Unimproved Roads

I recently discovered there’s a road designation in Ontario called “unimproved road”. It basically means a trail wide enough for a car, but barely suitable for a horse-drawn cart or an all-terrain vehicle.

I had dinner with my friend Dean on Monday and afterwards we took a tour of the countryside, and there’s a lot of it around here. Basically the region of Canada I live in is the size of England but with a population which could fit in a medium sized airplane, so there’s a lot of open fields and forests.

Dean likes to go off on two or three hour drives and he has lived here for his entire forty years, so he knows where all of the unimproved roads are. Unimproved roads have basically been abandoned, they’re the original roads connecting villages which don’t exist anymore, or homesteads to their fields. The ones Dean took me down on Monday mostly started as dirt roads but soon after were virtually indistinguishable from the fields on either side.

Dean would spot one, even if it was the first time he had seen it, and just turn the wheel and start to explore. It’s a remarkable piece of the region that I don’t get to see often. We didn’t see any deer, which is what Dean was searching for, but we did see a young red fox who stopped when we stopped and didn’t seem to care about us in the least. It even posed for a picture.


Dean and I had dinner that night at the restaurant with the only patio in town. He told me he had run into someone we had been friends with back in the day. Tim was a good friend to both of us back in the late 90’s. There were a lot of drugs, drinking and guns involved and Tim was a scammer and a liar and a cheat, but not usually with his friends.

It was years later when I found out during that time, and for a little while after we had parted ways, Tim had physically abused two of his girlfriends, who also happened to be close friends of mine.

Tim disappeared fifteen years ago after his crack habit got him in deep debt with at least one large biker gang. He had also stolen a bunch of electronics from his father, then traded the stuff for heroin and crack with a local dealer. Tim’s dad found out, took Tim back to the dealer where he grabbed his stuff back and left Tim there.

So Dean, and a lot of other people, believed Tim was dead. But then the carnival came to town a couple of weeks ago and there he was running one of the rides.

Dean ran into him first. Dean is almost two years clean from a crack habit of his own, so of course the first thing out of Tim’s face was “lets go get messed up”. Dean asked a few questions about where Tim had been, then shook his head and walked away.

Most of Tim’s fall happened after I had moved away. When we were all hanging out together he, Dave, Dean and a few other friends of mine were recreational drug users. But where I stayed with the binge drinking, hash and weed, they were also into coke. It wasn’t an everyday thing back then, mostly because nobody could afford it. But it wasn’t something they did less of as the years went on.

This region I live in has some of the highest drug abuse rates in Canada… off reserve. A large chunk of organized crime in Canada is centred just a few miles away, and we’re literally right in the distribution path for drugs moving from Montreal through to Southern and Western Canada. One of their main highways goes right past my bedroom window.

So we tended to get stuff relatively cheap and easy here. Two of our friends back then were dealers and it was nothing to have a half-brick of hash at one of Tim’s house party’s. After I moved to Ottawa I started to lose touch with them. After a while the only two of us left in our hometown area were Tim and Dean.

Dean had a kid and tried to clean himself up and started working in a factory, but Tim just kept spinning and spiralling down. He took off out to Vancouver with the second of my friends who he ended up abusing. He sold all of her stuff and emptied her bank account for crack and heroin. From what I’ve heard I think it’s very likely he would have tried to turn her out if she hadn’t found someone else.

She came home about a year later, then moved to Ottawa. He came home around the time his mother died, and a few months later is when he stole the electronics from his father.

Poverty and abuse do sick things to people. Dave grew up on a farm a thousand miles from Anywhere as the youngest of eight children, Dean grew up as the adopted son of an elderly couple and lived in a trailer near a steel mill. Tim grew up in an isolated farmhouse with a kind but usually confused mother and a physically abusive father who was gone half the year.

Tim was an excellent writer, he had a column in the local paper for a little while. He was funny and very bright. But looking back from now he was like a tragedy in action.

The friend of mine who Tim abused out in Vancouver actually stopped by last night (Wednesday). After all these years she’s still recovering, she’s also recovering from all the abusive moments spawned by her time with Tim. She’s living with a mutual friend of ours (an ex-girlfriend of mine) now and is, for the first time in over a decade, not depressed everyday.

She said it was like finally understanding how people are supposed to feel. I told her it’s like finding a new normal bracket. How when we live at a certain level of depression for so long it becomes our normal state. So being ‘not suicidal’ can become our ‘happy’, whereas to someone else our ‘happy’ would be ‘devastatingly depressed’.

It’s the same with mental illness and poverty, and it’s the same with drug and alcohol abuse. The bracket of ‘normal’ Tim lived in kept falling, and he couldn’t stop it by himself. And because he abused the people around him either by stealing and scamming them or by actually beating up his girlfriends, Tim ran out of people who would have been willing to help him rise above his situation.


…the reason my friend came over Wednesday night was because while Dean and I were talking over dinner on the patio her name came up in conversation. Just after Dean ran into, then away from Tim, she had found him as well. She messaged Dean on Facebook about it. So our conversation turned to the tragedies she had experienced over the past few years, including having terminating a pregnancy about six months ago.

Neither Dean or I used the “a-word”, but the person eavesdropping on our conversation did later on when talking to her friend. Who then promptly called my friend, who then stopped by late Wednesday night to ask WTF was I thinking talking about her in public like that.

To which I had no better answer than I’m sorry and it will never happen again… which doesn’t seem like a whole lot, considering.




About Gabriel...

