Episode 11 | Jonathan Orr
And one of the simple ways that it changed me was, um, accepting and kind of embracing my own humanity, but also the need for other people. The need for help, the need for community, the need for connection and that being a being a human being is hard enough without help, but being a human being that's struggling with significant mental health issues on your own is, is very difficult.
Jonathan Orr, a provincial crisis intervention specialist, opens up about his personal experiences with addiction and shares how he uses these experiences to support others and influence change.
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Sean Burke: [00:00:00]
Welcome back to another episode of the Care to Listen podcast. In this episode, I am joined by Jonathan Orr, a Provincial Crisis Intervention Specialist. Jonathan opens up about his personal experiences with addiction, and shares how he has used his own experience to support others and influence positive change.
Today’s episode is being broadcasted to you on the unceded and traditional territories of the Musqueam (xʷməθkʷəy̓əm), Squamish (Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw), and Tsleil-Waututh (səl̓ilw̓ətaʔɬ) Nations.
Trigger Warning: this episode discusses topics that may be triggering for some viewers. Including addiction, suicide, and trauma.
Hello, and welcome back to another episode of the Care2Listen podcast. Today, joining me on the show is our special guest, Jonathan Orr. Jonathan is a Crisis Intervention Specialist with the Mobile Overdose Response Team. Welcome to the show, Jonathan.
Jonathan Orr: Thank you. It’s so good to be here.
Sean Burke: Let’s just start off with a little bit about getting to know who you are. You’re somebody who has so much [00:01:00] experience when it comes to talking about overdose awareness, overdose response, and in general, just understanding what’s going on right now with the toxic drug supply. So I’m curious, like, before we get into that and your current work experience, let’s get to know you.
Jonathan Orr: Yeah. I mean, that’s an interesting word, right? Understanding. And, you know, um, I think the most profound understandings come from having lived experience of something.
So, those kinds of experiences live in us in a different kind of way than, say, academic learning might, or on the job training might, you know. They live in our whole selves. Like, they become physical parts of us. And for me, what that lived experience looks like is that I’m someone that, um, has lived with a substance use disorder diagnosis.
And so that manifested itself for me, in very serious struggles with addiction. [00:02:00] Uh, especially, you know, 12 years ago, I’ve been, I’ve been sober for about 12 years, but. Prior to that, it was, um, it was all consuming and, and really intense. And what happened for me was that, um, those struggles with addiction brought me, uh, really brought me to my knees and, um, uh, forced me to reach out for various kinds of help.
Um, and I ended up in residential treatment in 2011 at Pacifica, not, not far down the road here, actually. Um, just off commercial drive. And so, uh, that experience was, uh, transformative. You know, um, it was difficult. Of course, it’s, um, not an easy thing to go through. Um, but it really did change me in a pretty profound way.
And one of the simple ways that it changed me was, um, accepting and kind of embracing , um, my own humanity, but also the need for other people. The need for help, the [00:03:00] need for community, the need for connection and that, um, being a, being a human being is hard enough without help, but being a human being that’s struggling with significant mental health issues on your own is, is very difficult.
And so coming out of that, it was clear to me that I needed to maintain those connections and that sense of community and, um, also to, you know, try and turn that trauma and let’s be clear, it wasn’t just the trauma. I experienced, but the trauma I inflicted on others, my family, my friends, my community, to turn that trauma and what was a negative thing into perhaps something, something useful.
And so after Pacifica, I ended up living at the Belkin House, the Salvation Army downtown. That was a difficult experience. I remember, um, it was hard, you know, um, going to live there at first and I remember resisting and the thing that I was focused on was that the the [00:04:00] rooms they had available had linoleum floors and I was like, nope not going.
Yeah, i’m not going there I hate the floors, you know and it’s that kind of thing that can really like catch you up and you get like no it’s that detail that’s going to block me, because your addiction and your fears and all that stuff comes up and you look for ways to not do that thing that’s good for you.
Um, but I pushed through that and, and one of the things that was offered to me at, um, Salvation Army, so many powerful things there. Um, but one of the things was that, uh, they had a transitional housing program that was actually run by the Portland Hotel Society. Um, it was called Addiction Supported Independent Living, a really powerful program that sadly doesn’t exist anymore.
And what it was, you were assigned two workers from Portland Hotel Society who would assist you in getting housing, which man, that’s a traumatizing experience, right? Especially for somebody new in recovery and just kind of learning how to be a person in the world. And you can imagine what that’s like, you know, going to like interview for housing and [00:05:00] they’re like, well, what do you do right now?
