Brooke was a just a small town girl living in Northern Ontario. She was a first born Canadian and her ‘exotic’ features leant towards an obvious distinction from her peers. Add to that her experience growing up in poverty in downtown Sault Ste. Marie, and 14 year old Brooke felt a little too extraordinary for her own comfort. Raised by a single mom, Brooke notes the absence of a father in her life and credits her mother for covering the basics necessities–by the skin of her teeth, for herself and her younger sister.
“It was hard to develop an identity and as a minority easy to lose my roots, especially in a northern community like Sault Ste. Marie.” Brooke is leaning into the love seat pushed against the living room window of her mother’s upstairs apartment in downtown Sault Ste. Marie. Her long, curly dark hair is piled on top of her head. “You don’t have a lot of outlets here.”
As a young teenager feeling pressured to keep up with the material status of her age group, Brooke picked up as many shifts as possible at a fast food joint. Keeping up her high school marks and working extensive hours wore Brooke out.
“I think the pressure of all of that was just overwhelming.” Brooke is trying to pinpoint the defining moment in her life that launched her drug use trajectory. “I think that’s why I started using marijuana and alcohol – to cope with poverty and having to be so independent at a young age.”
And according to Brooke, it was “all downhill from there”. Brooke began drinking and the good times rolled. She began missing shifts at work, skipped out of classes and eventually she dropped out of high school. Her networks led her to hard drugs and by the time she was 16 years old cocaine and ecstasy included her daily fixes. She partied with older dudes who provided her with access to her drugs of choice when she couldn’t afford it.
“Older men thought I was super cute and wanted to get me fucked up on dope so they could get me hooked and go back to the dealers.” For a while –for as long as she could hang on to her minimum wage job, Brooke could cover most of those costs. Brooke’s out of control and confrontational behaviour alarmed her family. She was shipped off to Ottawa to live with a family member in the hopes that a new environment would encourage a lifestyle change for the young girl. But Brooke held her course and she chose to live on the streets, trying to maintain her lifestyle of drug use.
After two months of sleeping on park benches and in shop alcoves in the nation’s capital, Brooke had enough and returned to the Sault thinking that she could pick up where she left off. But this time she had neither a job nor an income but addiction continued to lord her life. Brooke adjusted her boundaries.
“I wanted those drugs. I decided to do whatever I had to do to get those drugs. If it meant sleeping with men for drugs I was willing to do that. If it meant stealing from my family or my friends, that’s what I would do.”
At 18 years old Brooke would be homeless –again, this time in the Sault. She found temporary housing at the woman’s shelter -a serendipitous occasion where she would find new opportunities to delight her cravings for artificially induced serenity and if she had enough self-discipline, acquire a lucrative income stream.
Standing outside of the shelter for a smoke, Brooke reconnected with a woman who she had partied and drugged with. ‘Come stay with me’, said the familiar face to Brooke and so Brooke had a new home. But there were strings attached. Her new roomie introduced Brooke to what would be her greatest downfall. Brooke had never met an opioid in her life but she was quick to fall in love with oxys.
“She introduced me to oxys and I was still using coke. And from there she got me selling pills. And then I started doing the pills and I got really hooked on them. And so I was doing the pills that I was supposed to be selling so it became a debt issue for me and I had no way of paying this girl back…so I had to leave her apartment and once again I’m homeless.” Brooke musters a caustic laugh as she rolls her big brown eyes.
Always resourceful, Brooke crashed with another friend and found a new source of revenue when yet another older man supplied her with oxys and ecstasy to push. Finding customers was effortless, her biggest patrons were friends and extensions from her closest networks. Just 19 years old, Brooke provided her products to plenty of high school students. Her customers often came to her looking for cocaine but it was 2010 in Sault Ste. Marie and oxys were the big deal in town.
“I’d run out of cocaine and say ‘just try this’. And people wanted to get high so they did.” Brooke speaks directly and in a flat voice when she says, “Do I feel like a horrible person? Yeah. But it’s a cycle –people did it to me and then I did it to them.” But her voice wavers and her eyes tear up when she talks about her friend who died from an opioid overdose.
