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Cocaine addiction exacts its pound of flesh

The fear never stops, says Gail, for whom the price of addiction has become unbearable.

The fear never stops, says Gail, for whom the price of addiction has become unbearable.

In the 22 years since she first tried cocaine, Gail, 46, has found various ways and means of feeding her habit, including dealing drugs and selling her body.

She eats healthy foods and keeps a low profile, flying under the police radar, couch surfing at night and living on the streets in the daytime.

“They (the police) see me, but they don’t know exactly what I do. I’m always moving. I never stay in one spot. I know a lot of people, so I’ve never been asked if I was a prostitute.”

Gail’s fragile world shattered last October, when her son died of an overdose.

The second born of her three children, he struggled with mental illness as a teenager and young adult.

He needed 24-hour supervision, which he got from his drug-addicted mother, and that’s what killed him, says Gail. Her bright smile melts in a stream of tears.

“He wouldn’t have done (drugs) without me. He had to, because of his mentality. He was bipolar, manic, suicidal, depressive. He had to stay with me.”

Gail traces her own addiction to a single event when she was in her mid-20s.

She dreamed big as a child, hoping to become a figure skater and a fashion designer. She planned to have her first baby at the age of 25.

She got pregnant at 18 and was kicked out of school. Two more babies came and Gail was doing her best to take care of them. She had her tubes tied after the third child was born in 1991, the result she says of a date rape.

The man was charged but never convicted.

She says she was told she “probably deserved it.”

“I had mouths to feed and I didn’t let it bother me. I’ve bled it all out now.”

She joined a pool league and was selected for a team. During a tournament one night in 1992, a team member offered her a couple of lines of coke, thinking it would help calm her down and improve her shot.

Gail says she was hooked from that moment. The addiction got worse 11 years ago, when her mother died. She was in Ontario at the time and hadn’t been told that her mom had taken ill at home in Red Deer. They never got to say goodbye.

“I lost my identity. I didn’t know who I was.”

She started spending her time downtown, leaving her little boys alone while she fed her addiction. Social services took them away. Gail was eventually allowed to visit her children but wasn’t given full access to them until they became adults.

Her son’s death was Gail’s wakeup call.

“Since (he) died, they’re more in my life now and I have every reason to live ­— to get straight and sober — and I’m trying my damndest.”

Staying clean is a minute-by-minute struggle.

Gail meets once every two weeks with an addictions counsellor from the Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission. She hopes eventually to become a counsellor herself, turning others away from the destructive forces that ruled her life and killed her son.

She focuses on the good things around her now, including the two young men who still call her their mom.

“I have something to strive for. I can tell (my counsellor), I’m five days clean. I always strive to give her something good and I do.”

She warns anyone who will listen to be wary of the overwhelming power of tobacco, drugs and alcohol — especially those who, like her, have an addictive personality. She saw pictures of black lungs but that did not stop her from starting smoking at only eight years old.

“Just say no, stupid. Read up on it. Get aware of the circumstances and what using this drug will do to a person. Become aware of what you’re doing to yourself and your body and other people around you. Talk to somebody. Keep talking.”

bkossowan@bprda.wpengine.com

On Saturday: Drugs and alcohol are, by far, the largest contributors to crime in Red Deer, says the supervisor of the Red Deer City RCMP’s street team.

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