I live at the Salvation Army. It’s difficult. It’s, you know, humbling and hard. And so this team and this program was there to help you with that. And again, those human beings, those connections that were like there to support you in that. But I, in that support, as they helped me through that process, I kept asking questions about what they did.
You know, what was Portland Hotel Society about? I knew a little bit, because I’d lived in and around Vancouver for a long time. I knew about Insite, for example. And then I just was like… It just, that’s what I want to do, that just came to me, you know, like, and I was like, I want your help, I want to go work at PHS, and I didn’t want to work anywhere, I didn’t want to work in the hotels necessarily, I didn’t want to do housing, I wanted to work at Insite, I really wanted to work with people who had, were going through and had been through something similar to me, and so, um, they were amazing people, uh, and they helped me do that, and so I applied, and um, I think I was pretty annoying.
I was like, kept like, you know, he needed certain hours before you could work at Insite. And I [00:06:00] was just, I kept hassling the manager, Darwin Fisher, who was an amazing human being as well. And finally he just kind of gave in. He’s like, okay, you know, come down and do your training. And so, yeah. And so I went to work at Insite in, I guess it was 2013 or somewhere around, 2012, 2013, around there.
And, and, and worked at Insite for a few years. Um. And I was still working at Insite when, um, uh, the drug toxicity crisis first hit. And that experience was, um, it was very sudden. You know, it was literally like two weeks before we would, you know, at Insite you’d have like one overdose a week. Um, usually mild.
Usually. In the injection room, you know, usually supported by, um, doctors and, you know, nurses that were there, really clear protocols, you know, and, and usually never any significant issues because everyone was so well trained. [00:07:00] Within weeks, we were responding to overdoses of people like almost like, uh, like dropping in traffic, almost getting run over by buses, people, um, on sidewalks, behind dumpsters, in stairwells.
Um, and when I say people, it wasn’t necessarily just. You know, people that lived in the downtown east side that maybe, uh, you know, that that typical stereotypical view of somebody struggling with substance use, we were like, um, uh, reviving construction workers on the way to build condos. We were reviving bus drivers.
We were reviving, uh, young people, Indigenous people. Everybody, all of a sudden, and it was really intense. And so, um, it escalated really quickly, and then it became part of the news cycle. And, you know, what, what is this? What do we do? And we started learning about fentanyl, and, um, and, uh, You know, it became apparent in me very quickly that the, the tools we had before weren’t going to work.
You know, like a safe injection site, you know. [00:08:00] Us staying in that site wasn’t going to work when people were passing out and overdosing all around us. We had to be able to respond quickly and in a different way. So one of the things that happened was that the province reached out to PHS and said, What are we going to do?
We need to do something different. This is a crisis. It requires a new kind of response. Um, uh, PHS said we, we have these spaces where we can set up, um, uh, overdose, what are called overdose prevention sites, which was a brand new idea. Um, Sarah Blyth, um, was one of the first to do this. And so what made those distinct was that they, um, because we needed to respond quickly and couldn’t necessarily like get doctors and nurses and all that infrastructure in place, the, the, the radical idea was to have folks from the community be part of those spaces, work in those spaces.
So, you know, it’s a, it’s a But now kind of phrase members of the community. Let me be really clear what I’m [00:09:00] talking about here. I’m talking about active substance users from the community. I’m talking about people that were maybe engaged in sex work. I’m talking about, um, those folks on the, that were already on the front lines in their own community, bringing their knowledge and experience of that community and those problems and um creating these powerful sites, right?
And we really talked about, um, radical kindness. Like everyone was welcome. You know, we didn’t bar people. We didn’t ban people. You know, perhaps you were somebody at Insite who couldn’t access Insite. You know, a lot of people at Insite were at least presented as dangerous. You know, we’re in psychosis or, you know, maybe sometimes carried weapons.
We did, we let everybody in and we were guided. And again, let me be clear that we’re guided in this by members of the community that knew these folks and knew that a lot of that stuff is, um, trauma response. You know, when somebody, yeah. Like when somebody arrives at your site and they’re agitated and they’re aggressive with you, that’s not about you.
They’ve [00:10:00] already been, um, traumatized. A dozen times before they arrived there, in the store they went in to buy their breakfast, on the bus, by police. Um, you know, they’ve already arrived there with all that trauma. We learned that radical kindness from so many powerful what we ended up calling peer support workers there who brought that lived experience and that real, authentic, patience and kindness.
