Empathy and love shared during Overdose Awareness Day

Those left behind are asking for empathy to be drawn during Overdose Awareness Day in Kelowna

Nick Yelland has spent most of his life dealing with pain.

He was hurting inside, feeling different, feeling excluded from others, almost for as long as he can remember.

Those issues manifested themselves when he started school, led him down the road to drug addiction and fooling himself into believing that acquiring things—living the good life as he perceived it—could overcome the hurt that he carried inside himself.

But after a lifetime of hurting many of those closest to him, friends and family, Yelland has come to better understand why he was a drug addict, and is now funnelling his emotional distress through a newfound Christian faith to change his life.

Today, Yelland is ‘Pastor Nick,’ a celebrate recovery pastor with the Evangel Church in Kelowna and a theology school graduate.

Yelland was one of several guest speakers participating at a public forum hosted by the church today as part of the International Overdose Awareness Day activities in Kelowna.

Besides the forum, a candlelight vigil is schedule for tonight at Kerry Park (8 to 10 a.m.) in memory of drug overdose victims.

“I have done horrible things to people in my past that I regret doing, but there is nothing I can do about my past except to believe in forgiveness and move on in a more positive direction in life,” Yelland said.

“There are issues I still struggle with today even as a pastor. I realize now I need the help of others to break the cycle I was in, to stop the hurting. We need to learn how to reach out, to trust, to love ourselves.

“We are taught by society that men have to be tough, but it’s okay to hurt inside and admit it to others.”

Yelland remembers how as a youth he felt doctors or psychologists talking to him would recognize how disenfranchised he felt inside, frustrated at why they could not see the pain he was feeling inside even if he was loathe to talk openly about it.

“I was missing a sense of belonging, a sense of community. I could be in a room with 30 people and still feel like I was all alone,” he recalled. “I struggled with that pain, not knowing where I fit in from an early age.”

Helen Jennens, with the Kelowna chapter of Moms Stop The Harm, talked about the need for a change in dynamics from fighting a war on drugs to embracing compassion and inclusion for those struggling with drug addictions.

Jennens, who lost two sons to drug overdoses—Rian in 2011 and Tyler in 2016—said labelling people as drug addicts is the wrong approach to the wave of drug overdoses occurring across B.C. and in the Okanagan.

Instead, she says the need is to address the emotional root causes fueling people’s addictions, which can also involve providing safe injection services, should be the greater objective.

“People will say to me why should our tax dollars go to help provide someone with drugs who is an active addict, but I argue about the cost to medically treat people in our health care system with drug addictions. It takes six emergency responder people to deal with one overdose. What is the cost of that?”

Jennens said the local positive response to Overdose Awareness Day, started by a group of mothers in Australia in 2001, has been overwhelming to her. “I am very grateful for that response and it gives me great hope about the caring and compassionate community that exists in Kelowna,” Jennens said.

Yelland says finding that compassion from others and within himself it was has saved him from a lifetime of suicide attempts and a daily need for drugs over his past 35 years.

“It takes a lot of work. You have to start out with the concept that people do love you, that you are not out there alone,” he said.

The public forum also included presentations by officials representing city council, Kelowna General Hospital, Interior Health, Living Positive Resource Centre and Metro Community Church, along with a naloxone kit demonstration.