Some heartfelt thoughts from people Families Out Loud have helped in Wiltshire.
One year on….
It is a year ago this week since my 41-year-old son died. He had been an alcoholic for many years but ironically it was not drink that killed him. He overdosed on non-prescription painkillers – his action, almost certainly, a tragic accident but we will never know for sure what happened in those final hours before he passed away. His mental health had deteriorated noticeably in the months prior to his death, exacerbated by the isolating restrictions Covid had forced on him and he was struggling both physically and emotionally.
For the past twelve months my family and I have had to deal with the consequences of his sudden, unexpected death. We have been interviewed by the police, read distressing medical reports, attended an upsetting Coroner’s Inquest, employed Solicitors to settle his financial affairs, and finally, sadly, we have had to dispose of his personal possessions and sell his home.
I am now left with bitter sweet memories and a freedom I have not experienced for over twenty years. I no longer fear the calls advising me that my son is being admitted to A&E yet again, or the messages from his worried neighbours, concerned that they haven’t seen him in a while. Nor do I have to watch while paramedics try to resuscitate him in his own home or accompany him to hospital in an ambulance when more prolonged treatment is required.
A year on and my grief is still debilitating but I don’t want my son’s life to be defined solely by his addiction. He was so much more to his family, friends and colleagues. I recall cherished memories of the happy, carefree boy who grew up to be a talented, funny, thoughtful, caring adult, much loved by those who knew him best. A man whose future was tragically cut short by a cruel, devastating dependency, which despite his desperate efforts, he was unable to overcome.
I continue to be counselled by Families Out Loud and I know I am not alone on this journey. I especially appreciate being able to share with other bereaved families the sadness, shock, and above all, the overwhelming sense of despair we all experience when losing a loved one to addiction.
Last year I wrote about my son’s ongoing battle with drugs and how a mental disorder can lead to drug abuse. In the book I described how difficult it is for someone with a disorder to control their use of substances such as legal or illegal drugs, alcohol or medications. The symptoms can range from moderate to severe, with addiction being the most dangerous. My book, Bewitched, Bothered and Bipolar, is largely focused on bipolar because I was finally forced to accept that I also suffer from bipolar, and I felt it was possible that I had passed it down to my own family. I also talk about other so-called disorders such as Asperger’s etc.
After all the research that I did, I came to the conclusion that these disorders are not always inherited but can be brought about by many factors including childhood difficulties and traumas. The research also confirmed that, although people often become addicts because of their inability to cope with the extremes of their condition, they are often people gifted with highly creative capabilities that add much to society. The question is, should such disorders be treated as mental illness or accepted as a sign that we are all different? Nevertheless, people who are different can often be ostracised by society. Shouldn’t they instead be nurtured not only for the price they pay for their contributions to humankind, but also receive consideration during the more negative aspects of their mood extremisms, instead of frequently being locked away?
I also found that people, with what are termed as mental disorders such as anxiety, depression or PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), will be more likely to use drugs or alcohol as a form of self-medication. Naturally if this appears to provide some type of relief, even temporarily, it will become habitual. However, these drugs may also make the symptoms worse over time, and in a young brain can lead to psychosis – a problem that has now become prevalent in our society.
The cannabis of old that everyone merrily smoked in the 60’s has since become a far more powerful substance. And brain changes in those with a mental disorder may enhance the rewarding effect of drugs, thereby making it more likely they will continue the habit and become addicts. Their drug or alcohol abuse may even trigger changes in their brains, especially when they are young, affecting the neurons and thereby making them more likely to develop a mental disorder.
It seems the price we are paying for technology has made us impatient, narcissistic and less tolerant of others. Our growing dependence on technologies has increasingly made us feel victimised, powerless and obsessed with instant gratification. We are losing our ability to form human bonds, only facilitated by the recent Covid lockdowns. Substance abuse could be felt by some, then, to be a solution.
by Judy Lanteigne
‘Bewitched Bothered and Bipolar’ is now available at bookshops, online and at: www.newgeneration-publishing.com/books/biography/bewitched-bothered-and-bipolar/
Addiction and Bipolar Disorder
The only thing on your mind when you are suffering from mental anguish is how to subdue the pain and find some welcome relief. These days it is all too easy for young people to find drugs. Even at school drug pushers hang around the school gates as pupils leave, hoping to make a sale and get them addicted when they’re young.
