The sun rose steadily in the east, peeking occasionally through the trees that provided us shade. I sat on the hard wooden bench and listened in rapt attention to the tale of past glory. My storyteller was an elderly Indigenous man who was struggling with addictions but spoke fondly his glory days as a rodeo star. Forty-two years earlier he could be found sitting on the wooden fence waiting for his turn to ride the wild horses. Dressed in traditional rodeo garb of jeans, a checkered shirt, cowboy hat and cowboy boots with silver spurs jingling with every movement, his world was full of shouts of admiration from the spectators and groans of the injured cowboys all amidst the dust of the rodeo grounds. Today his world was full of vehicles moving about, concrete beneath his feet and stares of admonishment and disgust.
I caught up to him in one of the last quiet corners of our city, Galt Gardens, early in the morning before he shuffled off to feed his addiction. While listening, I could see the twinkle of remembrance in his old, tired eyes and knew he appreciated, even me, listening again to the story about his glory days. He and I both knew that I might have to arrest him later on, as I’ve done so many times in the past, for being intoxicated and unable to care for himself but for this brief moment everything seemed peaceful and normal.
I remembered some valuable insight one of my Criminal Justice instructors had given me a few years prior. “Spend some time with those you deal with often so you see them as people and not problems.” Being genuinely interested in helping people, I took his advice and would often park my police cruiser on the west side of the park at the start of my dayshift so I could find someone to sit down with and listen to their story. I was always amazed at people’s stories of accomplishments, sad at how their lives had turned out and frustrated over why they “had let” things get so bad. I just couldn’t understand it. I thought it was a sign of weakness and bad choices.
After 18 years of policing I finally get it. Today as the Diversity Liaison Officer I have been able to finally spend time to understand addictions. Through hours of reading I’ve learned how trauma – whether intergenerational or childhood – plays a significant role in almost all addictions when not dealt with properly and in a timely manner. Dealing with it properly means talking about it (to a professional) rather than bottling it up, numbing it or using substances or other unhealthy methods to avoid talking about it.
My storyteller from that day has since passed away but taught me a valuable lesson about humanity. A lesson I finally learned years later.