My son was just 14 when he was first approached at the school gate and as he was already smoking cigarettes with his friends, was quickly involved with a group smoking cannabis and drinking cheap cider. We had no idea…..drugs was something you read about that happened to someone else; to broken families, unemployed, living in a dodgy area. We were to find out the hard way just how judgemental that assumption was!
By the time he was 16 he was losing weight, had lost his once healthy appetite and never seemed to eat with us anymore. He had a real reluctance to turn up to his beloved football practise and even less enthusiasm to play on match day. His predicted A* grades were starting to slip and the school had to call us in about a couple of behavioural issues. When he got his GCSE results they were much lower than predicted which came as a huge shock but he seemed disinterested and distant. His friendships seemed to be waning with the lads he’d played football with since he was 7 years old and gradually he saw less and less of them. He dropped out of sixth form after 3 weeks, deciding to start a college course instead, which similarly lasted about 3 months until we were finally called in to be told he had 30% attendance – we couldn’t understand this as we had dropped him off and picked him up every day.
By 17, despite our best efforts using every tactic we could think of; encouragement, threats, tough love, pleading and offering him incentives….but it was like having a stranger in our home. He looked like our son on the outside but he was lost to us. His appearance changed totally, he didn’t wash, he didn’t change his clothes and his designer sweatshirts/t-shirts always seemed to be missing or ‘at a mates house’! Items had started to go missing from his bedroom, his video/computer games, console, a lost phone, empty money box etc. Then items gradually disappeared from the home: there was the odd £10 that I was sure I hadn’t spent, a CD/DVD wouldn’t be where it should be, a missing IPad, coins in a collecting jar seemed depleted. We were still in denial that our beloved son could steal from his own family until our wake-up call after losing larger items such as a laptop, cameras, camcorder and culminating in one of the saddest days when I discovered that every item of jewellery I had been given over the years, some by family who were no longer with us, was gone. I remember so clearly sitting on my bathroom floor and sobbing uncontrollably that everything of deep sentimental value had probably been handed to somebody on the market in return for a few quid. By then we were searching his room and finding empty baggys, cut up straws, deconstructed biros, and corners missing from various books, rolled up to use to sniff drugs.
We spent hours trawling the internet and reading about every type of drug, researching the Urban Dictionary so we could decipher the messages he was getting and then realised he was taking legal highs. It was at this time he also developed epilepsy as a direct result of drug taking. He was out of control and without any shame/remorse or perhaps most importantly the ability to tell the truth. He was going out during the day whilst we were at work and turning up in the early hours, or not at all, and often went missing for days without any contact.
He had no problem getting a job as he was bright, still had reasonable grades, was articulate and an ability to say the right thing. The problem was keeping a job – one after the other he was told he hadn’t passed probation due to his absence and it eventually dawned on us he was being dropped off outside and simply not going into the building. He eventually realised he couldn’t continue as he was and found a job where he felt he could relate to his peers, but would literally hand his wages over to the persistent drug dealers who would threaten all sorts if he didn’t pay on time. His life continued to spiral out of control and he was taking us down with him and severely affecting our mental health as well as his own, and our marriage suffered badly throughout this period of 4 years.
We were very lucky to be introduced to a charity in Newport Pagnell which we attended and through those meetings we quickly realised we were by no means alone in what we had been going through – there were many other parents struggling in the same way as we were and we supported each other in what we described as grieving for a child who is still alive. Every parent I have ever spoken to describes this situation as their worst nightmare and would not wish it on their worst enemy.
One day our son started a new job and seemed to decide he wanted out of the life of drugs and did very well to stay away from the people and places he had been associating with, managing to stay clean for over 6 months. Sadly, he was unable to stay strong when he bumped into an old acquaintance, went for a drink, then another and quite quickly was back into that spiral of ‘ticking’ drugs then accumulating debt that needed to be paid at the end of the month when his salary was paid. He applied for numerous pay-day loans with huge interest rates, began gambling on his phone to try to win enough money to pay off his debts, but just accumulating more.
He finally asked for help in his twenties when he could see no way out of his desperate situation and went into a rehab for 3 months, which we had to fund ourselves, and continues to struggle with his recovery. He now lives in his own place, with a partner, holding down a job, but still drinks and uses substances on occasions although these are less frequent.
We have continued to attend support meetings and as a result are much stronger than at the start of this journey and more able to distance ourselves from his addictive behaviours and live our own lives.
We remain hopeful that he will have the strength to eventually beat his demons and live his life to the full, but it took a long time and a lot of heartache for us to get to this stage and realise all we can do us control OUR OWN actions & let him take responsibility for his behaviour and life choices.
I hope that someone can relate to this account of our experience with our son’s substance abuse, which has been going on for over 8 years. If you are experiencing something similar I would recommend you seek support from other parents/family members in a group situation who understand what you are going through so that you are not dealing with it alone.
As family members of an addicted loved one it is so important that we learn how to look after our own well being, as when all is said and done, if we are broken then we are no use to anyone. We need to become stronger so that we can cope with our situations and can be there to support our loved ones if and when they are finally ready to reach out for help.