Both of my sons have had considerable experience of drugs. The youngest, Nicky, was a pupil at an expensive and highly esteemed public school in Hammersmith, where they were delighted to take him at the age of nine because of his proficiency in maths. It was as a result of his friendship with the grandson of a well-known Lord of the realm that, at around the age of 15, he was introduced to an Iranian drug dealer who, from then on, was only too happy to supply all the boys’ needs. Public schools educate many of the scions of aristocratic families so, coming from wealthy families, they are deemed to be low hanging fruit, and suitable for cultivation. Eventually the other boys gave up their habit but it was harder for my son to do the same because he was suffering from an undiagnosed disorder. He carried on taking drugs – self-medicating for nearly thirty-five years; becoming an addict in the process.
It was a long time before I realised Nicky was taking drugs, as was his older brother, Leon, who had been smoking marijuana for some time (something I had recognised for some years, hoping it was just a passing phase). By then neither of my sons was living at home, and, for six months of the year, I was living out of the country on another continent – somewhere I hoped I could finally follow my dream to become an artist.
Nicky had been a sensible as well as an academic child; one that I felt would become responsible regarding his health and welfare. In hindsight, knowing his older brother was taking drugs perhaps should have alerted me to the fact that it might have encouraged him to follow suit, but for a long time he was clever enough to hide his dependence. It had always been Leon who I had worried about because of his apparent vulnerability and his overly high IQ. While Nicky also had an above average IQ, he appeared to have a preternatural maturity. Perhaps I simply couldn’t face another of my brilliant sons suffering from any kind of mental affliction.
In the mid-1990s, I was divorced and free, travelling back and forth to my lakeside house in Canada which I had renovated and extended to contain a studio where I could paint. Then on one of my trips back to the UK, I became aware that my youngest son was in trouble. He insisted his father, who had recently died, had agreed to have both our boys groomed for higher purposes by certain powerful people because of their outstanding IQs. Both myself and Leon initially accepted the story (as it was presented in such a convincing manner), but in due course it became obvious it was false and typical of the ‘grandiose’ stage of what was to be diagnosed as his hypo-bipolar disorder, aided no doubt by his drug addiction.
In 2005, after Nicky sold his flat in London, it was fifteen years of trying to keep up with news of his peregrinations by car around the country, from as far afield as a hospital in South Wales to the Scottish Highlands. The police, meanwhile, were keeping tabs on him and eventually managed to track him down by attaching an electronic device onto his car. There were many occasions when I’d receive calls from the police to say they had my son in custody, refusing to give me any further information. By law, they are now required to place anyone they suspect of suffering from a mental disorder into the nearest hospital. Although in hospital he was not beaten up or physically manhandled, to him it’s like being imprisoned.
In hospital my son would be immediately, and painfully, detoxed overnight from his self-medication and then be forced to take whatever anti-psychotic drugs (which have not been updated for years because of the expense and difficulties of trials) were felt suitable at the time for his mental state. Such drugs are not entirely dissimilar from the ones he had been made to give up and, to this day, their effect on the brain is still not understood. Research has now been funded to measure the effect of cannabis and psilocybin drugs on mental disorders and, known to be effective if used responsibly, so far can only be prescribed to epilepsy sufferers.
Nicky would generally be sectioned for either three or six months – whatever was felt appropriate by a psychiatrist at the time. Suffering from a loss of human dignity, a loss of liberty during his humiliating incarceration, and his experience of forced medication, he would then be released early in a ragged and raw state, suffering from chronic and life-threatening depression. Determined to avoid officious bureaucracy and ready for the next mind-blowing brew which could be guaranteed to bring some balm to his mind – the cycle would continue.
by Mum from Wiltshire.
Last year I wrote about my son’s ongoing battle with addiction. In spite of several previous successes in overcoming his demons, he was struggling to maintain his sobriety during the isolation of lockdown. He had suffered two serious relapses but was confident that once he could access his support groups again and finally return to working on site, he would be able to get back on track. Sadly, this was not to be. He died suddenly earlier this year – in his own home, alone and undiscovered for almost a week. He was 41 years of age.
The shock to my family and the overwhelming sense of despair at his passing has been devastating. To add to my feelings of anguish, I had not spoken to him for several days. I was angry at his behaviour, which had been particularly challenging in the months leading up to his death. Although I know in my heart that his self-destructive life style would eventually, and almost certainly, end in tragedy, I continue to wrestle with the thought that maybe, had I contacted him sooner, he could have been saved.
