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Photos of My Brother Overcoming His Opioid Addiction

Amid an overdose crisis in Vancouver, photographer Jackie Dives has documented years of her brother’s drug use and recovery.

by Jackie Dives; as told to Sarah Berman; photos by Jackie Dives
Aug 4 2017, 9:15pm

Photos by Jackie Dives

This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.

My brother has been a subject of mine since he was born 25 years ago. But when I actively started taking photos of his recovery and addiction, it was because he asked me to. He wanted me to take pictures of him when I saw him because he wanted a visual account of what he was doing—to remember how bad it was. Recording this hard thing he was doing made me happy that he wanted to involve me in some way.

My brother has been using since way before the fentanyl crisis hit Canada. Knowing that fentanyl is in a high percentage of the drugs people are using right now is very frightening. I don't think he thinks about it. He's always been using more than one thing. Fentanyl's not really on his radar, but that might just be a presumption of mine.

You can't have a relationship with someone who's constantly using drugs. You lose common ground; you go into babysitter mode. Not only that, but he doesn't want to be around me.

I really think he's one of the weirdest, smartest, and funniest people I know. When he disappears for months at a time, I feel really sad and worried. But at the same time, it's been ten years of dealing with his struggles, and I've had to make some sort of mental distance for myself. Because I had to create this kind of emotional barrier, this photo series is a way for me to reconnect with him.

I've sort of learned not to have any expectations whatsoever. I've picked him up from jail. He'll try my mom first, and if she's fed up, he'll come to me. He'll definitely call me if he needs somebody, but I'm more likely to hear from him after he's coming out of a bad place. Probably because I'm a hard ass, and I'm done dealing with his shit—unless he's on the brink of death or going to sleep outside. I don't have much in me left to give him.

The longest he's ever been sober is two years. I was obviously really happy with our relationship and his lifestyle at that time. He was doing a plumbing gig and was working; he seemed happy. I enjoyed my time with him more. His appearance in the photos really correlates with his use. When I see him, I know immediately how he's doing.


I guess I think of these photos as a way to hang on to him. To hang on to pieces of him. They're not him, but they are my memories of him. I think a long time ago I accepted the fact that he lives a high-risk lifestyle, and that he could potentially disappear one day. I've almost had to preemptively let that thought go because I can't spend all day thinking about that.

I know there's nothing I can say to change his ways. I've tried it all. I've said everything. He's tried it all—he's done treatment, recovery, he's done Narcotics Anonymous. But maybe that's why we're doing this photo series. We can't talk about the main issue in his life, so we communicate visually instead. This series is a way to physically show the connection I wish we had.

I wish this photo series could be the solution to our brother-sister challenges. Even though it does provide a way to communicate, it's not necessarily fixing our relationship.


Jackie Dives is a Vancouver-based photographer who regularly contributes to VICE. Follow her on Instagram, or support the Brother Project here.