And and so we set those up really quickly and you know the first one that opened was the Maple Overdose Prevention Site and we opened I think we opened it within 48 hours of being asked by the province and so I moved from Insite to there to do that work and you know, at those days we were responding, over a shift, we were responding to, you know, 25 to 30 overdoses per shift.
Um, and again, we’re now in, fast forward, and overdose prevention sites are the most common intervention in the overdose crisis, not just in Vancouver [00:11:00] and British Columbia, but across Canada and North America. Peer staffed overdose prevention sites are now the primary response.
But, it’s worthwhile, stepping back and reflecting on the power of that image and, and pick, you know, somebody who would arrive at work, do heroin before their shift started, like, because people have these images of people that use substances, um, are wholly dysfunctional, and that’s wrong. They would arrive, they would use substance safely with, uh, with us looking around, and then they would save lives all day long, you know, immersed in the, in this trauma, immersed in this crisis, immersed in this community that’s…
been, uh, left behind yet still there with that courage to, um, save their friends, you know? And so, so I, I worked. Really collaboratively and alongside, um, my peer colleagues to, to run these sites, um, and, and manage them for, you know, I think [00:12:00] about four years. Um, yeah, and then one of the things that happened from that was like realizing just the incredible depth of knowledge and innovation and creativity that these folks had.
And so what we did is we worked together to create a training program called the Street Degree. Um, and that did two things. It, on the one hand, it did provide peers with training that they wanted, um, but what was cooler was that it was, um, training that peers would often give. So we would have, for example, instead of doing the typical, like, first responders coming in, like, police and ambulance talking about how to de escalate, um, uh, or, you know, or to do non violent crisis intervention, we had community members doing that, and talking about the unique way they had to approach that.
Because they have to do things differently, you know, in a space like that. They… Because they’re working with their own community, um, they have to think differently about, you know, rolling up on somebody and saying, Hey, you can’t do that, or that’s not cool, or I’m going to kick you [00:13:00] out. They might be related to that person, or that person, they might owe that person money.
There’s all this really beautiful, interesting nuance there that reframed how we did this work. And so that got turned into the street degree, and then we went on to, after I left, The, the Maple and Molson Overdose Prevention site went on to have the opportunity to kind of take some of those ideas and turn them into a province wide online training curriculum called, um, uh, Peer Connect, um, uh, to train peer support workers.
And the cool thing about that, 100 % of it was, um, was done with folks with lived experience. Um, and for that course, that… That expanded a bit. It wasn’t just necessarily, you know, substance, active substance users or people with experience of substance use. It was people, um, with experience of a mental health diagnosis or perhaps people that, um, uh, gender diverse folks that may have, like, had [00:14:00] experience navigating the, you know, healthcare, um, Indigenous folks, uh, like everyone contributed to it and was really driven by folks with lived experience.
Sean Burke: So I’m curious, like, with that radical transition when you were at Insite, and then all of a sudden now the number of overdoses is accelerating, um, the response to those overdoses is transitioning and there is no blueprint. on how to, how to do this work. What does your personal lived experience, how does that support what you were doing in terms of creating the different, um, whether it’s structures or processes, like, how did that show up for you?
Jonathan Orr: The thing that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, um, is patience. Um, I, I think that, um, we. We primarily have to be patient with people who are undergoing these kinds of struggles. Um, you and I were talking [00:15:00] before we started recording about like, you know, um, there are, we are dealing with multiple crises, overlapping crises, intersecting crises, and so the people we’re trying to support in this, and I’m not just talking about people who are suffering from substance use disorder and are suffering from overdose, but also people that witness it and respond to it.
It’s hard, right, because we want simple solutions and we want to point to this one thing and say, you know, just stop using drugs. Uh, just stop doing the thing that’s harmful or, or whatever it might be. Um, we want to respond to chaos and disorder and our own personal lack of control with more control with more laws and and and things like that And I understand that I really do understand that but it’s If we’re to solve these things, we really have to do it all together.
Like, it has to be together. And that includes everyone in the conversation. It includes the folks, you [00:16:00] know, that are worried about their kids on the playground. It has to include them. We all have to do this together, and we have to be patient, and we have to understand that it takes time. You know, for example, I think one of the things that started the journey towards sobriety for me and, and recovery for me, and again being clear that, that idea of recovery can look um, different for everyone and doesn’t necessarily need to include sobriety at all.
For me it did, but one of the things that happened to me was I remember sitting at a bus stop um, at Main Street Skytrain Station and was just shattered. Just like pretty profoundly alone and broken and just sitting there and everyone’s going about their business as they should, you know, everyone’s like running along with their groceries and getting on buses and, you know, walking with their friends.
