Molly is a NUAA staff member who also volunteers. She talks about being a peer, lateral violence and NUAA’s inclusiveness policy.
I started working at NUAA a few years ago in a role that didn’t need peer status. At the time, I considered NUAA to be an organisation created specifically for people who inject drugs. I’ve been a drug user for over a decade, but the fact that I had never injected, combined with low self esteem that always makes me feel like I don’t belong anywhere, made me think I wasn’t a peer.
NUAA staff and supporters talk about what it means to be a peer constantly. Being a peer-driven organisation means that we define the term again and again in different contexts. The definition always lands somewhere in the ball-park of being the most inclusive, while having experience of the particular issue or lifestyle of drug choices that we’re dealing with at the time. It’s not as tedious as it sounds, and we do approach it with humour — when it gets a bit intense we ask each other “How big is your peer-ness?’ — because apparently we are all children when it comes to jokes.
When NUAA started running DanceWize NSW last year, I was so excited about the program, but I was still a bit reluctant to join. Even though I’d been to festivals, doofs, and other celebrations of all things loose, it didn’t feel like I’d been to enough. Even though I’ve held the hands of plenty of friends while they’ve been sick off too much MDMA and I’ve had people sit with me for hours while I’ve had a bad acid trip, it felt like it wasn’t enough. These young kids and their encyclopaedic knowledge of electronic dance music and intimate experiences with research psychedelics seemed intimidating as fuck.
Of course, they aren’t. They are a lovely crew who genuinely value each other’s different experiences, level of knowledge, and skills. But that thought can creep up occasionally — the idea that someone is a ‘better’ drug user than you. Whether it’s the variety of substances, or how spiritual their experiences have been, or how Velvet Underground their habit, it’s easy to feel inferior when comparing yourself to people.
The riskier flip side is feeling like you’re better than other people who use drugs. The reasons can be the same, and they come up again and again. Buying into the ice panic makes people who are mostly trippers feel superior, never blowing the last of your pay on blow makes more organised and well-off party people feel superior. Volunteering for DanceWize NSW, I butted up against this first hand.
We call this tendency to throw other marginalised people under the bus ‘lateral violence’. It’s violence, which includes blame and disparagement, done to people like ourselves, in the hope that we can earn some cookies from the powers that be, if only we can demonstrate that we aren’t the bad ones — those ‘other’ drug users are. This tendency doesn’t live out there in the world though, tragically enough, it’s inside us. I found it in myself when getting a bit mad at people who were getting too spangled at festivals. ‘Spangled’ is a term I learned from a punter at Dragon Dreaming, meaning ‘well fucked’, and it’s a learning that I cherish almost as much as this — the pride I had at never being as messy as some of the people at festivals was just a form of lateral violence. It’s a way of excluding people, and it was the same process of exclusion that I was doing to myself when I first joined NUAA.
Fuck that. We are better, more capable, more colourful, more romantic, kinder and stronger together.