By Even Skyrud, community worker at =Oslo
I have known Lasse for a while. Lasse and I have our roots in approximately the same area in the capital, and he is usually selling =Oslo next to a shop where I do my regular shopping.
Lasse takes better care of himself than most other vendors that are selling the magazine.
If it wasn’t for the magazine that he was holding in his hands he could have been just another ordinary – maybe a little bit cheeky – Nordstrand kid. He is always well groomed and in fancy clothes, with a smirk.
But other than that, and the fact that he likes to give bear hugs, I knew very little about him.
I decided to ask if he wanted to have a little chat in the room in the back at Skippergata 14, where the =Oslo operation is based. He was quite up for the idea.
So I asked Lasse to tell me a bit more about himself.
“My name is Lasse Andreassen; I’m 33 years old, addicted to drugs, an alcoholic, and considered by my family as the black sheep.
“However now I’m on the road back to recovery, back into good company.
“I was born and raised in Lambertseter and Nordstrand [a suburb in the city of Oslo]. Kastellet in Nordstrand to be exact.
“I started at the Oslo Maritime with plans to become an electrician. I quit after just half a year, when the police came and picked me up at school.
“I had done some bits and bobs, and maybe lied a little bit to the police afterwards. The two police officers that sat in the principal’s office were not particularly happy.
“The police officer that questioned me gave me the choice between three months worth of jail time, or alternatively to be followed up by a probation officer for a year and provide regular urine samples. I chose the latter.
“I must have been 16, 17 tops. It was before I started using heroin.”
I was interested to know if there was a widespread drug infected environment at Nordstrand in the 90s…
“No, not really. We were three or four guys that liked to party a little bit more than most people. Before we were 14 years old we started going to other places in town, we got to know other people. Then two of my buddies moved out of town.
“The guy that stayed behind with me was doing quite well at one point, for a while. He left for rehab and became sober, came back out again, relapsed after one and a half years and died of an overdose.
“Then it was only me left. I was the worst addict at Kastellet.”
During our chat, we were interrupted by some loud and angry voices out in the sales floor. Someone that was high or drunk had crossed paths with someone that’s was feeling down.
I have never seen Lasse in either of these states.
I have no complaints or problems with this guy. He greets with a smile and a joke whenever he enters the room.
He can be a little bit ostentatious, but charming nevertheless. But after facing each other for the interview, for the first time I noticed his inner turmoil and darker side.
There was a sadness in his dark brown eyes, something you don’t usually notice when he rushes in to grab a stack of new magazines. But the smile was still there.
I tried to pick up the conversation again after the situation on the sales floor had calmed down.
I asked Lasse how he ended up here at our place selling =Oslo.
“In my mid-20s I had my first couple of jobs after high school, all in the construction industry. I had managed to make a fool of myself in every single one of them, every time due to drugs.
“It’s always been the drugs, the need to get intoxicated, which has ruined my life.
“There are periods when I’m doing well at a job, but after a while I start to use again and lose it.
“Every single job that I have ever had, I have lost in this way.
“One of my friends suggested =Oslo because I had managed to ruin all other potential prospects in the construction industry due to my substance abuse.
“I thought I could sell the magazine, as it’s a suitable job for an addict.
“At this point I didn’t consider myself as an addict. I had a proper home and lived a relatively decent life. It took quite a few years to admit to myself that I was actually an addict.
“The fact is that I have been one ever since I was 13 years old, when I first started to smoke cannabis. At that point I would have been as well to start selling street magazines.”
I asked him if he likes selling magazines and if he took to it right away?
“I am quite curious about that, at the start it went really well. It’s easy to sell, and there are lots of pleasant customers.
“It went along fine as long as I kept using. During periods when I was sober, I stayed away from =Oslo.
“I had other jobs, but I have always turned back to the magazine because I know that regardless of how bad things are, and despite what I have done, =Oslo will take me on with open arms without the need to explain.
“This is a job I won’t get fired from.
“Regardless, it would be a lie to say that I enjoy selling =Oslo. I do enjoy meeting all the people that stop and take the time to have a little chat with me and buy a magazine.
“At the same time, meeting these people is something that I don’t like. Simply because I am the person that I am,” Lasse added, after a thoughtful pause.
I asked him why, despite all this, he chooses to sell =Oslo where he grew up, with the danger of bumping into old friends and other people he knows.
“A lot of the people that I used to know have moved away and so have their parents.
“But it does hit a nerve whenever I do meet people that recognise me. Not because it’s embarrassing but because I get exposed to old memories, the fact that I am who I am, that I am where I am in my life. The fact that I could have done so much more with my life, had I only realised that I needed help when I was 17. Instead I started taking heroin.”
Lasse went from partying a bit too much, smoking cannabis and getting drunk, to injecting heroin, which seems quite extreme. I asked him why he started to take a drug that he knew would have been dangerous and addictive.
For the first time during our chat, Lasse had broken eye contact. He was a little distant, before he said for the first time during our chat that it was difficult to answer this question.
However, he came up with a couple of theories.
“Part of the reasons was that I could control my ADHD [Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder]. I could close myself up. And it was curiosity, I must admit. I suppose people are curious by nature at the age of 17.
“Additionally the drug was readily available at that time, which didn’t help.”
It certainly did not help. I suggested we talk a little bit about where Lasse currently is in his life, and his plans from here.
“I am involved with something called ‘work in sheltered business’, through NAV [the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration]. They are going to help me get back into the working life again, I hope.
“I want to work as a builder, as that’s what I have the skills in. It is the only thing I know how to do really.
“I wouldn’t be able to just sit in an office. I wouldn’t be able to sit still. As a builder I get to use my body and get my energy, frustration and aggression out.
I asked Lasse what he thinks are required for him to succeed this time.
“Number one: to be abstinent, number two: to be abstinent, number three: learn to stay abstinent, number four: to get out of the addict mentality and to get back into standard mentality, and number five: to be abstinent.
“I would also need to talk to a specialist on ADHD. I have never been diagnosed, but I know that I do have it. They added it into my journal at the rehabilitation centre: addict, alcoholic, bipolar, and strong ADHD.”
“It’s the worst thing you can do, to hurt the ones you love, the ones you were supposed to watch over and protect.”
I explained that this interview is getting published in the magazine he sells and that we have permission to use Lasse’s picture on the internet, to advertise for =Oslo.
I asked him if he is scared to expose himself in this way, to be that open about drugs and other things alongside his picture.
“I can look at a picture of myself, its fine. Now that I have admitted to myself what and who I am, it’s fine to speak openly about the usage of drugs and to have my picture in the magazine.
“But to see my own reflection, that’s something I can’t handle.”
Lasse continued to smile. He’s was a bit fidgety, and asked if we can finish the interview soon. He needed to sell some more magazines to earn the amount of money that he needs to make it through the day, he explained. I asked him a question while he was packing up his stuff.
What is the reason for not liking your own reflection?
“I think it’s about all the shame that I keep feeling, the shame over all the pain that I have caused everyone around me, my parents, family and friends. You don’t think about those things when you are high.
“But when you become sober, it all comes back to you. It’s the worst thing you can do, to hurt the ones you love, the ones you were supposed to watch over and protect.”
As Lasse left I shouted “Good luck with the sales,” as he walked through the door. He quickly turned and smiles at me saying “I almost forgot to give you a bear hug, get over here!”
We share a vendor story every Wednesday, explore previous weeks here.
Translated from Norwegian into English by Marius Stokke Sønneland.