A former addict talks to us about his tumultuous journey, starting when he was a pre-teenager and began using drugs, to his time homeless on the streets, to the present, on the eve of his 30th birthday.
A look at drugs by a graffiti artist and recovering drug addict.
By Annie Dion-Clément
With his many tattoos, a keen gaze and a wide smile, Victor (not his real name) is emotional as he recounts his beginnings in the drug world. He says he was 12 years old when he first smoked a joint.
It was a way for him to control his emotions. “Drugs were an escape from reality,” he explains.
An Emotional Emptiness
At night, Victor would prepare his little half-ounce bags to sell at school the next day. His stock was good, and he quickly became a good salesman. This created some jealousy among his competitors. Soon several people were keeping watch on him. Some students at the school snitched; school surveillance and the police got together to close down his operation. One morning, he was arrested.
He had the impression that he was alone, that the world was his enemy. “I was close to paranoia,” he recalls.
Once he got to the youth detention centre, Victor learned that he’d been watched for a year and that the authorities had 150 videos of him trafficking drugs. He picked up a criminal record for drug possession, and was consequently banned from going to the United States until 2020.
When he got out, the school he was attending organized a film showing in their auditorium. It included clips of him doing his criminal activity. He was tossed out of that school.
In all, six schools expelled him. Teachers excluded him and wouldn’t give him the time of day. He was judged everywhere he went. Some called him a poison on society. Nonetheless, he was able to finish high school and start some college level courses.
But soon after, he fell back into drug dealing as a way of clearing his debts. “It’s a mistake to constantly go back to selling drugs to get out of debt, because you don’t make any money. The more you sell, the more you consume, and it becomes a vicious circle.”
Victor ended up on the street for 6 years. “It’s debauchery,” he says, “because you find everything on the street. Violence, alcohol, sex and drugs are part of your everyday life. They were some tough times.”
He explains that he ended up on the street because he couldn’t manage his self-hatred. He wanted to destroy himself. “For a long time, I was at war with myself. But I got to the point where I wanted to change my life around.”
Looking back, he can associate his using drugs with his dysfunctional family environment. As a young man he suffered from emotional turmoil. He felt cast aside by his father, a complex man of many mood swings who showed no interest in him.
When his father left the house the mother became a single parent. A stepfather quickly entered the home and started imposing his authority and his rules. Victor avoided discussions and withdrew, becoming increasingly isolated.
The first few times he was caught with drugs, his mother and stepfather beat him and tied him to his bed before reporting him to the police. They often saved a bit of Victor’s stash and took it later. “It was real hypocrisy on their part. The way they acted only made our relationship worse. I got more rebellious and continually pushed my limits.”
Without a real father, he sought role models elsewhere: he was especially enamoured with gangsters. Victor watched TV and movies and dreamed of being a big-time criminal. He was fascinated by their image and their strength. He saw drugs as a way of getting to be more like them.
In a way, the attention that Victor got as a dealer helped him heal the suffering that his father’s indifference had caused: “Dealing gives you power, because you’re popular,” he notes. “You personify disobedience, and lots of people fear you and admire you all at the same time. You don’t go unnoticed.”
Back to the Past
Today he admits that he’s made a lot of irreparable errors: “The actions you take are permanent. If you take drugs, they can darken your life. You can have some serious problems.”
Nonetheless, he thinks that nobody’s perfect. He believes that your teenage years are the time to explore; and, sometimes, to do forbidden things in order to rebel against your parents and assert yourself: “We learn to recognize ourselves through the mistakes we make.”
Victor thinks it’s useless to try and get kids scared about using drugs. You have to simply inform them about the long-term negative consequences drug use can have on their lives: “If a youth wants to experiment, they will use drugs. You have to accompany them, not judge them. It’s the love that we give to our youth that will help them get through this phase.”
Nowadays he forgives himself and accepts his past. “I’ve had an original journey, with highs and lows. I no longer want to associate myself with the gangster image. I want to be myself, and do good.”
Victor has become a graffiti artist who is paid for his work. Covered in tattoos, he’s found a place in schools teaching children drawing and graffiti art.
Victor likes to express himself through art. The arts have taken a big place in his life. They were the therapeutic process through which he kicked his drug habit.
“But I still love the adrenaline lifestyle,” he says. This young man continues to integrate into society while conserving a touch of his marginality.