Jody Vance, Breakfast Television, CITY TV, talks with Nichola Hall, an FGTA founder. The interview occurred just after the fatal overdose of Canadian television actor and musician Cory Monteith.
JODY VANCE: Tell us a little about how and why you got involved with From Grief To Action.
NICHOLA HALL: It was back in the very end of the 1990s, just before the millennium, when I discovered that my oldest son, who had always suffered from depression, was using heroin. It is bad enough now, I think, but back then it was an incredible shock. Anyway, it then happened that I found out that in my church there were other people [in our situation]– and I live in Kerrisdale, not where you would expect to find addiction, right? But we got together to share our grief, our anger, our frustration, our guilt, our shame: all those things that you have as a parent when you discover that your kid is using heroin.
For about a year, we met as a support group. Mayor Philip Owen at the time was bringing in the Four Pillars approach [to harm reduction] and there was a group of people in the AIDS community who were extremely worried about what was happening with the use of needles and the spread of AIDS. We were asked if we would be prepared to speak out. It was difficult to do, actually, because there is such shame attached to it, and such stigma, but we did decide we would do that.
We didn’t know how much attention we would get, but we held a meeting, we were covered by all the media, we thought maybe about 50 people would come and about 150 came. And they all said, “We thought we were the only ones. We thought we were battling this alone.” And so we realized that we were just the tip of the iceberg and that if we spoke out then perhaps more people would listen to us than, say, to those in the Downtown East Side.
JODY VANCE: So you drew back the curtain of shame and actually addressed that. As a parent, how did you get your first inkling that it was going on under your roof?
NICHOLA HALL: Actually, our son came and told us. He had been suffering something that seemed like flu all summer: terrible backaches, and so on. If I had known about the drug then, I would have suspected, but we didn’t suspect at all until he told us.
JODY VANCE: It’s very difficult to get help once you identify this, isn’t it?
NICHOLA HALL: Incredibly difficult, though things have improved in the last twenty years, and now they are linking mental health and addiction, which is so, so important because so many kids who have underlying mental health problems (that may not have been identified) may self-medicate with drugs.
For instance, my younger son had very severe ADHD, and Ritalin didn’t help him, but heroin and cocaine — wow — really sorted him out! That’s the [stigma] problem: people don’t understand that for the person, taking the drugs in the beginning solves a problem. It either makes them feel great or it dulls the pain, and so it’s not until they’ve been doing it for a while that the complications come up.
JODY VANCE: This fits into the story we’ve been discussing where Cory Monteith is concerned, and there are people who say, “Well, he made his choices, he decided to take heroin, he knew what he
was getting into.” But people don’t know what they’re getting into. This dragon is quite something.
NICHOLA HALL: It is, indeed — when you get the dragon by the tail, it’s almost impossible to let go.
JODY VANCE: Even with treatment, relapse is very common. Not everybody can be like a Robert Downey, Jr., who seems to have overcome so much after going as low as anyone possibly could and getting help. There are so many others who struggle in silence and shame.