, and leading with compassion and understanding.
Whatever you feel about Harm Reduction and those who access these programs, come join us and let’s talk about Confronting Stigma. It just might surprise you.
REGISTER TODAY: https://ecommunity.uwaykw.org/GenNextPassion
GenNextKWA Inspiring Passion Series 2017
Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017, 5:30pm – 7:30pm at THEMUSEUM in downtown Kitchener
GenNextKWA is all about connecting young professionals in KW & Area with local social service issues through networking, education and rolling up our sleeves and giving back.