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Reflecting on another year gone by

The question is...

What did you learn in 2021 that you will carry with you into 2022?

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2021 was probably my best year to date. Also my worst year to date. But life is a balancing act and I’m still standing, so I suppose I must have either gotten really lucky, or I somehow managed to stay focused enough to reach the end of that proverbial tightrope, high above the nail-biting crowds of onlookers. 

Probably a bit of both, actually. Thank God. 

Anyway, it went like this: My “lived experience” served me well in 2021. 

First, there were the writing workshops that Megaphone hosted for a project called Truth to Power, in which I was able to see three writers we recruited published in three separate issues of the magazine. A heartfelt thanks goes out to Martha Billy, Dennis Gates and Kerri Moore for sharing their profound experiences of incarceration with our readers. Those stories were later adapted visually, filmed and recorded professionally, and retitled Incarceration: Truth from Shadows, in partnership with Illicit Projects. This 45-minute, three-video series was then featured online as a Top Pick at the 2021 Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival for the whole internet to witness. 

Next came my collaborative work with BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services, where I was hired as a Lived Experience Strategic Advisor on a project called Stigma Awareness and Reduction Initiative. (The name was later changed to UNITE or Understanding Each Other Together). Our mandate was actually to develop another three-video series, but this time animation was the visual medium used to depict the words of the three storytellers who shared their experience with stigma in mental health care and justice systems settings. The videos, titled Stories of Experience, are so far a big hit with everyone who has watched them and are being followed up with development of open dialogue sessions, facilitated to discuss what people have learned from watching them and what they can change today about their own behaviours and thinking patterns moving forward. A great many thanks goes out to Chris, LT and Charles for the sharing of truth, wisdom and healing. 

Next, was my grandest publication credit to date in the Turtle Island Journal of Indigenous Health (Vol. 1, Issue 2 Strength in Community). The Transformative Community: Gathering the Untold Stories of Collaborative Research and Re-integration for Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, Post-Incarceration and Beyond was a 6,000-word piece of collaborative expository/conversational-style writing published in one of the most prestigious Indigenous academic journals in Canada. The lengthy title pretty much says it all. Sincere honour and gratitude for this one goes out to my esteemed colleagues (OMG! I have esteemed colleagues!) and co-authors Dr. Helen Brown, Elder Dr. Roberta Price, actor/playwright Patrick Keating, Unlocking the Gates outreach worker Pam Young and last but certainly not least, PhD interdisciplinary research student Kelsey Timler for all their patience and perseverance in this incredible team endeavour.

Thanks also to Dezireh Abraham and Samantha Young, whose collaborative contribution of an illustration for this article displays the immense beauty and powerful influence of the work of the UBC Transformative Health and Justice Research Cluster. 

However, as I mentioned, it was also my worst year ever. The Megaphone Speakers Bureau lost five amazingly talented people. I lost three more close friends, bringing my personal loss count to 20. And Vancouver lost 1,782 lives to the ongoing illicit drug overdose/poisoning crisis. This is the highest overdose death rate on record (reached in October; the numbers are higher now), and dwarfs all other fatality statistics, including COVID-19.

These were preventable deaths and they were good people whose families didn’t deserve to lose them. Many of these people had hard stories, but shared them with the world in the hopes that their experiences might help someone else to search their hearts and souls and perhaps reconsider the choices they make about their own assumptions, their prejudices and the human nature of stigmatization as it relates to drugs use and the people who share this world, this community and this collective voice. 

So what did I learn from all this “lived experience”? Well, mostly I’ve learned that in this one life I’ve been given, tough as it is sometimes, never once was I ever left alone or behind. Not once was I discounted or disrespected for my often misunderstood lifestyle choices or the obviously fortunate skirting of responsibility for my actions. Not once was I shown anything but love and acceptance by my peers, my co-workers, my family or my girlfriend. Even my cats still love me, purring me into cuddles as I write this self-reflection. 

I learned that which cannot be unlearned: that once a person chooses to believe in themselves, there is little to do but believe in them also. Believe in them and support them however they need you to, even if it seems irrational and unlikely that they'll succeed or even cross the “impossible” finish line. Because by believing in them, you are creating an energy that was never there before and the spontaneous nature of creative energy to propel itself forward is not just something to behold, it is what moves the universe in dynamic motions of unfolding potential. 

And to me, that seems worth the moments of effort it might cost us.  

This column is managed by Nicolas Crier. If you'd like your query answered by a Megaphone expert, send it to: [email protected]

— Nicolas Crier is the Storytelling and Community Networking Liaison for Megaphone.

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