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Matthew MacDougall says dignity saves lives

He’s talking about harm reduction and compassionate care in the world of addictions.



Sometimes, when you're talking about addictions recovery, you hear of the need to do a 180 degree turn to change one's life. In my case, it was a deeply-rooted 360 spin.

I was born in Halifax and spent the majority of my childhood and teens there. I graduated from St. Patrick's High School in 2001.

Binge drinking had been a cultural norm in my life. I remember attending high school dances with a little cup of peanut butter on hand—I suppose I brought it to hide the lemon gin on my breath.

I wore my Nova Scotian heritage proudly on my sleeve when I ultimately settled in Vancouver, entertaining audiences for years as hip-hop vocalist, Fatt Matt. I spoke high praise of donair, Oland's beer, our illustrious array of seafood and many self-defined Scotian legacies.

I never really stopped making music, but I also didn't stop working. I had earned the title of vice president of operations for a successful multi-faceted business group in Vancouver. We were trendsetters on paper and in practice. However, there was another thing I didn't stop: Consumption.

And by this point, it was not just alcohol. Other substances had been factored in to the equation. This resulted in a very frantic and high-paced lifestyle that was not sustainable in any way. Then the gas ran out.

In June 2014, I suffered a mental health breakdown and was forced into a medical leave of absence from my job. Though I was mindful of my consumption, I was facing a few diagnosed conditions and a new pharmaceutical routine and I found comfort in pharmaceutical opioids that were readily available on virtually every corner of Vancouver's downtown eastside.

I got my career back on track but by that point, I had become what some might call a "functioning user." While balancing my job and my growing dependence, I started a new relationship with a woman who shared a similar affinity for the same coping mechanisms. A very blurry, whirlwind of time ensued—I was laid off from my job with a very generous severance and my relationship dissolved.

In the fall of 2016 I started using street drugs. I was aware and weary of the counterfeit pharmaceuticals that were circulating, and my dwindling budget led me to heroin. Or so I thought. I was smoking Fentanyl. The exact thing I was trying to avoid by staying away from fake pills.

I entered detox for the first time in January 2017. After completing a few months of live-in rehab at the wonderful Sunshine Coast Health Centre I left with a plan. A plan that didn't include any relapses nor a relocation to Prince Edward Island, but here I am, living a few hours from my hometown of Halifax. I had to leave Vancouver.

When I say dignity saves lives, it comes from a place of compassionate care and harm reduction. Show someone they have a reason to love themselves. For me, it took purpose, focus and a whole lot of strong self-support pillars.

And the whole 360 degree thing: to me it means developing a strong self-care agenda, daily reflection and a strong support network. It's meant rediscovering my artistic side, in which I get to thank my hometown for its support—my labelmates, friends, support group, DJ Moves, Tachichi, Ghettosocks, Lxvndr, Black Buffalo Records and others.

I don't like to play the numbers game, but it's been two-and-a-half years since I last used illicit Fentanyl. It's been a year since I took my last maintenance dose of Suboxone. It can be done. Believe in yourself, and make sure you extend the same courtesy to every person you encounter. a


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