“There will be people who blame me for his death. I sold him his first pill and got him addicted to opiates,” she says. “But I wasn’t in my right mind,” she hastens. “I didn’t want him to become an addict and overdose. I just wanted money so I could do my drugs.”
Brooke presses her fingers beneath her eyes and slowly wipes her tears from the tops of her cheeks. She talks about the withdrawal from opiates, about how crazy-making and how painful it is. “You feel so bad, like you’re going to die. You just want more. You don’t care. You’re willing to do anything for it. You’re willing to sell your pride, you’re willing to sell your body, you’re willing to sell your soul to the devil. You’ll sell anything just to do dope.”
The loss of her friend was Brooke’s first rock bottom. She was ready to rip the monkey off her back.
“I was done with drugs. But then I realized I was an addict and I didn’t know how to do it. I kept using. I wasn’t eating. I wasn’t sleeping. I owed a lot of money to people. And I just didn’t want to live anymore.”
With absolutely nothing left to lose, Brooke hung her head, dropped her shoulders and appealed to her family. Her family welcomed her, loved her and said if she was truly ready to get clean they would help her as best as they knew how to. Her mother and grandparents found her a basement apartment in Sault Ste. Marie’s P-Patch- a ‘respectable’ residential area on the hill, suitable for families and studious out-of-town college students.
Brooke got clean cold-turkey -enough people knew about her addiction struggles. In close-knit Sault Ste. Marie too many people know who you are and Brooke wasn’t enthusiastic about revealing her darkest struggle to the grapevine.
“I sat in that basement for three months with no internet, no cable, no phone…detoxing in that basement. No medical supports, no counselling. I just sat there and detoxed. I cried. I puked. I sweat. I just did it. I didn’t want to go to the hospital. I didn’t want to be public about what was going on. It’s embarrassing. It’s shameful. It’s disgusting and I can tell you right now the medical staff at the hospital are going to treat you like shit, like the addict you are and say to you ‘you know what, you did this to yourself’.”
Brooke isn’t someone who is only expert in drug use and the drug culture in Sault Ste. Marie. Brooke is also a college graduate and a pretty soon university graduate, and awaiting her inevitable acceptance into a master’s program. And though Brooke has requested her true identity remain anonymous to protect her potential for a successful life beyond addiction, she will confess to readers that she has the unique experience of being on either side of services for people struggling with addiction in Sault Ste. Marie. And in her opinion the lens is warped from both perspectives.
“As an addict you are at risk to be stigmatized by all of those services that are meant to help you. You are judged. You’re belittled…I just didn’t want to deal with that.”
In 2011, Brooke stopped using drugs -mostly. Now in her early twenties, she went to college and acquired a diploma and then she moved on to university and did well. There were occasional relapses though as often happens during the recovery process. Every four months or so Brooke might do a rip of coke while out at the bar with friends but the next day she would hop back onto the wagon.
Five years after living relatively clean, Brooke had a major relapse. A culmination of events and triggers merged last spring in April 2016 –the anniversary of her friend’s fatal overdose, the anniversary of her grandfather’s death, a relationship break-up and a miscarriage.
“So what’s the one way I know how to cope?” Brooke answers herself. “By doing dope. So that’s exactly what I did.” Shaking her head she added, “It’s easier to call a drug dealer and ask for dope than it is to get a counselling appointment in this town.”
In Sault Ste. Marie Brooke admits you don’t lose your drug connections. “If you don’t do drugs for a month, people will message you saying ‘hey, I’ve got this for sale right now…hey, why aren’t you buying anything’. They’ll harass you. So it’s hard to get away from it.”
This spring Brooke reconnected with old colleagues and hooked up with a $10 morphine pill. “It felt so good. I wasn’t thinking about anything. And then it went downhill from there.”
