Monday, 1 September 2008

Who Is April Morrison?

Last year one of my neighbours told me she was so happy that we don't get any "junkies" in this neighbourhood. When I asked her how she knew this she this she said we would know if they did because they would break into our houses and leave "AIDS infected needles" laying around. I tried to tell her that was a stereotyped view but she told me I was being unrealistic and would know better if i knew any junkies.
-April Morrison

Each morning, secondary school teacher, Aril Morrison gets up early for work. She showers, has breakfast, pats her cat good-bye and heads off for another day at a job she loves. April has been a school teacher for many years and is well respected by her peers.
I get a lot of positive feedback and praise from parents, staff and students for being a dedicated teacher who the young people respect. People often tell me that my job must be difficult because adolescence is a difficult age group, but I really don't find it to be that much of a challenge. All of my appraisals have been extremely positive. A few years ago I was also made a year level coordinator.
April lives in one of the better parts of a large regional city in NSW with good neighbours and close to the city centre. Although single at the moment, April has recently separated from her fiancé after a relationship of nearly 10 years. Her ability to have children is fading with time which was an issue of contention with her ex fiancé but for April, getting married and having children is not a priority.
I'm not sure I believe in marriage. I think it is too religious based and this is evident by the current refusal to let same-sex couples get married. I am reaching an age where I may miss out on having children if I do not do it soon, but I am ok with that. It may be a decision that I regret later on in my life but I will cross that bridge when I come to it. I have thought about adopting or fostering a child. There are many children out there who already need a home to live in, but my former partner was only interested in having his own children. I am not bitter about the breakup and I still have a lot of respect for him.
April is a contributing member of her community with the same concerns and worries as anyone else. She is polite, caring and humble, a hard productive worker, a tax payer with has no mishaps with the law, is an important part of a caring family and a role model for her students ... in fact she is probably a good role model for all of us.
Really, I am just a normal person, and I do also see myself as being a good person. I care about the world, I care about doing a good job and being a positive role model for my students, and I care about my friends, family and pet cat.
But something is different about April. After a hard day’s work, she doesn’t head straight home, she heads the opposite way to a neighbourhood that is not so good. April is going to her drug dealer to purchase heroin. Why would April purchase heroin? Because, April is a heroin addict. For over 10 years now, April has had to rely on heroin to maintain a balance in her world, our world. April Morrison might be your next door neighbour, work colleague or friend. You would have no idea that April was dependant on heroin and you probably never will. Her fiancé was one of the few who did know and although not a drug user himself, he accepted her decision before they committed to a relationship.
My partner and I had been in a relationship for nearly ten years and he struggled to accept how my use impacted on our financial situation. We definitely didn't struggle, but he made much more money than I and was unhappy with me spending my money on heroin. He did not use any substances besides the occasional beer, cigarette or puff on a joint. He knew that I used before we started the relationship but he grew less and less tolerant of it as time went on. I admit that I did hide it a lot to avoid arguments, but this approach was not very successful. When you have lived with someone for seven years they are able to read your body language quite easily. The pinged eyes are a complete giveaway. Another issue for us was that I did not want to have children while I continued to use heroin.
April might also be your local school teacher in charge of your children’s education. Even as you read this, your child may be looking up to their teacher, Ms Morrison, asking for her help on some school related issue. Do you feel uncomfortable knowing a heroin addict is teaching your children? I know most of the answers already. STOP. Why do you think a heroin addict shouldn’t be teaching your teenage children? Do you really have an informed opinion? Do you really know what a heroin addict is? Let me explain. Heroin is simply an opiate, derived from morphine. Millions of people are taking morphine based drugs daily. Teachers in NSW, politicians in Canada, judges in the US, pharmacists in Adelaide, priests in Italy, police officers in Canberra, Aboriginal elders in the NT, prosecutors in Britain, factory workers in Brazil, particles physicists in Germany, editors in Singapore, car salespeople in the Ukraine, grandmothers in Israel, health care directors in Paris, road crossing monitors in Greece, prison wardens in New Zealand and digital typographers in South Africa. Morphine is addictive and many people using morphine form a dependancy. Whilst morphine is the gold standard of pain medication, heroin was withdrawn from use in many countries after the US ruled it a drug with no medicinal value. The US has since waged a war on heroin via the UN which many countries feel obliged to follow. Heroin though, is still used in quite a few countries for medicinal purposes including addiction treatment. In their crusade to demonise heroin, the US led the way with propaganda campaigns and the spread of misinformation which has become the normal practice for other countries. The image of heroin junkies shooting up with dirty spoons and needles in rat infested hovels is the image put forward by governments for over 30 years leading to several generations believing this fallacy because that is what they have been told. In reality, heroin is just another opiate. Yes it’s more addictive and gives an instant effect when injected or smoked but after a few minutes, it’s like any other morphine based drug. In fact, the chemical structure of heroin just allows the morphine to cross the blood-brain barrier quickly and the end result is the morphine itself. The real problem with heroin addiction is current drug policy outlawing drug use that makes heroin expensive but someone working and on a methadone program can avoid the stereotypical image of a homeless, sickly looking junkie. They can pay for the drug and avoid most of the problems caused by having to fund their habit illegally. Heroin is basically non toxic with virtually no side effects except constipation. It’s the same as taking legally prescribed opioid medications. You have to ask yourself, would you even be worried if your child’s teacher was on medication for pain due to an accident? Of course not so really, what is the difference? The difference is perception. The perception that has slyly been drilled into us by government scare campaigns and a drug hysterical media that feeds that perception. Each morning, April visits a small pharmacy on her way to work to receive her methadone. This keeps her stable during the day and enables her to work without suffering withdrawal symptoms. Living in a small city increases the chances of being seen receiving treatment for addiction so April has to be very careful. She would love to tell her family, friends and co workers but experience has taught her otherwise. Also accessing clean needles is a problem where chemists don’t have the same mentality as in a large city. April instead goes to the needle exchange where they understand the realities of addiction. This simple task is also a risk if someone she knows recognises her.
My family do not know about my dependency. I don't want to risk losing them by telling them. When I started using heroin on a regular basis I did lose some friends who I thought would be more understanding and would stick by me. I was essentially the same, but I guess some people saw me as being less of a person. This hurt me a lot.
Being a heroin addict is not easy and certainly not glamourous. Why do people do it? Why not just go to rehab? This may seem a logical question but if you think of the numbers of drug addicts over the years and how millions of them have tried and relapsed, it is no longer a simple question. Firstly, if it was that easy then there would be no problem with long term drug addiction. Secondly, it is not a black and white situation as portrayed by the MSM and anti-drug groups. If we listened to gooseberries like Bronwyn Bishop or Piers Akerhead then you are already a “bad person” because you didn’t “Just Say No”. If you, being a bad person can’t be strong willed enough to pop down the corner and do a quick detox or rehab then you’re a nasty, dirty junkie who needs jail. Research shows us that long term drug addiction is a physical problem and will power has very little to do with it. It is often compared to diabetes where the body doesn’t produce the right chemicals to live a normal life and the patient needs a natural replacement. For diabetics, that is insulin, for heroin addicts that is opiates. What most people probably don’t realise is that drug addiction is a chronic reoccurring disorder and far more complex than a newspaper can explain amongst all the sensationalist hype needed to attract readers.
Addiction to drugs is a chronic medical illness. It is caused by a complex interplay of biological and environmental factors. Studies have implicated several genes in predisposing individuals to drug abuse and addiction.
-Medical Assisted Treatment of America

