Friday, 31 August 2012

International Overdose Awareness Day Speech


So this is an address I made at work on the 31st of August, 2012
When I think of overdose and Overdose Awareness Day, I think, I am truly blessed.  It’s unusual for me, I’m not at all religious or spiritual.  All of the pain, all of the sadness, the people I miss- and yet I am able to find comfort and today I thought I might share why. 
I am blessed. 
But not because my life has been drug free- it has not.  If we are to challenge stigma, as this day of remembrance strives to, then one cannot remain closeted- so I say before you now, without guilt or shame, that yes, drugs have played a role in my life.  I do not condemn or encourage the use of drugs but I can say the experience of using drugs; the hard times it has seen me through, the people who have been there along the way, the lessons I have learnt about senses, about my body about my place in the world- I am truly grateful for. 
But that is not why I feel blessed today. 
Nor is it because I have been fortunate enough to evade overdose- I have not.  Things go wrong, we are not perfect people who do things perfectly and drug use is no perfect process.  I count myself as very lucky- the circumstances were such that I survived and people looked after me.  Upon reflection of my overdose I realise that, life is precious, our bodies are wonderfully forgiving and to be there for each other is a humbling source of strength and life. 
But still, that’s not why I feel blessed today. 
No, today I feel blessed because I remember the gift of many friends, friends who are no longer with me. For me, despite the stereotypes, to be part of a community of people who use drugs has been a blessing.  These friends were strong, talented, bright and beautiful spirits, who, through some twist of fate, crossed my path, gave me something very special and enriched my life in a way I couldn’t put into words.  And though there have been many funerals I have attended and many funerals I was not invited to, to remember our loved ones, I feel truly blessed. 
Today is a day to remember the ones we have loved and the ones we have lost.  This might be the first time you have been able to do this but we gather here today to tell you that you are not alone.  The silver badges we wear signify the profound loss of someone cherished and are a symbol of understanding, of condolences and – when we wear them together as a community- they are a symbol of solidarity. 
But remembering is not the only blessing of the day. 
A friend of mine, Sally Finn, and NSP worker in St Kilda, began Overdose Awareness day back in 2001. At the height of heroin deaths, I was homeless in St Kilda.  Yet Finn and others reminded me that yes, we are important to each other and that those of us who can, have a responsibility to not only remember but to contribute to the bettering the lives of our fellow community members.  I feel truly blessed because I have been given the opportunity to honour the memory of my friends through the work I do today.
The service I work for has had a number of service users pass away in the past year from drug overdoses and they - like those before them- will be remembered on Overdose day and remain in our hearts into the future. 
 As well as being a special time to remember our friends, Today is an opportunity to honour their memory by being aware of the importance of overdose prevention.  Over the past month, Harm Reduction Victoria, our state drug user association, has facilitated workshops to teach drug users the skills to not only recognise but respond to overdose.  We do this to remind those of us who remain and still use drugs to be careful and to instil in each and every current and former drug user that, yes, you matter, that we value you as a member of our community and that you can make a difference.  I believe it is not said enough, but as a representative of my team I would like to say, we believe in you, we are proud of you. 
We thank you for participating in this year’s Overdose awareness day. Please stay and share some food with us and remember those we have lost by placing a star on our memorial board, lighting some incense or burning some prayer paper.    Again, thank you all for being here today.  That you are here with me today is truly a blessing. 

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