A group gathers for a guided story walk at the Comox Valley Art Gallery plaza. Scott Stanfield photo

A group gathers for a guided story walk at the Comox Valley Art Gallery plaza. Scott Stanfield photo

Comox Valley arts-based project takes honest look at overdose crisis

Walking tour aimed and raising awareness and sparking change

The Comox Valley Art Gallery, and AVI Health and Community Services are hosting a program that takes a hard look at the overdose crisis from the perspective of front-line workers, and from Comox Valley residents with firsthand experience.

Walk With Me is a multi-faceted project consisting of guided story walks with headphones, and an exhibition of artwork and audio stories. The objective is to cultivate awareness that leads to change.

“We’re inviting our community into a project of solidarity with people at the heart of the crisis,” said Sharon Karsten, the gallery’s director of research and community development.

Les Eaton was part a recent story walk through Simms Park in Courtenay. He found walking with headphones to be a creative way to present the topic, noting a “powerful difference” between a beautiful backdrop of the Courtenay River and the narration of the sad stories.

“I can relate to them,” said Eaton, who recently moved from Nanaimo to receive treatment at the Comox Valley Recovery Centre. “I’ve struggled with addiction pretty much my whole life. I’m in treatment now. (It’s important) Just being able to keep in contact with those kind of stories, to remind myself what it was like. Or I’ll forget that I have this disease, that I think is a disease of addiction of the mind and the spirit.”

The audio stories are powerful, honest, and at times brutal. In one story, a woman details the pain associated with her grandmother’s suicide, and how the doctor took her off opioids too abruptly. Another woman speaks about her 20-year-old boyfriend who has an addiction and wants to end his life.

‘I wish we could have helped you,’ another person said about a single mother who needed treatment.

But there is an element of hope in some of the stories. Recovery, one person says, can help people feel like there’s nothing wrong with them.

‘You’re not too old to renew yourself,’ says a former drug user.

In one of the stories, Eaton found a verse in a poem read by a girl to be especially powerful: ‘Every time you pick up drugs, just remember you have a family that loves you.’

“This is something that I’ve realized in my history of drug use and alcoholism,” Eaton said. “I’ve overdosed a couple of times, and really lucky that I’m alive. I’ve also been on the end where I’ve been helping people, and administering Narcan to users in a safe using situation, and then going home and using the same drugs.

“It’s such a crap shoot now,” he added. “You never know if what you’re doing is going to be the last time you ever wake up. It’s hard to say with the drugs now. They’re all very contaminated.”

Walk With Me continues until Nov. 21. It runs on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. A Bridge Walk goes from 11 a.m.-noon, followed by food and discussion at the gallery plaza until 1 p.m. A second session — Alley Walk — runs from 1-2 p.m.

The gallery is located at 580 Duncan Ave.

Registration is encouraged but drop-ins are welcome as space allows.

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