And it was a guy pushing a shopping cart who pulled his shopping cart over to that bus stop and sat down, right? He sat down right [00:17:00] next to next to me and like waited a moment. You know, he didn’t say anything at first, and then he just asked me if I was okay. Like, just that, you know? And, um… It’s those things like it’s not always going to be a new website.
It’s not going to be a new program. It’s not going to be Narcan. It’s not going to be You know government interventions it’s going to be this kindness that we have to bring to all these intersecting crises and this understanding that because these Um, problems affect all of us in different ways, whether that’s the housing crisis or, or, uh, inequality, um, or any of the other crises that we’re facing, um, that we have to solve, because they affect us all, we’re gonna, the solutions are gonna lie in us all coming together, um, and it’s hard to solve Take on the complexity of that work when you are, you know, in communities like the one we’re [00:18:00] in right now, often, you know, you know, people are witnessing a lot of trauma every day.
Stepping over people and seeing overdoses and sirens all day long and the desire to want that to just stop and go away is a very understandable one. Um, but these problems are complex. It’s a hard thing to say, but oftentimes when people are responding with understandable frustration and even intolerance, it’s hard, but often they’re echoing with, they’re arguing with the echoes of that.
response from people before them that wanted to push the problem down the road and say, I just want these people out of my neighborhood. I just don’t want them in my alleyway. I just don’t want to hear the sirens. I just want them in treatment. I want them in prison. I want them incarcerated. I want them involuntary, you know, care or whatever it is.
Um, that simply guarantees that you, or somebody like you, will be having the same reaction five, ten years from now. And [00:19:00] so many of those problems are, are what we’re dealing, are what we’re dealing with, because we haven’t come together and worked on them together to solve them together. And, and sometimes there may be crises that aren’t, you don’t feel like you’re impacting you, and like, why should I, I have a home, you know, or why should I help, help with homelessness when I have a home?
And it’s for that reason. It’s like, because you want a safe, Happy community, and we’re all part of this community, whether we have a home or not, whether we’re suffering from an overdose or not, whether we’re a substance user of illicit substances or not, or maybe we just use the legal ones. But these are problems we all have to work on together.
So, just to go back to your question, I really think, um, a lot about that patience, because for folks struggling, it can be, you know, I was joking about the linoleum, but I also wasn’t. Like, it can be the tiniest barrier or sense that people don’t, might not care. is going to shut the door, or I’m going to shut the door, and I’m going to walk away from this opportunity to change my life.[00:20:00]
Um, and this opportunity to maybe not be that burden that you’re frustrated by now. You know, like, who knows what I would be doing now if people hadn’t been patient and kind with me. Um, and maybe I’d be that person in your alleyway. Um. That you see as a problem if if that kindness hadn’t been available to me in so many different ways.
Sean Burke: Yeah well when you talk about you know the simplicity in a response or in connecting with somebody on the one side, you know, that can be the challenging part is how do you connect with someone so simple as asking them: How are you doing today?
Are creating those safe places. But then, you know, you fast forward to you being a significant contributor to helping respond to the overdose crisis and having dealt yourself with over 300 overdoses and responding to that, that takes a toll, it’s toll on somebody. So, being in the industry and now supporting others, [00:21:00] what did that do to you personally when you were, you know, consistently showing up and working through some of those challenges and like I said, not having that sort of clear pathway or this is our process and protocols to follow.
Jonathan Orr: You know, thinking back to the beginnings of the crisis, we really thought that it would be a temporary thing. We really thought that, you know, just sort of connecting back to what we were just talking about, it’s like we really thought that there would be a full court press, you know? Like that, you know, municipal, provincial, federal, um, governments would come with, um, a comprehensive solution.
And, and, and that didn’t happen. And, you know, that was, that was really difficult. Um, but it, one of the things that’s really hard is that, you know, when you have folks like myself that have lived experience and want to give back or want to help, um, you know, whether organizations are conscious of this or not, they [00:22:00] count on that, right?
They count on people in healthcare and on the front lines to be those people. And so they push them. Um, they put them through a lot, and they, um, tell them that help is coming, that change is coming, when it isn’t. Um, and they don’t often take the risks to be honest, and they don’t often take the risks to take responsibility, like leadership.
Um, in particular in management, don’t often take the risks to be open about what they’re asking of you and what the limitations of what they are, what, what they can provide. And so that was like really hard. It’s like, honestly, like the most consistent thing is that the, what they call emotional labor part, you know, like where you feel like you’re not making a difference.
