I know that struggle all too well...

I know that struggle all too well...

They are words that I will hold onto forever:
"I admire people who struggle." This was Pelham Councillor Wayne Olson's opening remarks in last year's Town Hall on mental health and addiction which was held in Pelham.

Councillor Olson's words are at the heart of why, over the years, I have fought tooth and nail for the state of emergency for mental health, homelessness and addiction... because I know that struggle all too well.

For me, this struggle started with all forms of abuse in my childhood - and I still live with that trauma today. When I share with people that I am a survivor of child abuse, I often feel shame, humiliation, embarrassment, denial and judgement. This is how stigma works. For me, the abuse I suffered in childhood came in all forms too - it was physical, mental, emotional, and sexual.

This unresolved childhood trauma led to severe mental health issues. Anxiety attacks, fits of rage, self harm, suicide attempts, depression - just to name a few. I ignored the red flags...I buried it all and held it inside. I was terrified to tell someone what happened to me.

Instead, I used substances to escape and self-medicate.

I was introduced to cocaine and meth by a "friend" stating that it would make me feel better. It did at the moment -- and that was the problem. One day, I found myself drowning in a parking lot in my own vomit from a bad supply of cocaine. The experience inevitably induced yet another heart attack for me, totalling 3 by the age of 29.

If someone who I had known, was not in that parking lot and dialled 911, I would have died. And sadly, when the events were retold to me when I regained consciousness, I was also told several people in the parking lot simply drove right by me. Clearly this is due to the stigma surrounding this terrible affliction...was I somehow less of a human when I was drowning in my own vomit and in need of help? If it was your child/grandchild/loved one, and they were suffering, how would you feel if someone left your loved one in that position?

Incredibly, despite what happened, it did not stop me from continuing to use
drugs. If anything, I wanted to escape even more and not think of the trauma of the several times I had to fight for my life. I wanted to be numb - and I was. So numb, that I passed out for 48 hours straight by downing multiple Xanax. So numb, that I was aimlessly wandering the streets every night- looking for somewhere and someway to call it quits.

So how am I still here?

I am here because of caring community members who reminded me
that someone does care. They are taking the time to listen to me and learn about the struggles I have been through. There are many community members for whom without, I would not have ever known what it meant to be loved. And for me, my true supporters are my family.

It is easy to judge the mentally ill, homeless and addicted from a position of privilege. We do our community and loved ones a disservice when we do not listen to those with lived experience. By ignoring, ridiculing, silencing and downplaying that human being's struggles, we are adding to stigma, re-traumatizing the person, engaging in discrimination and segregating that mentally ill/addicted/homeless HUMAN BEING.

We are all supposed to be born with the same inherent human rights.

This is my truth. I have experienced what it is like to be completely dehumanized, viewed and treated as an object, a slave and a punching bag.

If we continue as a society to treat the mentally ill, homeless or addicted person as the "others" then we will never feel comfortable reaching out for help.

How will we ever effectively tackle the issues of mental illness, homelessness and addiction if we do not listen to the directly to the people experiencing it?

Mental health, addiction, homelessness policies are rendered useless without us.
If we continue to walk down the path of neglect on the issues of mental health, homelessness and addiction, then the negative impacts on communities will be insurmountable.

To note: Here is what this neglect is already costing the Canadian Economy:

Addiction: 46 billion a year approx. (ccsa.ca)
Mental health: 50 billion a year approx. (mentalhealthcommisson.ca
Homelessness: 7 billion dollars approx (The Homeless Hub)

My hope is that this letter will help the public better understand that the issues of mental health, homelessness and addiction affect us ALL in some way, shape or form, even if you think it doesn't.

The issues of mental health, homelessness and addiction are evolving and it is our
responsibility to evolve with them - and that takes understanding!

For me, the road to recovery continues to be long and painful and I am grateful that my friends continue to love and support me on the good days and the bad ones.
As the community becomes more aware of our struggles, than the healing process for our fellow Niagara residents struggling with mental health, homelessness and addiction can truly begin.

In solidarity,
Steven Roman Soos

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