Brooke kicked her relapse into high gear, ordering up the works. “I was doing lots of pills mixed with cocaine. I was smoking crack. And now fentanyl- because fentanyl is huge now. So I didn’t have the oxys anymore. But the fentanyl makes you not think of anything and makes you not have to deal with your emotions. And that’s what I wanted to escape from. So from April to July, I was using all types of drugs- heroin, fentanyl powder and patches. And those pills that looked like oxys,” Brooke said referring to a bad batch of something that a lot of users of drugs were chattering about this summer.
Brooke entered a convenient relationship with a guy who was heavily using drugs –he would perform thefts and proceeds raised from his crime would support the couple’s drug use. “The whole relationship was about drugs. I hated my relationship with him so much and who I was becoming.”
The last two months of her most recent drug use was intense. The oxys had a depressing effect on her and not in her right mind, Brooke decided killing herself made sense. She swallowed a bottle of clonazepam and went to bed to wait for her suicide to complete. She slept for two days and when she woke up it was to her boyfriend’s fist in her face.
While Brooke had been in a drug induced state for 48 hours her boyfriend was injecting whatever he could get into a syringe. He quickly burned through his money and as Brooke laid oblivious in the bedroom, he scooped her valuables to sell. When she had nothing left worth selling, he violently roused her. Pummeled into foggy consciousness, Brooke awoke to her boyfriend demanding her bank card and PIN number. Though wanting to die a few hours earlier and barely coherent, Brooke denied him. It was pure adrenaline –and divine intervention which took over when she wrested the knife he was swinging and turned it back on him. He fled and Brooke, drained of colour but for the black and blue bruises now rising to the surface of her flesh, was found on the floor by a neighbour who had heard the assault. Brooke went to the hospital for a few days and her boyfriend was arrested, charged and convicted.
Acquiring her dope now was going to require a few personal sacrifices.
“When he went to jail for what he did to me, I no longer had someone to go rob for me to get my drugs. So I had to resort back to what I knew and that was selling my body or my time with men who I probably wouldn’t even talk to if I didn’t want their money or their drugs.”
Brooke continued to use but after the suicide attempt and the incident with her boyfriend over the summer, her stamina for the lifestyle was draining. She was sitting on the toilet when her sister walked in on her. “She saw me fucked up on fentanyl powder with a crack pipe hanging from my mouth. I think those were my rock bottoms, my lowest points.”
On November 17th, Brooke quit cold turkey- again. With even more contacts now in the professional community, Brooke refuses to access the few services the Sault offers to recovering addicts fearing that the effort of being clean for so many years will be diminished by her relapse and her education and career path will be jeopardized.
“Addiction is such a taboo thing. Nobody wants to talk about it. And that’s the only reason why I’m talking about it today –because we need to. But if I ask for help or put my face and name on it then I’ll be questioned about my professionalism in my program. I’ll lose the last six years of everything that I worked so hard for. I’ll lose everything for being honest about what I’ve gone through and for asking for help.”
Brooke is relying on her family, who she says has been a tremendous support to her, and her own sheer will to put more days between today and her last drug use. She knows that the physical withdrawal from addiction will be horrible, she knows that she’ll need a lot of new thinking to be successful and she knows that this town will be her greatest challenge in staying clean.
“I just need to not do what I was doing. And to be around good people and to talk to my family doctor and just get through it. And that’s it. I can say ‘no’. I’ve said ‘no’ in the past. I just fucked up. It’s so easy in Sault Ste. Marie and I think it’s because I started at such a young age. I know all the drug dealers. I know this community. I know this culture. It’s too easy for me here. I need to complete my education and leave. I need to move somewhere new and not have it so easy to call a dealer when I’m having a bad day.”
Editor’s Note: Fearing professional recrimination, ‘Brooke’s’ true name has been protected upon her request. You can read part one of Addicted in the Sault: Tyler by clicking here. Part 3 concludes next week with Tyler’s and Brooke’s insights about the local drug culture and recovery challenges in Sault Ste. Marie.
(feature image: downtown Gore Street, Sault Ste. Marie, 2011)