I have been comforted by the dozens of messages, cards and letters received from friends and acquaintances, many of whom were strangers to me, but known to my son. Especially appreciated was the professional assistance and advice he willingly gave to his work colleagues and the encouragement he offered to his peers in AA. Whilst I am proud of the part he played in motivating other addicts, I find it sadly poignant and ironic that in the end, his lack of self-belief prevented him from achieving his desire to ‘live sober’.
It is said that ‘time is a great healer’ but for now my family’s grief is still raw. My son’s death has left a huge void in our lives but I know we must look to the future, however daunting that may seem.
I have much loved granddaughters and a recently born, long awaited great nephew, whose unexpected arrival has been a blessing to us all. I look forward to seeing these children grow up into happy and healthy adults.
I hope my son realised how much he was loved and that everyone did their very best, over many years, to support him through his dreadful addiction. Throughout these difficult months, I have continued to receive love, friendship and understanding from Family’s Out Loud members, and for that I am, as always, truly grateful.
In the F.O.L summer newsletter a mum from Chippenham wrote movingly about her son’s addiction. My son was also still at school when I discovered he was taking drugs and drinking to excess. He assured me he was fine – “recreational” drugs taken occasionally and drinking with friends at weekends was normal. He was in control. However, what I didn’t know then, was that he was already attending a young person’s therapy group, which belied his assurance that his behaviour was acceptable. My immediate response was to question my actions. Had I said or done anything while he was growing up which might have triggered his compulsion to experiment with alcohol and drugs? Through group sessions at F.O.L I now know that I was not to blame. My son, himself, has said many times over the years that he takes full responsibility for his behaviour and has never failed to voice his appreciation for his family’s unwavering support.
In spite of his problems he did well at school and, aged nineteen, secured a place at university. Naively, I thought he would have little time for drugs and alcohol while studying. How wrong I was! The student culture fuelled his addiction and it was apparent, on the rare occasions he came home, that he was struggling both physically and mentally.
Amazingly, after four years he was awarded a degree. He returned home and for the next ten years worked for a local company. He met a lovely girl, who made him happy, and eventually they bought a house together. For a while life was good and their future looked rosy, but this was not to last. As pressure at work mounted his addiction spiralled out of control and he lost his job. He ended his relationship and was admitted to rehab for the next six months. He embraced the treatment whilst in the safety of the Centre, but within a week of his discharge he was again drinking excessively and taking drugs. Now it was not unusual for him to be rushed regularly to A&E. Countless times he has had to be resuscitated, either by paramedics at home, or in hospital, when urgent medical intervention was required. He was warned that his addiction would kill him within months. He appeared to heed the warning and by attending daily AA and NA meetings and working alongside a sponsor, he brought his addiction under control for short periods but failed to sustain his recovery for long.
A turning point came when he had to face up to the early deaths, through addiction, of several “friends”. He intensified his efforts to be sober and clean, and three years ago secured the job he loves, is still doing from home, and is good at. The months until lockdown were calm. He seemed content, healthy and had finally rediscovered his quick wit and quirky sense of humour.
Sadly, in recent months he has had two serious relapses and is once again trying to get himself back on track. Despite all the misery and chaos my son has inflicted on my life, I have huge respect for his tenacity.
I am now elderly, and this journey has put enormous strain on my family for nearly 25 years. Often the worry and despair have almost overwhelmed me. My one wish is that my son can eventually beat this devastating addiction, but I accept this may never happen. I continue to love and support him whilst reminding myself that his choices are his own and I am powerless to influence his decisions. I am so grateful to F.O.L for their continuing unbiased advice and understanding.
My son was still at school when the level of his problem with drug addiction slowly became apparent. It is very hard to describe how dreadful it feels as a parent to uncover the layers of secrets that your child is hiding from you, how you lose faith in everything you thought you knew and thought would happen. I can only say it felt as though everything I thought I knew was ripped away, and all that I believed about my family and our future was in doubt.
I found support for my son through online drug agencies like Talk to Frank and via Wiltshire Council, and while he was offered support, I was falling apart. The pressure on our family, his sibling and my partner, who is not his father, was enormous. I sought support from my doctor and ended up on anti-anxiety medication. A worker with the service Motiv8 at Wiltshire Council suggested I seek support myself and referred me to FOL.