You know, it’s like, you know, responding to hundreds and hundreds of overdose yet. They keep happening. You feel like nothing is changing. Maybe I’m not making a difference. Maybe I’m not helping people and organizations are not good. [00:23:00] Um, at helping their workers, um, deal with that emotional labor and take that emotional labor off their plates and go, You are here, um, this is your job, this is who you are, this is how you are in the world, but it’s not your job alone to solve the overdose crisis.
You can’t, you personally can’t keep everyone alive. You can’t push this rock up the hill. And, but that doesn’t happen. Within that, it’s also, it’s hard, right, because no one was, this is new, you know, this isn’t part of what health care used to look like, um, and it’s unique, probably in, I mean, the overdoses crisis is intense everywhere, but it’s certainly extraordinarily intense in British Columbia and in, and in Vancouver, and so no one’s prepared for this, and no one’s prepared for the toll it takes on frontline workers, and there has to be some brave thinking about can we even ask people to do these jobs for 5 years, 4 years, 3 years, 2 years? Is it [00:24:00] rational and reasonable to say, Hey, you’re a mental health care worker, you’re going to do this work for 5 years. Or should we be thinking about, We’re going to give you a huge amount of training and support, and we’re going to ask you to do this work, if you’re well, for 2 years.
And then you aren’t, you’re not going to be able to do it. Because that’s another big part when we’re caring people, and this also becomes a trauma response, we keep going. Um, because the, one of the ways to keep that trauma at bay and that fear at bay is just to keep doing the thing. It’s harder when you step away, and you and I talked about that before.
It got really hard for me when I stepped away from the front lines. It was way harder. And so, um, You know having organizations recognize that and going we love who you are We love that you want to continue to help you. You aren’t allowed you can’t work on the front lines for the past two years It’s just an idea I’ve been thinking about who knows if it’s even even doable But it’s that kind of thinking about like we have its first principles thinking right?
It’s like stop thinking about what this used to [00:25:00] look like, you know, what should it look like considering the function We’re in, you know, like, consider what we’re trying to do, the problems we’re trying to solve, we can’t go about it the same way. It’s going to need different supports.
Sean Burke: And it’s, it’s fascinating listening to you talk about, you know, the opportunities that really the entire industry, radical transformation, but it’s really radical creation.
Um, and we use, I use that word radical when really it’s just, no, it’s just a different response than what has historically been done. So I’m curious, you know, when we come back to your personal story here, you also, during this time, when you were working on the front lines, you were going home each night to your family.
Um, and some of the other, um, maybe peer support workers, they were still living in community, um, you know, whether it’s on the Downtown East Side or living in their, in their active addiction. And so what, and how does that. You know, [00:26:00] differentiate or take a toll and in the way that the team and the community really shows up to solve this problem as opposed to, you know, solely relying or placing that onus on the individual.
Jonathan Orr: you know, everyone’s talking about self care, um, and it annoys me, um, it, you know, it because, you know, community care in my experience has been a far more profound and effective way of dealing with it. Yeah, it really has. And that’s what. You know, that’s what we’re doing right now. Um, and that’s especially one of the biggest things that Peers brought to the work, was the power of connection and community.
Um, but you’re absolutely right. What was being asked of Peers was, was huge, right? Because, you know, as you say, I could take a bus up the street and, to a certain degree, leave a lot of that. Um, crisis and emergency behind, whereas, um, you know, our peer workers that are still doing this work, and they would often, at the peak of the crisis, they [00:27:00] would walk home and respond to overdoses, they would respond to overdoses in their building, they would constantly be doing this, and, um, This connects back to, like, organizations having a duty of care to everyone on their teams and to talking about how they’re going to support and change, as you said, that radical creation.
Like, what are they going to do differently? And one of the biggest challenges, and I’ll be frank, was that the organizations that were working with peers did not do that. You know, they took it, they absolutely took advantage of that. And they absolutely, um, you know, They, they, they turn themselves in knots trying to like, define what the peers were doing as, you know, volunteering ish.
Um, it’s a return to work program. It’s, they would just tie themselves in knots to try and redefine it. Um, Because I don’t even know why I mean the fear again that fear of like, well, what does [00:28:00] this look like without recognizing as we were talking before, this is a completely different crisis. It’s a different beast than we’ve ever faced before.
And we need different tools for it. And the peers are probably the most biggest most effective tool in this, but we need to support them in things like supporting their desire for a union, for example, supporting their desire early on for vacation pay, for access to some form of counseling and benefits.
