It started with alcohol addiction for 50-year-old Jacquie Dennis of Huu-ay-aht, and eventually this led to hard drugs. In 2013 Jacquie first used crystal meth with her boyfriend in Vancouver.
“He used, I saw it always happening everywhere, so I decided to try it,” she recalled.
It was her boyfriend that gave her the first shot of crystal meth.
“That first rush, the first high is what I chased, but you keep trying and never get it,” she said.
Dennis was in addiction with her adult children in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. They have all kicked their habits and are living back at home in Anacla, where they support one another in sobriety.
“I want to share my story of where we’ve been, where we are now, and let people know that recovery is possible,” she told Ha-Shilth-Sa.
Jacquie is now the housekeeping manager for one of the Huu-ay-aht businesses. Her son and daughter work with her at the motel.
Dennis said her addictions started long before hard drugs.
“It started off with alcohol addiction since I was 14 or 15. I was in very abusive relationship, in every sense of the word. When I broke free, I had all kinds of freedom. It was too much freedom. I was doing anything and everything,” she recalled.
She wound up moving in with her brother in Vancouver and got into partying.
“I was pushing carts and selling stuff on the skids,” she shared.
If she misses anything, it’s the amount of money she could make on the streets.
“Downtown Eastside is crazy, and it was hard to leave,” she said.
Through dumpster diving, Dennis remembered finding $860 in cash and another time she found Rolex watch.
‘Whenever I started getting into my feelings I’d use’
Over time, her children followed her to the streets. Stephane Dennis, 32, also says his addictions started with alcohol when he was in his teens.
“I started drinking at a young age and a lot of it is a blur,” he shared.
Over time he began using drugs.
“It started with cocaine and crack then I moved on to the harder stuff, like heroin,” he said. “I used anything at anytime.”
Dani Dennis, now 30, said her addictions started with alcohol when she was about 13 years old.
“I started just for fun but by the time I was 15, I was in a juvenile detention centre for doing stupid shit when I was drunk,” said Dani.
She was given the option of time in juvenile detention or an alcohol treatment centre. She chose alcohol treatment.
“I was sober for about six months,” she remembers.
Dani says that while she has done drugs, it was never as much of a problem for her as alcohol was. She recalls never being in one place for long. She was in foster care and sent to live with her father at one point.
“I kept running away,” she said.
On her own at age 19, Dani went back to Vancouver. She lived in an apartment with her boyfriend but was kicked out due to her excessive drinking. By the time she was 20 she was on DTES where she stayed for about eight years.
Concerned about getting addicted to drugs, Dani and her best friend made a pact.
“If we found ourselves doing more drugs than drinking, well, we’d wind up going to buy a bottle and drink some more,” she said.
In 2018, after five years on the DTES, Jacquie went back to Vancouver Island.
“My son pleaded for me to come home but I didn’t want to. For him, I did it, but he died four days later on April 15, 2018,” she said.
Her son, Fabian, had overdosed.
“For four years I honestly thought he was still alive. I couldn’t wrap my head around him being gone,” said Dennis.
She already lost a son in 1992 to sudden infant death syndrome, also known as crib death.
“I got more into addiction. Whenever I started getting into my feelings I’d use,” said Jacquie.
The loss was equally difficult for Stephane.
“I went hard after he passed,” he said, adding that the family suffered many losses in a short amount of time.
Jacquie had returned to Vancouver when she got word that her mother had cancer.
“I came back to take care of her, I put the majority of my addictions on the back burner while I cared for her,” she shared.
One day, while at her mother’s home, Jacquie found a full needle in her purse.
“I never used at my mom’s, and I wondered if she knew how to use Narcan,” said Dennis.
She prepared the needle for injection, thinking it was crystal meth.
“The moment I took the tie off I knew I was fucked. Something was seriously wrong,” said Dennis.
She remembers calling for her mother.
“Mom said I made it from bathroom to kitchen, called out her and fell,” said Jacquie. “It was pure heroin in my system, I overdosed in my mom’s arms, literally died in her harms.”
