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BC woman in recovery shares her story of addiction and hope

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485 women in British Columbia died of drug overdoses last year. Christina Petrina hopes her story will inspire other women to get help.

Christina Petrina watches women enter the back streets of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. She knows what they are thinking. She has been where they are.

“I’m an exhausted prostitute who’s lost her hustle,” she says.

She got “clean” at 41; she hopes that by sharing her story, it will help other women struggling with addiction.

Petrina is one of the few women to take part in HERstory of Hope, a campaign organized by the Salvation Army. The aim of the campaign is to raise awareness of the challenges faced by women entrenched in drug addiction.

According to the BC Coroners Service, 485 women died of drug overdoses in British Columbia last year; in 2020 and 2019, those numbers were 333 and 236, respectively. The province’s overdose crisis is claiming six lives every day, Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe said in February.

“If you’re at home thinking there’s no way out, there is a way out and a good life awaits you,” Petrina says. “It’s doable. It’s not easy, but it’s much easier than being in the hot seat.

LIFE AFTER ADDICTION

In a yellow and white room in the basement of a temporary shelter on East Hastings Street, Petrina welcomes a man into the room and asks him to sit down.

It’s quiet in the room, with no one else. Just empty tables.

She places an apron on the man and begins to prepare her tools.

Grabbing her spray bottle, she wets the man’s head and begins cutting his hair. It is her “service” and allows her to give back after years of what she describes as “a shipwreck to people in their lives”.

“I myself was an unconscious drunk for 20 years and caused a mountain of damage to people that I have no memory of,” Petrina told Glacier Media.

She started giving away free haircuts in January 2010 and calls the program “Scissor Fairy”.

“The universe knows I’m making amends,” she says. “I may never cross the mountain, but I’m doing everything I can to be a better version of myself.”

When people sit down for their haircut, Petrina says they really open up and talk about what’s going on in their lives. For her, it allows people to break down and offer guidance in their recovery.

REMEMBER TO BE KIND

The first time Petrina asked for help was when she checked into a rehab center in Vancouver in April 2009. It was there that she felt people were finally looking her in the eye.

“I asked for the toughest and longest women’s program,” she recalls.

It was then that she participated in the Salvation Army women’s program for an entire year. Now the 54-year-old has been sober for 13 years on May 3.

For the past seven years she has worked as a trauma counselor and credits the Salvation Army for giving her the foundation she needed.

Petrina thinks the worst day of recovery is better than the best day of addiction.

“I’m here to tell them they matter and they have valuable skills and love.”

A report into an investigation into 6,007 overdose deaths in British Columbia calls on the province to urgently develop policy to distribute a safer supply of medications and provide better health supports with a plan that would see measurements taken over 30, 60 and 90 days.

He found that overdose deaths continue to rise; the drug supply is increasingly toxic; Indigenous peoples are disproportionately affected; and no corner of the province — rural or urban — is immune.

The report notes that 75% of those who died did not seek treatment, 9% sought and accessed a treatment program, and 2% sought a program but did not access treatment.

The report released March 9 by Lapointe’s office sets a May 9 deadline for the government to create a safer supply policy in conjunction with the BC Center for Disease Control and the BC Center on Substance Use.

In the meantime, Petrina asks people to be more kind to those who are recovering.

“Maybe the next time you hear of someone recovering, just be kindly curious and get to know that person, because they might be a lot more magical than you think,” she says.

For more information on drug rehabilitation centers, visit the Vancouver Coastal Health website. To learn more about the campaign, visit the HERstory of Hope website.

With a file from The Canadian Press