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History Table of Contents
1991 Summer Conference
Summer Conference 1991
Growing up on the Edge: The Emerging Generation and Canada's Future


Instructor, Emerge Internal Arts

I'm going to speak about myself tonight, because I've been fortunate to have learned a lot about myself in the last few years.

I was born in 1963. I'll let you be the judge of whether I'm typical of youth, or represent any youth group today.

I came from a normal family. My father was an alcoholic, my parents were divorced. The things I say might make my family look bad, but that is not the case. My mother is very much my best friend. She has taught me a lot; she is very much a mentor for me.

I never with my actions tried to hurt my family. Although I did quite a bit of damage, a lot has been repaired. I started using drugs when I was 12 years old, drugs, cigarettes.

It was a way to fit in; a way to be a leader..a way to fix my emotions. It was fun. I was very angry. There's still quiet a bit of anger in me. A lot of the rage has been expressed, a lot of really deep- seated rage.

I think a lot of teens these days are very angry and it comes out very inappropriately. It comes out in swarmings; it comes out in embracing neo- Nazi ideals; it comes out in preferring to watch some kung fu'ers beat each other up on the movie screen, rather than watching a good Neil Simon movie.

As a youth, I did a lot of crimes. Crimes were kicks; partly kicks, partly income, partly just getting away with something.

When I was 12 we used to play a game. We'd go into the smoke shop, all swarm in at lunch time and we'd spend 10 minutes in there and then go out to the park and add up all the merchandise we had stolen and see who had taken the most money's worth.

Later I did B and E's and prostitution to support drugs.

I'm not proud of these things, but at the same time I'm not ashamed of them.

I've also had a lot of really great opportunities to grow and learn. When I was 25 I went into an addiction re-hab centre, I realized that my life had become uncontrollable. I'd been a daily user for close to four years.

I can honestly say I was high for an entire year, 24 hours a day. Often I wouldn't shave because I didn't want to look in the mirror. I was just so filled with disgust and so demoralized when I looked in the mirror. I'd let myself down. I'd let others down.

Yet, through this period I was doing well at school, I was in University, had a good B average, and was getting As on my papers.

The reason I had B average was because I never studied for tests. I held down many jobs; many legitimate jobs. Employers liked me. I was able to function with no problem.

Inside there was a lot of death and pain, which I started learning how to deal with when I went into drug re-hab. I meet a lot of youth in drug re-hab, especially in narcotics anonymous programs.

Most people who are getting clean and struggling with a drug problem eventually realize it is a great opportunity to learn to be assertive, to learn to get in touch with their feelings.

If they never had these crises, they never would have gotten the opportunity to deal with things. Only when realize they'd hit a bottom, do they recognize they need help.

A lot of youth die out there, a lot are very unhappy.

I was never a street kid, but I know a few street kids. I am aware of some of the issues there.

For instance, I know a lot of street hookers, because I have family in the social services who used to run safe houses for hookers. The majority of them were sexually abused at home, so there is an interesting ethic on the street: at least I'm getting paid for it now.

That's pretty sad at 15; sad and scary. It does warp a person's ability to love, to trust, to see sex as an intimate bonding, rather than an activity that I can be used for.

It's fortunate that we're getting more and more incest survivors speaking up and seeking help. Yet, it's still happening to eight, nine, 10, 12-year- olds and these issues are being expressed in popular culture, in youth culture. I think its really important to keep the ball rolling with the awareness that these issues are going on and try to deal with some of the shame that surrounds them.

Street youth don't live; they survive. They don't have time to be worried about the environment, to be coming up to Couchiching and talking to a whole bunch of Establishment people. They have things to do this weekend, deals to make. They're busy surviving.

Our social services are poorly lacking in meeting their needs. There are not enough beds for the homeless in Toronto. The requirements of having one of the few beds that do exist are a little too rigid. I can see why there's rigidness, but 9:30 p.m. curfews every day of the week, including holidays, are pretty rigid.

Nor, are there enough safe places to sleep for those who can't live at home because their tired of being hit or being sexually abused at home.

Not all the youth on the streets are there because they have to be. A lot choose it. I talked with one youth who admitted that he wanted to be there; that he did not find it too demoralizing to panhandle. He would rather do that than get a job.

Youth today have to work to get a job, have to be prepared to make resumes, to mail them out, to narrow down the areas, to do call backs, to plan; three, four weeks of searching, really pushing and getting out there and selling themselves to get a job. There are not as many choices as there were for people in the 1950s.

It's not so much a question of, how can I make an income? It's how can I survive? With fewer choices, you know there's no free lunches any more. People have push themselves and work hard and find there niche.

I think youth in the coming years are going to have to become more flexible. They may face having to change careers many times.

Many years ago, I learned a rule which I still live by. It's called wants and have tos.

We all have desires and I think people need to learn to accept that to fulfil those desires — those wants — there's a lot of things you have to do.

For instants, if I want to eat steak every night, I better have a pretty damn good job because steak is expensive.

However, if I'm happy to eat a bowl of rice and raw vegetables each night and moved out of Toronto where the rents are high, I could probably get away with working part time.

Recognizing these wants and have tos are realities that youth are facing and youth have to, not necessarily address, but become aware of.