But she survived because there was a Narcan kit there and the ambulance was called.
“By rights I should be dead but by the grace of God, I’m here for a reason.”
Dennis’ mother fought cancer for seven months before passing away on June 30, 2020.
Asking for protection
“For about five months I was on a downward spiral. At that point I didn’t want to use needles anymore,” Jacquie remembered. “I wrote a letter to my mom and late sons, asking them to protect me and to … when I burned that letter, I swear I could not get the needle in anymore.”
As hard as she tried, Jacquie felt like she could not get high.
“One night I bought $100 worth of dope. I flushed it down the toilet,” said Dennis, adding that she believes it was her mom and sons that guided her.
She also credits her remaining children for her motivation to get clean.
“They were stuck in addiction with me in Vancouver, homeless, alcoholics,” said Dennis.
There was a lady at the SRO, single-room-occupancy, old hotel rooms used to house the homeless, who gave Dennis good advice.
“She told me to lead by example. Her words stuck,” said Jacquie.
Shortly after Dennis left the streets, her children followed her.
“I had to get sober to help them,” she said.
Dani says she never had much contact with her mother growing up, but Jacquie would invite her home to Bamfield.
“My best friend shacked up and moved away and I was thinking, what am I doing down here (DTES),” said Dani.
On welfare day, Dani made up her mind to go to her mother’s house.
“If I didn’t leave then, it would have probably been a long time before I would think about going there,” she said.
She showed up on her mother’s doorstep late one night nearly a year ago.
“On November 2, I will be one year sober,” said Dani, laughing that she has no plans for celebrating the milestone. “It’s just another day.”
Difficulty getting Methadone treatment
“My mom and sister were the first to clean up,” said Stephane.
It was over a year ago that he called his mother from Port Alberni and asked her to pick him up.
“I was in a bad place in Port Alberni, people were attacking me all the time, fighting over drugs,” said Stephane.
He tried quitting at least five times before but never lasted more than a week, each time. This time, he was able to sustain sobriety thanks to access to Methadone.
“It’s hard to get and I didn’t know a doctor that prescribed it,” Stephane shared.
His former girlfriend knew a doctor that is licensed to prescribe the drug, which is an opioid, as is heroin or opium. Methadone maintenance treatment is used to treat opioid dependence.
“It’s an addiction in itself,” said Stephane, who says he is still being prescribed the medication. “My doctor is helping me to lower the dose.”
He credits his mother and sister for his sobriety.
The family are all working together at the motel. Stephane says he is happy there and learning new things all the time. But he also credits himself for the time and effort he’s put in to getting clean.
“It took me a lot of tries to do this and people that go back after all this time don’t usually survive,” he shared.
Jacquie also credits her brother, Qiic Qiica (Robert Dennis Jr.), for inspiring her to get clean. In January, Jacquie will be three years clean.
She dreams of helping others get sober. She remembered how hard it was to get Stephane methadone when he left the streets.
“It’s a challenge, there are so many hoops you have to jump through,” said Jacquie.
Jacquie wants to do outreach work, and envisions Nuu-chah-nulth people going out to contact the people in all major urban centers.
“I want to see them develop trusting relationships and have the ability to bring them somewhere to get clean,” she said, adding that for now, it’s difficult to get someone into treatment when they want it.
Dennis wants to be involved in the decision-making and recently ran for council with her nation.
“When son came home, to get him on Methadone was a challenge, and he wanted detox, but Vancouver Island only has 11 beds, and you need a referral. A walk-in detox centre would be ideal,” said Jacquie.
For now, she collects and distributes food, clothes, blankets, and tents to the homeless people.
“They say to me, you’re an inspiration Jacquie, I want to you to help me,” she shared. “I would love to go out and speak to at-risk youth.”
And for those wondering what it’s like to get high on drugs, Jacquie has this to say, “Don’t do it. It took everything from me. It took my children from me.”
“I recover out loud in hopes that my journey can inspire others,” she added. “I am currently enrolled in a community mental health and addictions course at VIU.”
From there she will begin a two-year social work program.