Christina Petrina watches as women go into the back alleys of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. She knows what they’re thinking. She’s been where they are.
"I am a burnt-out hooker who lost her hustle,” she says.
She got “clean" at 41 years old; she hopes by sharing her story, it'll help other women struggling with addiction.
Petrina is one of a handful of women in HERstory of Hope, a campaign organized by The Salvation Army. The goal of the campaign is to raise awareness about the challenges women who are entrenched in addiction face.
According to the BC Coroners Service, 485 women died of an overdose in B.C. last year; in 2020 and 2019, those numbers were 333 and 236, respectively. The overdose crisis in the province 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’s a way out and there’s a beautiful life waiting for you,” Petrina says. "It’s doable. It’s not easy but it’s a lot easier than being on the grind.”
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 take a seat.
It’s quiet in the room, with no other people. Just empty tables.
She places an apron over the man and begins to prepare her tools.
Grabbing her spray bottle, she wets the man’s head and begins to cut his hair. This is her “service” and allows her to give back after years of what she describes as "wreckage to people in their life."
"I myself was a blacked-out drunk for 20 years and I have a mountain of wreckage I caused to people that I have no recollection of,” Petrina tells Glacier Media.
She started offering free haircuts back in January 2010 and calls the program 'Scissor Fairy'.
“The universe knows I am making amends,” she says. "I may never get through the mountain, but I am 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 life. For her, it allows people’s walls to come down and a chance for her to offer some guidance in their recovery.
REMEMBER TO BE KIND
The first time Petrina asked for help was when she went into a detox centre in Vancouver in April 2009. It was there she felt people finally looked her in the eyes.
“I asked for the hardest, longest, women’s program,” she recalls.
That’s when she went to the Salvation Army women’s program for an entire year. Now, the 54-year-old has been clean for 13 years on May 3.
For the last seven years she's worked as a trauma counsellor, and credits the Salvation Army for giving her the foundation she needed.
Petrina believes the worst day in recovery is better than the best day out in addiction.
"I’m here to tell them that they do matter and they have valuable skills and love.”
A report into an investigation of 6,007 overdose deaths in British Columbia calls on the province to urgently develop a policy to distribute a safer supply of drugs and offer better health supports with a plan that would see action taken over 30, 60 and 90 days.
It found that overdose deaths continue to increase; the drug supply is increasingly toxic; Indigenous people are disproportionately affected; and no corner of the province — rural and urban — is immune.
The report noted that 75 per cent of those who died did not seek treatment, nine per cent sought and accessed a treatment program, and two per cent sought a program but did not access treatment.
The report released March 9 by Lapointe's office sets a deadline of May 9 for the government to create a safer supply policy in collaboration with the BC Centre for Disease Control and the BC Centre on Substance Use.
In the meantime, Petrina is asking people to have more kindness toward those who are in recovery.
"Maybe next time you hear of somebody in recovery, just be gently curious and get to know that person because they might be a lot more magical than you’d think,” she says.
With a file from The Canadian Press