And that’s why we talk about this intersecting crises and stigma, right? Because you have somebody working within the overdose crisis, which everyone’s focused on in the moment, but what the people in management and leadership didn’t recognize is what you’re implying. There is that the people doing this work.
Yeah, they’re Responding to the overdose crisis, but they’re also part of the crisis of inequality many of them suffering intergenerational traumas Indigenous folks as well And what are you gonna do about that in this in this moment? And how do you provide for them in in this [00:29:00] moment? And again, it’s also the burden on the folks that weren’t peers because we would be tormented with I was heartbroken about getting on that bus every day.
It was hard. You know, I literally, I have very strong memories of like, you know, hugging my friend Sean, Sean Giroux goodbye and watching him walk down Hastings knowing what he’s walking back into, you know, and I get to get on, on the bus, get on my iPhone and watch a movie on the bus on the way home or whatever it was.
And so it was hard. It was hard even that way. And that’s that thing, that emotional labor, like what are the organizations doing to address this problem? You can’t, you can’t, use these people and then not, um, help them and support them. It isn’t complicated and it’s weird how that gets right to the root of the overdose crisis, and that’s like, we do think of people who use illicit substance differently.
We value them less, because there’s no other way of explaining why that happens in those moments. There isn’t a I can’t [00:30:00] find a different I’ve thought about it, and it on some level, unconsciously, these organizations do see, um, peers as less, or else this wouldn’t be complicated. Um… You know, yes, there’s budgetary issues and things like that, but we found the budget to do things like create a street degree program because that looks good.
We can sell that, you know, um, we can put that in our annual report. We can, you know, do a TikTok video about it. But like, it’s just like, and it’s still happening to these days. Like, we still make making videos about peers and peers appearing in videos. Um, but they’re not paid the same as the person who organized the video, you know, that works at the same organizationism and things like that.
So it was hugely frustrating and, and traumatizing and, um, you know, it’s important that organizations try to untangle themselves from the Um, I, you know, I don’t necessarily like this phrase because it’s been weaponized, but virtue signaling stuff, right? [00:31:00] You know, the optics stuff and go, what tangible material differences are we making for peers and the folks that work alongside them?
What are those tangible material differences are, are they? Are we communicating them to our staff? Um, are these real, not pilot projects? Don’t promise stuff to people if you can’t follow through on it. Here’s the real things we’re going to give you. Here’s a plan for us to follow through on them. And here’s what we’re going to do if we aren’t able to.
So many organizations promise things, don’t follow through on them, and never talk about that part about it. They’ll, they’ll promise, uh, 20 things, they’ll deliver on one of them, and that will go in the report. Not the 19 they didn’t do. And so, untangling ourselves from that. The, the virtue signaling and the optics of it and doing the real hard day to day work of materially changing what works looks like for people and what real supports in the work looks like for people.
Sean Burke: What I love [00:32:00] about listening to you and understanding more about this issue is your authenticity. Um, and understanding that, you know, You’re somebody who has taken your lived experience, you’ve then worked in the industry to create a better world for peers, for people who are in active addiction, and then, you know, now you’re continuing that journey.
What I’m curious to learn a little bit more about is just how you utilized some of the different services and supports that were available to you and, and kind of how, you know, moving forward with some of this work on that provincial mobile response team, you know, what other services are available that maybe you didn’t know, you know, what you had when you were working through some of those challenges?
Jonathan Orr: It’s a really good question, right? Because it’s like, we can have all these big theories about all this stuff, but it’s really… If there isn’t something there [00:33:00] for you to go to when you’re ready, it doesn’t mean anything, right? And, you know, I thought a lot about it and, um, you know, I even, at one point in early recovery, was trying to count how many people had helped me get, just get to recovery.
And I lost count at hundreds, you know? Like, we get caught up in this idea, it’s like, my story? Or, you know, I did this, I did not do this. I did not do this. Like, a community did this. Real people out there right now, somebody out there right now is the person that answered the phone at Pacifica. You know, that person that is the, that human being that decided to do this work and show up in the world that way, went to work one day, picked up the phone, and made a difference and contributed to me being here right now.
And so, some of the things that were available to me were, were, was um, Addictions counselors, that’s not quite the right substance and anyway, they’re available usually at your local health authority, [00:34:00] you know, clinic, drop in clinic. They’re so undersung. And they really are an incredibly powerful resource that can connect you, not just provide you with somebody to talk to and, and to hold you up, but to connect you to resources.
