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'Addicts are people too:' youth overcoming drug addiction create a lesson in clothing

The creation of the sweater was a collaboration between Portage and The Community Company to create a powerful message

Two youth in the community working to overcome their addiction are creatively fighting the stigma of drug addiction by wearing a lesson. 

The thought-provoking image of a boy holding a mask towards his face imprinted on a sweater with the message “Addicts are people too" aims to spark conversations about addiction and was created by Ben, 15, and Tobias,17 (not their real names). The two are currently staying at Portage Ontario, a live-in rehab program for youth in Elora.

Ben said he hopes the sweater sparks curiosity in whoever sees it. 

“Normally when I do wear the sweater, I hope that someone notices it, points it out and is like ‘Hey what's that?’” said Ben.  

He hopes he can help remove the stigma around addiction by talking about it, something he wishes he was able to do when he himself was suffering from a narcotic addiction that began at the age of 11.

“The non-sober me was a dark person who pushed everyone away and did whatever to get drugs. The sober me, after entering recovery, feels socially normal and good. You have this dark, addiction side of you, but that’s only a mask covering what’s really on the inside,” said co-creator Ben. 

He said from his past experience of battling drug addiction he learned that a lot of people are misinformed on the topic and don’t really know how to approach people with addictions.

“They’re either afraid to talk to us or they don’t understand and they'll be like ‘Why don’t you just get off them?'" said Ben. 

"It’s more than just a choice.” 

The creation of the sweater was a collaboration between Portage and The Community Company. The boys are donating their portion of the sweater's profits to Portage to fund community activities for others in the future.

“They wanted something that the boys can look back on as part of their programming at Portage and their experience at Portage and something they can be proud of like 'I created this while I was at rehab and now it's something that's giving back to the world,'” said Justin Chan, founder of The Community Company.

Mary Crome, social worker at Portage who oversaw the project, reached out to Chan because he knew the quality of his work in the community and understood that it was very relationship-based. 

“In addiction, connection is really important and to be able to connect in the community is a really important aspect of recovery from addiction along with being able to fight stigma,” said Crome. 

“The work that he did with the kids at portage was incredible. It was incredible work because of the way he connects with the kids. It was very much about relationships, it was very much about capturing their story,” she said about Chan. 

The logo on the sweater itself is a digital image of Ben holding a mask towards his face.

“We altered the face a little bit so it didn't look exactly like the boy,” said Chan. 

“I think it's a really bold reminder that there's a person behind an addiction. When we think about addiction, we think about the cause, we think about the disease, we think about the negative stereotypes with addiction.”

He said when someone looks at the logo, there's a really stark reminder that there's a human there. 

“There are people who believe addicts are monsters. Monsters who they want to shield from their friends and family, who like to take away from others, and who are a tumour in society. I want you to know that we are people too," said Tobias.