At Arm’s Length


Making Space for the Voices of Illicit Drug Users

Come and Blog With Us!

Tonight is the event for the Mad, the Bad and the Sad. At Arm’s Length is setting up a terminal for the night so anyone who feels so inclined can express themselves, while being entertained by the night’s performances! We’re looking forward to your contributions.

Maybe an icebreaker?
As mentioned in previous posts, we in particular are concerned with prevailing stigmas and stereotypes that people who use what are termed ‘illicit’ drugs face.


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The Mad, the Bad and the Sad: Upcoming Event

The Mad, The Bad and The Sad

The Mad, The Bad and The Sad

The Mad, The Bad and the Sad

A Showcase of Creative Projects Produced in Solidarity with Disenfranchised Groups

Monday, March 30th, 2009
The Peace Lounge (7th Floor), OISE
252 Bloor St. West
Toronto, Ontario

This event is free and begins at 7pm.

At Arm’s Length will be taking part in this event, setting up a computer terminal where people can have free internet access to get to this blog and post, should they feel so inclined.

A little more info about the event

We are a group of activists, counsellors, and educators who work in solidarity with disenfranchised groups. The groups involved in these projects include psych survivors, people who are homeless, people who have been imprisoned, people who use illicit drugs, sex trade workers, and undocumented persons. Our goal is to use arts to raise consciousness in solidarity with these groups. We all look forward to sharing these projects with you.

This free event is a showcase of creative activist works and performances.

Refreshments will be offered.

This event is wheel chair accessible and fragrance-free.

All are welcome to attend.

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Some Questions to Think About

We here At Arm’s Length thought it might be productive to throw out a couple of questions in order to generate some dialogue. Here they are:

What stereotypes and stigmas do you face as an illicit drug user? What do you have to say about using illicit drugs?

If you are a friend or family member of an illicit drug user what do you want to say?

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The author wishes to remain anonymous.

It’s hard to say if I would meet the criteria here.

I certainly used, and enjoyed using yet…

I dunno, I guess, it stopped being fun. That was it for me. It stopped being fun.

So I could stop.

Pretty easily in fact.

But you know…now I drink…and I find that hard to give up…I do drink not just to have fun, or to be social but sometimes to alleviate my anger or to end my day or to relax…While I found it rather easy to give up the illicit, the legal, well, that I find so pervasive, that unless I don’t leave my house–a space where I actually don’t feel compelled to do anything at all–I can be quite convinced to go for a few pints. Or ten. Maybe I didn’t really give anything up then–I just switched my ‘fun’. And this is worse for me. Because its not always fun, yet I still go back for more, however ‘in control’ I may seem…

I don’t regret my past use. I had fun. I won’t ever deny that. I had a great time, in fact.

Most of the time.

But I know its not the same for everyone…

I don’t have answers, because I don’t know if my kind of voice matters in this space. I don’t want to come here, and say “well this was fun” when its different, and hard for others. I’m privileged in that sense.

For all the ‘fun’ I had, the social ostracization that would follow me if my old fun got around…

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A Reflection

This is our first submitted post. The author wishes to remain anonymous.

A question for everyone

What does it mean to you to define yourself, to define others, or be defined by society as an illicit drug user? Or as an addict?

I had a friend who wanted to stop using drugs. He went to get help and they told him he did not have a problem because he had friends and a job, and seemed like a pretty good guy.

Not long after he got high and hung himself.

I am not writing this to cause any more pain around his death. He was a beautiful man whose spirit continues to inspire my life. He was not the drugs he took.

I am writing this because I know he is not alone. He wanted help. He wanted to stop. He asked for it. And because he did not fit or fall into the categories, stereotypes and definitions of an addict he did not get the help he needed. He tried to get it from his friends but we did not know what to do.

We did not know what to do because people don’t talk about it. There is so much discomfort and othering… and so much fear. So much fear.

Let his life inspire change… an opening… a conversation… and most importantly the ability to hear all calls for help.

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Nothing About Us Without Us Manifesto


We thought as we continue to develop this community that a good place to start would be with a manifesto that emerged out of the voices of drug users in advocating for themselves. Here’s the link:

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What Is This Space For and Why Are We Doing It?

At Arm’s Length is a space created by students of OISE (Ontario Institute of Education) in the Adult Education and Community Development program. As part of our efforts for the creative empowerment of illicit drugs users, we have created the space of this blog where people can feel safe to post their thoughts and reflections on their own usage.  We take a counter-hegemonic stance against the view of users as either inherently ‘bad’ or ‘sick’, and instead wish to offer an arena for users to speak for themselves in a creative manner. Whether through prose, poetry, story-writing, visual or video art, or a simple reflection we encourage a dialogue to emerge between illicit drug users. Please feel free to contact us at


Why At Arm’s Length?

We chose the name to denote a sense of distancing from the ability to speak about one’s own experiences in mainstream avenues. However, ‘arm’s length’, depending on whose arms we are talking about here, is not always such a far away distance, and can be used to reach out instead of push away. At Arm’s Length attempts to just that, while recognizing the struggles and issues involved in being able to say out loud what you need to say about yourself.

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About Us

We are three OISE students participating in a counter hegemonic, anti-oppression course that centers on work with, and for, marginalized and disenfranchised populations. We have chosen to work with illicit drug users. Our philosophy is that change and support cannot be superimposed and are not effective in a top-down manner. Rather, we believe in grassroots mobilizing, populations speaking for themselves. We feel that illicit drug users often have their voices silenced and are marginalized due to assumptions and misrepresentation. Therefore we have created a blog that is an open and free space for illicit drug users and friends and family of drug users to share their hopes, dreams, discomforts, dilemma etc. through poetry, art, essays, formal or informal writing.

Why A Blog?

We started this blog because of experience with the subject matter- either through personal experience or friends and family. We feel that a blog provides safety and anonymity while also provides an open and public forum in which to share ideas, dialogue and communicate. A blog allows us to reach out to as many people as possible and does not limit us to individuals we already know or those who are easily accessible. We are confident that there are many different routes you all took to lead you to this blog.

How To Submit Entries

We encourage potential posters with experience with illicit drug use to submit your words, stories, reflections, poetry, visual and video art or other forms of blog-amenable expression to We promise to post your work as soon as possible and we respect your right to anonymity.

Comment Policy

We will work to keep open and honest dialogue a’flow on the site. We will not tolerate offensive or discriminatory writings, although we hope to have provocative and challenging dialogue and communication provided it is respectful. We request, in order to maintain a safe space, that all comments remain respectful to the author and do not employ oppressive language or concepts. We are open to suggestions from authors/readers as to how to best maintain the blog as a safe site for expression from an anti-oppressive perspective.

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