Fuelled by the online cruelty he saw, one overdose survivor has written a book of poetry addressing discrimination toward drug users.
Spenser Smith, a graduate of Vancouver Island University’s creative writing and journalism program, was a student when the province declared a public health emergency over increasing overdoses.
It was also around that time when he noticed online hatred toward drug users increasing, specifically in the comments section of news articles.
“[They] would often suggest that drug users deserve to die … And I believe that online comments, as horrifying as they can be, reflect societal sentiments,” Smith said.
In his book, A Brief Relief from Hunger, the author responds to that prejudice by incorporating several of those exact comments into his poetry and speaking to them as a former drug user who has lost several friends to overdose.
“In the poems, you’ll see, ‘I am a human being with dreams, desires and wants. I have a family. And I definitely do not deserve to die just because of my circumstances in life.’”
Smith hopes the juxtaposition of his first-hand accounts will humanize the experience and severity of the crisis, as well as challenge some people’s beliefs. The sense of separation or anonymity that comes with online culture often makes it easier for people to say something they normally wouldn’t face-to-face. Smith believes that online comments often reflect the public’s attitude in day-to-day life, as well as policies that are championed by governments.
During his own journey through recovery, Smith began writing as a medium to reclaim his story and start the healing process. There was a time, he said, when he thought addiction was all his life was going to be about.
Smith’s journey is detailed in three locations: Regina, where he was born and raised; Nanaimo, where he spent six to seven years in recovery; and Vancouver, where he moved to and continued his journey.
In A Brief Relief from Hunger, the writer also explores the concept of hunger and disseminates different kinds of desires and the ways human beings cope to “try and get through life.”
In his own story, Smith said he found himself turning to food as a mood enhancer and escape when he stopped using illicit substances.
The cover of the book also speaks to the concept of hunger through the use of a barred owl.
“In Nanaimo, there are loads of barred owls and I used to photograph them,” Smith said. “And one thing that was happening in B.C. a lot, is that people were putting out poison to kill rats. But the rats wouldn’t die right away, and the owls would catch the rats, eat them, and then die themselves … In one of the poems, I talk about finding this dead barred owl, and I ask it, ‘was it worth it, your brief relief from hunger?’”
A Brief Relief from Hunger will be available to purchase from several in-store and online retailers, including the publisher, Gordon Hill Press, on Sept. 1, the day after International Overdose Awareness Day.