So one part of my story, for example, was I was so sick and, and, you know, I was really, it was really bad. And I remember, um, I was living with my parents cause I burnt my life to the ground. And I remember one morning, I… And this is the longest walk of my life, walking from the spare bedroom to the phone going, you know, I was going to call my, uh, addictions counselor, cause I was, and I did, and I called him and I said, I, I don’t know what to do.
I really need help. I need, I, I’ll do anything. And he said, okay. Um, I’m going to send your application off to Pacifica. And I said, my application to Pacifica, I haven’t filled that out. And he’s like, I did. I filled it out months ago, you know. And that, that’s an [00:35:00] emotional thing for me to talk about. Because that’s really, that’s somebody who really saw me.
And, in the moment, also allowed me, um, choice and self determination knew that if they said this is what you should do. Here’s the application. Let’s send it in now. Wasn’t the right time they knew that they saw me they had the experience to wait until that moment and he literally faxed it in that afternoon so those counselors were available to me, Pacifica was available to me, um, 12 Step is a big part of my story, that was available to me, but then from Pacifica, there were things like Hope Bridges, which is still going, and provides like, um, helps you, uh, think about what you might want to do for work, and, um, Sometimes it’s just that place to be in early recovery too.
It’s like you’re there with your friends and you’re doing these weird things about, we did all these like personality type tests, which were pretty ridiculous. But honestly, like being there with people and having a place to be was important in early [00:36:00] recovery. So yeah, like treatment and, and, um, counselors and things like Hope Bridges.
Um, and of course. The thing I mentioned earlier, that program which doesn’t exist anymore, but the PHS program, the Addiction Supported Independent Living, there were so many people and programs that helped me, and this is why they go back to that patience, right? It takes time, there’s, you know, very few of those miraculous stories where somebody just…
Does what like goes to an AA meeting and they’re fine forever or goes to detox for a couple of nights and is fine forever. That’s not common. It takes a lot of time and a lot of different resources. And like I said, it takes those hundreds of people that are showing up to those jobs. And um, uh, seeing people, listening to people, being authentic with people and helping them takes time.
But there were a lot of resources early on that helped me a lot.
Sean Burke: Well, and again, listening to your story, and although everybody else who’s come in and, you know, woven into your story [00:37:00] and has helped you get to the place you are today, what I find so fascinating is the fact that you had those opportunities, but you also took those steps that you needed to take.
And yes, every two steps forward is one step back or however you want to, you know, talk about your journey. But I’m curious, like as somebody who’s now working on the front lines and who you know, you might have a difficult day and you have some more resources and tools that you can process. You know, what, what maybe you’ve been going through, but at a certain point, it does take its toll on you and what, do you have any sort of, um, coping mechanisms that you, you know, use in a good way today to support you on your continued journey?
Jonathan Orr: Yeah. I mean, we talk about, we talk about coping mechanisms a lot and, and, uh, you know, it’s funny. I just came from, um. Some work we were [00:38:00] doing with the mobile response team and it was interesting because a lot of the, the coping mechanisms and, and, um, because we’re all similar in many ways, they’re, they’re, they’re similar.
Like people talk about being in nature, they talk about, um, pets and animals, they talk about family and friends, they talk about food, um, they talk about all those things. But it was interesting because one of the workers talked about, um, And, you know, instantly the people near them sort of reeked out and sort of, you know, like, they’re a very close team and they were kind of laughing about like, oh, this person’s like, immerses themselves in work.
The implication being that that’s not healthy. The implication being that you’re just avoiding hard feelings and big feelings. And yes, you have to be careful about it. But, if I’m being really honest with you, the thing that is the most helpful is, is work, is helping. Um, it is. Um, and I think we need to…
Allow that to be one of those [00:39:00] things. And it’s often not. People are often sort of go, Yes, your work is important, but, you know, you gotta have a bubble bath as well. Like, you gotta, you know, that doesn’t work for me. It doesn’t. It just doesn’t. And I’m not being judgmental about it, but it just doesn’t work for me.
Learning works for me. Um, helping works for me. Connecting works for me. Because going back to, um, you know, addiction, it is a cliche, but it’s absolutely true. The thing that was killing me and making me sick was isolation, and loneliness, and secretiveness, and all that stuff. And so the things… Now that keep me healthy and happy are connection and I get that through yeah I get it absolutely I get it through AA.
AA is part of my story continues to be but I also get it through through work And through doing as well, but also the other stuff like music is hugely important for me Walking is hugely important for me. I love walking and there’s lots of science to back that up about [00:40:00] the stress hormone cortisol gets dissipated when we are in movement.