The general view of drug addiction as a social problem stems back to the US where most of the world’s drug perceptions are based.
Prior to the later 20th century, the general viewpoint of addiction, and particularly for opioid addiction, was that of a social and moral problem rather than a medical condition requiring treatment. The passage of the Harrison Narcotics Act (US) in the early part of the 20th century also tended to stigmatize those with an opioid addiction reinforcing the perception that these people were not only as social deviants, but also criminals whose behavior deserved punishment. Toward the latter part of the 20th century however, there was a growing change in the public's understanding and perception about addiction.Facilitating this change in public perception was the introduction of the medical model of addiction as a treatable condition that helped to bring about an increase in human rights laws.
-Medical Assisted Treatment of America

Why does April say of her heroin addiction?
I use most days and the days that I don't can be very difficult. I am on methadone and this helps. I don't just use simply to avoid physical discomfort. I'm not after any sympathy, but I do have a diagnosis of PTSD. I function very well in the sense that I am optimistic, usually happy and I hold down a full time job, but I have been through a bit of shit and sometimes that plays on my mind. I know I can only speak for myself, but I guess I am making this point because I don't think it is fair to say that people simply choose to use drugs. I didn't wake up one day and think to myself "the sun is shining outside and I have nothing to do. I think I might develop a heroin addiction". It is much more complicated than that. I admit that I dabbled in drugs prior to the traumatic incident, but it was only afterwards that I really developed a dependency. It was a way to get rid of pain when nothing else could (including counselling). It does frustrate me that I have to hide this part of me, but I do it out of fear of being judged. Even though I would still be the same person if I told people (not to mention that heroin use is only one part of my life and does not consume my entire identity), I know that people get hysterical about it. I have experienced that hysteria and have come off second best. I also want to say that I have never resorted to crime to pay for my habit. I have also never dealt. This is not to say that I judge people who do. I have been employed the entire time so my salary pays for it. I also used my savings.
All though April Morrison is not her real name, it is unimportant. What is important is that this lady could be anyone you know. Whether they have an addiction problem or not, they are human beings like you with the same needs especially understanding. The simplistic world of drug users that the MSM and others portray is usually not true and until we embrace drug addiction as a health issue, people like April will be forced into hiding. Prison is no replacement for hospital.

You can ask April questions if you like via the comments.


Anonymous said...

should she be teaching? I do not think she can be a positive role model.

Terry Wright said...

Thanks Anon.

If she does an excellent job with her known positive attributes but no one is aware of her heroin use, she should be a good role model for her students.

The heroin use is unknown to her students and doesn't effect her performance. That is what she will be judged on as a role model.