...diagnosed with manic depression when I was nineteen, for the next 14-years I lived without treatment or a recovery plan. I've been homeless, one time I graduated college, I've won awards for reporting on Internet privacy issues, and a weekly humour column. In 2002 I finally hit bottom and found help. It's now 2022, and I have an 8-year old son, and a 12-year old son... I’m usually about six feet tall, and I'm pretty sure I screwed up my book deal. I mostly blog at saltedlithium.com....
This entry was posted in Bipolar Disease, Bipolar Disorder, Classic, crazy people with no pants, Friends, Health, Intervention, Living With Depression, Living With Manic Depression, Ottawa, Poverty, Salted Truths. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Unimproved Roads

  1. bromac says:

    I watched a very close friend and my little brother fuck up their lives on coke. My little brother got out, joined the Army, and is a wonderful, straight laced, stand up man.

    The friend, well, she got off coke, as far as I know, but hasn’t done too much more with her life.

    I tried a lot in college but because I was watching my little brother go through hell, I managed to stay away from cocaine. Lucky for me, b/c I am sure I would have become easily addicted. I have that personality and beer appears to be my demon of choice. I’m not going to go on my diatribe about legalizing marijuana, or discuss use b/c of the illegality of it……..

    It’s sad to see a friend go through addiction like that. Eventually you have to give up on them, which sucks, but some don’t want to be helped I suppose.

    Sorry about the eavesdropper. That is shitty.

    The area in which you live sounds like heaven to me. I could imagine myself living there if it weren’t so damn cold. I grew up in the foothills of the Smokey’s and miss the countryside so much. But once you live in this damn state for a little while, I swear you become cold blooded. Tennessee cold I could do again, Canada, I couldn’t.

  2. bromac says:

    Wow! That turned out to be very wordy. Sorry.

  3. thestranger says:

    “So being ‘not suicidal’ can become our ‘happy’, whereas to someone else our ‘happy’ would be ‘devastatingly depressed’.”

    I can relate to that. I’d become so accustomed to my old unhealthy way of life that the better things get the more uncomfortable I feel about it.

    My brother and my friends all had some really bad drug habits, and probably still do. Desperation makes them do bad things. It wasted a few years of my life and lots of my pocketbook, too.

  4. colouredmind says:

    I love the idea that “‘not suicidal’ can become our ‘happy’, whereas to someone else our ‘happy’ would be ‘devastatingly depressed’” I supose it is about moods comparitavly sppeking and not in everyone elses terms. Hannah X

  5. exactscience says:

    I like the bracket thing.

    As for the eavesdropper – shitty break. On the plus side you didn’t send a text message saying you were spending the night with a friend as she is fragile at the moment to said friend and not to you girlfriend to explain why you are ignoring her calls.

  6. alruiceis says:

    I’m also a big fan of the normality bracket.

    And I’m sorry to hear about your friend Tim. I have a friend who’s been doing everything from weed to PCP. She’s recovering now, but it was fucking scary watching her trek through cycles of addiction.

  7. Gabriel... says:

    Hi Bromac… from what I’ve seen of Tennessee and the Smokey / Appalachian Mountains in general I think there are a lot of similarities to the region and mountains around here. But you’re right, there is a big difference between the Tennessee and Canadian cold… at least around this part. There are parts of the West Coast of this country that stay moderately warm throughout the year. For most of last week we were in the mid to upper F90’s, now we’re in the low F50’s and in about three months we’ll be -22F. It keeps things interesting.

    Speaking of snow… considering it’s availability and how many of my friends were using it I’m not sure why I never tried it. I’ve been thinking about this since I wrote this post. I watched Dave and Tim do lines off my mom’s stove. Later on they’d occasionally smoke it… I know I got a few contact highs from that shit. Same with the crack. I can remember it being very sweet smelling… but there was never any question about my interest in the coke or the heroin of the rest of it. I was always polite, but I always said no. I think… maybe some of my never trying it came from their reluctance to ever share it.

    More words are always better Bromac.

    Hello Stranger. That’s a fantastic blog you’ve got there. “the better things get the more uncomfortable I feel about it” that’s one of the most common reasons people stop their recovery, either from addiction or mental illness. Living without suicidal thoughts or random depressions and manic’s are the things we’re least prepared for…

    Hi Hannah, there is a certain amount of “sameness” in our recoveries. Because the effects of manic depression are quantifiable there are lessons we can learn from the people who have recovered before us, and I think the idea of a moving mood spectrum is one of them. Redefining what is and what is not normal is a major part of our coming to terms that manic depression is a disease, and then being willing and able to adjust our “normals” as we begin to feel the emotions we haven’t really been able to feel… appropriately. Like “The Stranger” wrote, as the bracket raises the less comfortable we get.

    It’s kind of like the situation I’m in with diabetes… because my blood sugar was so high for so long I got used to the symptoms and learnt how to live within a new normal. Once the medications started dropping the blood sugar levels I started to have and recognize all of the symptoms of diabetes. Despite my body getting better I actually started to feel worse. Now, because I’ve lived with the new level of symptoms for a few months, I’m starting to feel better within my new normal.

    Hi Exact Science… no, you’re right, at least there wasn’t that. This time.

    Annyong haseyo Esther, it’s always good to see you here. Having a friend self-destructing like that is always very hard to be dealing with. She’s lucky to have you around to help out. Is she going to meetings now?

  8. aikaterine says:

    “Poverty and abuse do sick things to people.”

    I remember reading Kahlil Gibran’s ‘The Criminal’ for the first time. It was one of those ‘Aha’ moments.

    I think it is convenient for us to forget how much we effect others (even strangers). And this whole western idea of autonomy really pulls people away from taking responsibility for the poor and hurting. It’s absurd.

  9. Pingback: The Criminal « forgetting myself

  10. ImmiTheMad says:

    After unremitting depression for a long time, not feeling cruddy every day does feel like a kind of happy. It may seem weird to “normal” people, whoever they might be, but for us folks with depression of one sort or other, it’s not unusual.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s