Watch my life unravel...



Top Canadian Blogs - Top Blogs

Local Directory for Ottawa, ON


Damien Trimingham’s story

Tony Trimingham was one of two speakers last night at a public forum at the Ottawa Public Library. He came all the way from Australia to talk about harm reduction programs, and to tell us about his son, Damien, who died of a heroin overdose twelve years ago at the age of 23.

It was a heartbreaking story, graphically illustrated with a series of photographs of Damien from the day he was born till the day he died. What we saw was a baby born into a loving family, who grew into a fun-loving boy and a champion athlete, and who appeared to live his life to the fullest. The last few shots were police photos of him lying alone in a stairwell, dead.

I doubt there was a dry eye in the house. I think we were all able to imagine our own children in Damien Trimingham.

Tony said while it’s true that lots of addicts come from backgrounds of abuse and pain, there are also quite a few who are creative, courageous, artistic people who just seem to need a lot of stimulation and who are risk-takers. Damien was one of those.

Damien tried heroin for the first time 18 months before he died, and, along with his girlfriend, became addicted quickly. After a period of heavy use, he was able to quit, more or less, with treatment. In the 12-month period before he died, he used heroin only once or twice. On the last day of his life, he was in a bar with his new girlfriend, they had an argument, she left, and he embarked on a journey by train and foot that took him to a drug ghetto in King’s Cross.

Damien died about 500 meters from where a safe injection site now stands. It wasn’t there then. His father says we will never know if he would have gone there to inject if it had been there, but Damien did travel a long way that day to get to that neighbourhood where he could buy drugs and clean needles, and there’s good reason to believe he might have gone another 500 meters to inject somewhere safe.

That facility that now exists there has supervised millions of injections, including 3,000 overdoses, all of which were successfully intervened in by nurses. Not one life has been lost.

In seeking support for himself and his family in the aftermath of Damien’s death, Tony realized there was virtually no support available. A counselor by trade, he decided not to stay hidden, not to bear his loss in isolation, and he wrote a letter to a major newspaper about his son’s death and the lack of services. Phone calls poured in from other families who had either suffered the same loss or feared they might. He had touched a nerve by telling his story. He had opened the floodgates.

A public meeting was held, and from that meeting sprung a group called Family Drug Support. They offer support groups, a 24/7 support line, a magazine, courses, information resources about coping with addictions, and bereavement support.

Tony Trimingham also talked about the “defining moment,” which gave me a bit of a jolt. There is a myth that people need to hit rock bottom in order to find the motivation to quit using drugs. In fact, he says, recovering addicts often speak of a defining moment in which they made a decision to quit. It’s a profound and powerful thing that sometimes comes out of the clear blue sky. Interestingly, I myself experienced such a defining moment, yet I’ve rarely heard others speak of it.

I apologize for not getting information out on the blog in advance of last night’s public forum. I know some of you might have liked to attend if you’d known about it. If you happen to be in Montreal, the same forum will be held there tonight (Rm 151 Bronfman Building, McGill University at 6:30 pm). Or, if you’re in Toronto, there will be a Forum at Toronto City Hall on Thursday at 7:00 pm.


8 comments to Damien Trimingham’s story

  • That defining moment thing is really interesting. A woman I spoke to at the drop-in centre I volunteer at told me that before, she just wasn’t ready to quit. And then suddenly she was. At the time she’d been clean for three weeks… probably closer to 2 months now.

    Certainly that was the case for my quitting smoking and drinking (not at the same time). It took a few tries but I never really hit a rock bottom.

  • In my mental health journey, I’ve encountered TONS of addicts from all walks of life. I have a lot of compassion for these people because I’ve seen the destruction it causes in their lives. As with mental illness, others tend to judge without full information, or the desire to get fuller information, and I think that’s why places like the safe injection site in Vancouver get such a bad rap. That safe injection site, I think, is pretty key in keeping some modicum of control over a public health crisis, and it frustrates me that no one gets it.

    Thanks for sharing your story.

  • I’m still mulling over the not all addicts come from abuse and pain thing. I certainly agree about not coming from abuse, but I really do believe that most addictions are a kind of self-medication. I do have a friend who was addicted to heroin for many years and he certainly wasn’t abused but there was a lot of stuff he was avoiding… what’s your take on that?

  • WC, I’m glad (and not surprised) that you get it. As you know, the parallels and overlaps between addictions and mental illness are well-documented. Many people suffer from both, with the addictions resulting from their attempts to treat the symptoms of their own mental illness. I don’t know how people even begin to unravel the complexities of concurrent disorders – one is hard enough.

    Sin, I don’t know. I’m currently reading a book called The Realm of Hungry Ghosts, written by the doctor whose clients are Vancouver’s downtown eastside’s addicts. He claims that all addiction is rooted in pain – and not just drug addiction, but workaholism, internet addiction, video game addiction, food addiction, sex addiction, everything.
    I know it was true of me, and I believe, as you say, that addicts are self-medicating. But are they always self-medicating physical or psychic pain per se? Maybe some of them, like Damien, are self-medicating their need for high levels of stimulation?

  • Yes that makes a lot of sense. It’s just that some addictions are more socially accepted than others.

  • You’re right – every parent can relate to the horror at the thought that his child could end up like this.
    Thanks for including the link to your defining moment, too. Powerful stuff, and perhaps a reminder to folks – myself included – that among the police there are people who really care about their community and the individuals in it.

  • Glad you’re back, dear knitnut! My sister is a recovering crack addict and she didn’t hit “rock bottom” before deciding to stop. Instead, she got arrested for violating probation by failing a urinalysis (only weeks after being released from a court-ordered drug-treatment facility). She knew she was going to be arrested again when she took the test, even when she smoked the crack she knew it, but she did it anyway. She said she simple realized she was tired. Tired of the lifestyle. Tired of smoking crack. Tired of wasting her 20s. Tired of numbing out and avoiding the pain in her life. Tired and determined to have more in her life than more of the same. She’s been drug-free for more than 18 months now, despite hundreds of chances to get high in that time, and is grateful she lived to reach that point.

    Folks, especially politicians, here in the US are far too legalistic in dealing with drug problems. If they support centers that help addicts survive their addictions, they are subject to portrayal as “soft on drugs,” so they get up on their high horses and denounce addicts as being weak and immoral and subject to “bad choices.” It’s yet another way I wish the US were more like our northern neighbors.

    Or maybe I need to move in with you and Duncan? 😉

  • Melissa

    Zoom –

    Thanks for the link. I mentally played my own slideshow, side-by-side with Tony Trimingham’s. Bless him. That’s a hard thing to share.

    Addiction sucks. I wrote a long bit about my family, and decided that the particulars of their lives aren’t mine to disseminate, but it helps immeasurably to see that other people are trying to deal with the situation realistically and proactively.

    In the US, the government doesn’t want to take ownership of our social problems. I’m glad to see that there’s a more progressive, thoughtful response on the horizon.

    Thanks for being a good role model, Canada.