by TestTubeBaby

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For about 5 months before the pandemic, a drug user group that my organization supports was exploring whether or not they needed a full-time coordinator. With me and a cohort of 3 practicum students, we were moving a lot of things forward, but when the pandemic hit, the practicum students became unavailable and I was inundated with navigating COVID adaptations to all of our programs. We needed a coordinator.

The problem was that we usually did our interviews with members of the drug user group comprising the hiring committee. We were not able to gather, and all the places where the numerous folks who were unhoused typically charged their smart phones (when they weren't being stolen or broken or whatever) were closed down (mostly fast food places and coffeehouses).

We had a good stock of applicants, and, through an on-line interview process (which most people weren't able to join, even though I recorded everything and made links available, as well as sent text summaries) we winnowed things down to two finalists. Both (like me) had lived experience of substance use and homelessness, but one had been on the streets for decades and had also spent time incarcerated. She represented a broader and deeper spectrum of experiences than I or the other applicant had (both of us having got mostly untangled in our 20s).

Like me when I first encountered a drug user group, the applicant with the broader experience was "in recovery" in 12-step groups. This presented some potential challenges, but also some potential opportunities.

The challenge, I knew (because I had previously embodied it), was that the view of "harm reduction" from the "recovery" perspective was that the purpose of harm reduction was to keep people alive long enough so that they could find recovery. Whereas, from the perspective of a drug user group, the purpose of harm reduction is... as the name says... simply to reduce exposure to harm. Whether or not you go on to "find recovery" is irrelevant.

The opportunity, from my perspective, was that this rift between the recovery and drug user communities tended to show up a lot as lateral violence... splintering and distracting what might otherwise be a stronger movement with shared goals of healthier outcomes for people who have gotten their life challenges tangled up with substance use.

We (though it's pretty hard to call it a group decision) decided to take a risk on the person with broader lived experience, on a hope that we might start to develop more of a basis for collaboration than competition between the two communities.

The gamble didn't pay off. The specific wing of the 12-step community that this person came from wore shirts and hats (and now face masks) that sported the statements "I am evidence" or "The lie is dead, we do recover." The implication similar (but more covert) to the sayings I was used to when I transitioned out of 12-step about a decade earlier: "If I can recover, anyone can" or the chants at the end of meetings of: "It works if you work it," to which some people added, "So work it or die."

The drug user group's credo was "Meet people where they are." This branch of 12-step programs added, "But don't leave them there."

Feeling she was on a life or death errand ("Work it or die"), her approach was a moral campaign, devoid of any shades of grey inherent to an ethical approach (when two morals collide: e.g. saving lives, and saving quality of life). She thought she was doing no one any favour when she "co-signed their bullshit" (the contention that they may not be able to "recover"... now, or maybe ever).

I had promised the drug user group that my organization (and I) would not interfere in their affairs. Though I had largely (though not intentionally) made the hiring decision, now that we were able to meet again, they were going to be in charge of whether or not the person continued their employment.

I thought they were going to be able to make this decision quickly. They didn't. I was losing sleep seeing all the macrocosmic lateral violence play out in our little microcosm.

I produced this music to play over and over on my bluetooth sleep headset... to distract my perseverating mind.


released February 1, 2021


all rights reserved



TestTubeBaby Vancouver, British Columbia

Just walked
On a long slab of concrete
Probably hundreds of metric tons
To the store
Thinking about the similarities
And differences
Between me and a squirrel

All proceeds from sales are donated to Matsqui-Abbotsford Impact Society.
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