If you’re on Facebook, you know that the social media platform likes to show you your “memories.”
If you’ve been on Facebook for any length of time, you know that sometimes those memories are from a decade ago, meaning sometimes they aren’t always ones you want to remember.
That happened to me the other day, when a grainy picture, likely taken with my old BlackBerry, popped up on my timeline.
“We thought you’d enjoy this memory from 12 years ago,” read the caption above the picture. The picture itself was of a hillside in a west-Saskatoon neighbourhood park, at the top of which were some scraggly bushes. The outline of a bright yellow box — what looked like a mailbox — was just visible inside the bare branches butting up against the fence line.
“Can you spot the needle drop box?” I had written underneath the picture, followed by, “Because junkies love a challenge.”
Immediately mortified, my first instinct was to scroll frantically back through over a decade of Facebook pictures to find the post and delete it.
However, as I watched, my life flashed before my eyes: my children aging backwards to birth; ultrasound pictures; dogs I’ve since put down in old age as playful puppies; friends I have and friends I once had. I realized there was no point in trying to scrub out that embarrassing aspect of who I was. Once it’s on the Internet, it’s out there forever anyway, even if I delete it. More importantly, however, is that it’s an accurate portrayal of who I was at that time.
Working in a newsroom and producing talk radio, we had received a tip from a Saskatoon police officer regarding the city’s needle exchange program, alleging that local drug dealers were being provided boxes and boxes of clean needles, which they were loading and selling as neatly and conveniently-prepackaged units.
I made a few more phone calls to other Saskatchewan health regions, and then to other provinces, and a picture emerged of a needle-exchange program in Saskatchewan that gave out significantly more clean needles than other provinces, in a less-controlled manner. For example, there was no “one dirty-for-one clean” requirement in Saskatchewan.
A decade ago, at a time when I like to think I was less mature than I am now, I saw those one-sided facts as being translated into a program that was enabling drug dealers and, by extension, drug users.
The police officer who planted the tip obviously felt that way too and saw in us a willingness to advance that theory.
What we, or at least I, failed to consider was the seemingly-obvious fact that regardless of whether it was a clean needle or not, drug addicts were going to buy drugs. In other words, I was ignorant, just in case the derogatory way I referred to “junkies” in my Facebook post didn’t give that away.
The last vestiges of my attitude toward needle exchange programs and safe-injection sites (or harm-reduction sites, as some prefer to call them) were erased through my once-unlikely friendship with politician and doctor Ryan Meili.
“I still don’t know how I feel about a safe-injection site in Saskatoon,” I grumbled over coffee one day.
“I don’t know why,” he replied. “There are unsafe-injection sites all over the place anyway.”
I think I’ve written about this before, but it was the beauty of the simplicity of that statement that turned my thinking on its head.
We’ve seen and heard it time and time again, from people of all walks of life — addiction is a powerful disease. We’ve seen Saskatchewan mothers cry over the deaths of their children, despite the heroic and herculean efforts they made to try to tear them away from the drug, to save their sons’ or daughters’ lives.
If a mother’s love cannot stop an addict from injecting, the inability to access a safe place to do so certainly wasn’t going to dissuade anyone.
Conversely, I’m not sure how I drew the conclusion that access to clean needles would be a more powerful
draw for the addict than the drug itself — that someone in the throes of addiction, paralyzed in the grips of withdrawal, would walk away from a fix held out to them by their dealer if it wasn’t in a clean needle.
So in that sense, while I deeply regret the hurt I caused with the casual cruelty of my use of the term “junkie,” or the role I played in waging a campaign against harm-reduction, I don’t regret being confronted by the bits of my personal history that I would rather didn’t exist.
If I ran for political office (which I never, ever will), I would likely have those memory-making screenshots of my Facebook past tossed in my face, and perhaps rightly so.
We should all have to take inventory of our beliefs occasionally, if only to recognize and appreciate the journey of how they’ve evolved. It also gives us pause to consider our current storeroom of beliefs, checking for areas in which our perspectives could be broadened, whether or not that changes our beliefs.
All of this is to say what’s not normally on the tips of most people’s tongues: thank you Facebook. Thanks for the memories.