Zenith said...

Hi April

Thanks for the interview--good job. I respect your honesty about your life.

Have you ever tried using methadone exclusively, and how did that work for you, if so?

Also, do you have concerns about the health risks of using a street drug? Have you any thoughts of trying to get on a prescription for diamorphine (heroin)?

Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry but I do not think you should teach children if you are a heroin addict. It must impact on her job. If she was working behind a register, maybe that would be fine. But not teaching children.

Tee En said...

i dont see an issue with April teaching children at all. Especially if she has gone to great lengths to hide her addiction and trying to live a normal life..

props to April for telling your story. I can tell you first hand how terrible it can be trying to "act" normal and hide the addiction while at work

i wish for the day Australia prescribes diamorphine for heroin treatment to come soon, if ever

Amy said...

I work with children and I maintain a dependency. It is definitely do-able. Drug users can also be responsible people.

April Morrison said...

Thanks for the comments and for allowing me to be honest.

Anon - I would be lying if I said that I had never doubted my abilities to be a good teacher. Of course I have. But this worry has never been supported by the evidence. Rest assured that I am not blind to my shortcomings and I would not continue in this job if I could not do it. Fortunately for me, I can do it, and I can do it well.

Zenith – Thank you! I have tried using methadone exclusively on a number of occasions, but I have always resorted back to heroin. I am addicted to it and I enjoy it. I value methadone and other substitutes, but they have never been able to replace heroin in my life.

I do worry about health risks. I also worry about the legal risks. I guess I do what I can to protect myself because I am not ready for abstinence.

Recovery is a long journey.

Tee en & Amy – I am sorry you have both shared the experience of “acting”. I often wonder how many people out there are forced into doing the same. It is good knowing that I am not the only one. Best of luck to you both.

Jim said...

What an impressive lady! Thank you for sharing this interview with us Terry.

bron said...

Thank you for sharing, April.

I had a feeling before I started reading these comments that there might be a comment or two saying you wouldn't be a positive role model to the children you teach.

I was right. Some people are so wilfully blind and they will deliberately ignore the fact that your addiction and use of heroin is NOT KNOWN to the kids. So how can you not be a positive role model? Or, to put another way, the kids know nothing, therefore you cannot possibly be a "bad" role model.

It raises the uncomfortable question too: if the kids you teach do know, are you automatically no longer a positive role model even though you're still the same person?

Unfortunately, that's how people think, as you've discovered when you told friends you thought would be most understanding, only to have them get hysterical about it.

It's a funny thing how some people just go ape-shit when something is revealed, even if that person is still the same person they've always known. Same as with my gay cousin, when he came out of the closet, some relatives and friends of his couldn't handle it, yet he was still the same person.

I. Just. Don't. Get. It.

Sure, sometimes things come as a surprise or shock, because maybe it was the last thing you'd expect, but does it really change anything? No. Only perceptions change, and in a knee-jerk fashion. It's interesting to see people's latent hidden prejudices come rushing forth though.

Perhaps it's human nature -- or it could be lack of education or knowledge or a lifelong indoctrination of "drugs/homosexuality/[insert 'taboo' here] are baaaad, okay!".

Anyway, back to anonymous. What makes a "positive role model"? Answer that, please.

And again, thanks for sharing, April. Thanks to Terry too.

bron said...

PS You mentioned it's a long road to recovery, April.

Just curious and please don't feel obliged to answer if you're not comfortable with it, but what ... what's the word?? "methods" are you taking on your road to recovery?

A cousin of mine was a heroin addict for over 10 years, and he simply weaned himself off (ie took less and less; not sure of the full story). Another person I know just went cold-turkey. As Terry has blogged often, there are different methods of getting off heroin.

April Morrison said...

I am sorry for taking my time to get back to you Bron. I had to get my thoughts in order because I want to answer the question on what makes a good role model.

I am a good role model because I treat my students with understanding and respect. Young people are also the target of prejudice, as are the Indigenous population, those who are same-sex attracted, refugees, asylum seekers, people born into poverty, current and former prisoners... I could go on but I am sure that you can see where I am going.

When I started teaching I was given this advice - scare the shit out of them on the first day so they are too afraid to play up the rest of the year. I was told that the kids would walk all over me because I had pie in the sky ideals and the kids would see this as a weakness.

If I took this advice, would I not be teaching my students that it is ok to treat other people in an oppressive way, and that it is ok to judge other people without even knowing them? I acknowledge that I am in a position of power because I am the teacher, but my students are not lower people or less deserving of respect than I.

I took my own advice and the result of my promotion of fairness and respect in the classroom was not chaos. It was harmony. I also want to add that on my first year of teaching my students achieved the highest grade average among all classes in their year level.

I hope you can read between the lines and see my broader message.

I will have to answer the recovery question later.

Bron said...

Thank you April. I can indeed see your broader message.

I just hope "anonymous" who said in the first comment that he/she does not think you can be a positive role model starts thinking about what you wrote.

Terry Wright said...

Bron, thanks once again for your comments.

Your input is much appreciated.