Um, and there’s lots of, you know, uh, research that shows that walking in particular is very helpful for processing things. So walking is huge, music is huge, my pug, my pet, so some of the same. That was an easy one for ya. Some of the same things for sure. And my family and my friends. But I just did, I did want to do that thing because it’s like.
I think often people are looking for that answer, like, they’re like, Okay, Jonathan, yeah, yeah, it’s all, all the, all the doing, but what else is there? But honestly, it is the doing, and it does make me feel good. And, and, although there have been serious effects. to my health from this. It’s still worth it. Um, you know, I have, um, PTSD definitely shows up in my body in lots of different ways and, you know, it sucks.
It’s not the greatest. Um, uh, but I feel [00:41:00] better when I’m helping and doing, um, and again, like, to be clear, it’s not like, so first of all, that’s not something that Will work for everyone, but it works for me and it’s not expected of people. Everyone will have their ways of doing it. Um, and just to be clear that I’m supported in that action, like I can go and do, I can go and do that because of my family, because of my wife, because of my son, and because of my friends and family.
It’s not just me shouldering it up alone. It’s, it’s that, and that’s that community care part.
Sean Burke: And also too, I know that you’re somebody who has gotten into this work, really wanting to make a difference. And I think so many of our listeners, the reason why they get into supporting others, being in the healthcare industry is because they want to make a difference and they genuinely care.
And, and it’s sometimes as you alluded to earlier, you know, when you’re consistently. In the trenches doing the work sometimes, you know, that can be difficult to remind yourself and [00:42:00] so having that care plan, having the ability to to turn to those healthy outlets and it’s going to be different for everybody.
It’s something that I know, you know, we’ve heard consistently on on the show here and I feel like it’s coming back to humanizing, you know, the individual.
Jonathan Orr: Doing this work. It’s continually re humanizing. And continually bringing me back to those human gestures, those small things, it’s an immense privilege to sit with people and hear those stories and because it’s hopeful, you know, it’s very hopeful to see these people who, um, all do look different and come from different experiences, different than me, um, all working as a team to care and support and love people, um, and they’re there sharing a sharing that work with me.
It’s, it’s amazing. And it keeps, it really does humanize things and makes me hopeful. Like, um, we [00:43:00] hear a lot about inhumanity these days, but it’s the caring humans are the norm. Absolutely, they are.
Sean Burke: Well, Jonathan, it’s been such a privilege today for myself to be able to sit with you to have this conversation.
And, you know, the more that I continue to, to be able to ask you some of these questions and learn from you the more that I, I know that there’s more work that needs to be done. Um, it’s very clear, you know, your experience, your ability to take complex situations and, um, scenarios and really just distill them into, again, those humanizing moments is where, you know, personally, I, you know, raise my hands and give you all the accolades that, you know, you deserve in terms of what, what you’ve gone through, where you’ve come to and, you know, where you will, will continue to go towards.
So as we wrap up here, uh, a question that I love to ask every one of our, our guests are, [00:44:00] if somebody was struggling today, what is that one piece of advice? What is that one thing that you might, um, support them with, reach out, connect them with, how would you be responding?
Jonathan Orr: Um, I think it’s two things, really. I think it’s, you know, again, it’s, it’s this, it’s always the same thing. It’s reach out. Um, be human, reach out. But, but underneath that, it’s like, what are you, like, look very closely at what you’re scared of.
Because that’s where the help is. Like, the thing that you’re scared of. That’s the path. It’s, it’s almost always there. You know, and for me, that was… That was fear of my own humanity. It was fear of other people. It was fear of connection. But it was also the thing that saved me. And it was also exactly, precisely the thing that I needed.
So, reach out, um, and if you can, think about what it is that’s holding you back and what you might be afraid of. Because there’s probably some answers in there. [00:45:00]
Sean Burke: Getting, getting comfortable with the uncomfortable, um, certainly something that I feel, you know, so many of us continue to work with, um, and towards, but, uh, everything that you said today, um, you know, we’re really grateful for your experience and your knowledge.
So thank you so much for being part of this show and, um, for all the great work that you’re continuing to do.
Jonathan Orr: Thank you so much. It was such fun and such a pleasure to be here. Thank you.
Sean Burke: Thanks for listening to this episode. Be sure to visit the links in the show notes for resources and supports from the Care for Caregivers program. If you’re interested in sharing your story on the Care2Listen podcast, please reach out to us at careforcaregivers.ca/podcast. And don’t forget to follow us on your favourite podcast platform to be notified when new episodes are released. Thanks again for joining us and see you next month.