I was able to access one to one counselling support and finally felt as though I could breath again. It’s impossible to talk honestly to family, who are suffering themselves. I feared talking to friends, scared of consequences and judgment. I have received, and still receive, one to one support and have also attended support group sessions during my journey. The knowledge and compassion I have accessed has made it possible to continue and for me to cope. It helped to hear that I was not alone in my situation, that others walked the same path and although there were no answers, no easy fixes, there was a sharing of ways to stay strong.
It has been a long hard journey, one that is no way over. I have come to accept that it never will be. My son has lived through overdoses, multiple arrests and has been sectioned under the mental health act and been in a secure mental hospital for under 18s. He has been street homeless for a period since he turned 18 and we could not cope with him at home, he has also lived with us since that and held down jobs. He is still alive and has made progress in his understanding of himself and his addiction. As I am writing this he has left home again and I do not know where he is, I wait for the next phone call or knock on the door. My son knows where we are and that we love him, and I know he loves me, despite everything.
However, I am still here, my home, my family and my relationship with my husband is still strong. I am not on medication and am working, functioning, living. I have learnt to talk about our family situation and not fear judgement or feel shame. I truly believe that it is the support I have received, and continue to receive from FOL, that held me together and enabled me to see that life goes on, and although it is not what I would have wished for my son or myself, it is what it is.
I sincerely hope that FOL will always be able to offer support for others in my situation as the years go on.
I have been asked more than once ‘why don’t you take drugs’. Why I’m the one at a party that stays on the dance floor whilst others sneak off to quiet corners of the venue? I was the more unusual one for not going off to do a line. And I have no judgement on that. I’m surrounded by drugs. My nearest and dearest use when they’re out having fun and I still love them dearly. But my answer to the question ‘why aren’t you doing any’ was “my brother does enough for the both of us” and laugh. I’d make light of the fact I didn’t touch the shit because I’d watched it destroy my brother and my family for years. It’s hard to describe really, it’s such an invisible yet blatant illness. My brother isn’t a heroin addict you walk past on the street. Often the drugs he took were in plain view, when he was surround by his friends, in the most social situations. No secrets, no dirty habit, just part of a good night. Except when it stopped being this. Except when it started to be alone in his bedroom at night. And then alone in his bedroom during the day. I’ve watched my brother slur his speech and struggle to stand in our family home. I’ve seen my brother off his head, curled up in a ball outside the local club. I’ve watched my brother come home bloody and bruised after disappearing for 48 hours. I’ve watched my brother get into crippling debt. I’ve watched my mum break her heart as she puts a plea out on Facebook asking if anyone has seen my brother in the past 2 days. I’ve watched my mum scream at the top of her lungs in agony after my brother has just drug driven home. I’ve watched my brother and step dad head to head in physical violence because my brothers in a vile mood on a hideous come down. I’ve watched my brother be kicked out of his home. I’ve watched my brother come back to his home. And repeat, again and again. I’ve watched my mum, myself, all of us, lose all fight against this habit because none of us know how to win. So why don’t I take drugs? My brother does enough for the both of us.
I never expected to be facing retirement with an adult son who has a significant problem with class A Drugs. Our family life had descended into chaos, tearing apart what our extended family seemed to think was a perfect family unit, happy with no problems to speak off. Shame, humiliation, distress, anxiety and a lack of being able to do anything meant our own lives were spiralling out of control, I was at the point of not being able to function or interact normally with others. Thankfully I found the courage to make a phone call to the councillor of Families Out Loud and with their help and the support from a Families Out Loud group I have learnt to cope with many aspects of our situation, step back from the chaos, start to rebuild my own life and face the world again. Being able to talk with and listen to others who understand and support you has been invaluable.
My son started taking drugs in his mid-teens and he’s now a 34 year old homeless drug addict who’s currently serving his fourth prison sentence. He has ripped the heart out of our family and we are all still in various states of grief.
As a family, for many years we did everything in our power to help him. He lived at home until he was 28 when we finally asked him to leave due to the chaos and distress he was causing us. Then for the next four years we paid his rent on different places where he was ‘dossing down’ and we provided weekly shopping. I realised that we were just enabling his habit so we had to stop all financial support.
Over time his immediate family have, one by one, excluded him from their lives. I was the last to do the unthinkable two years ago. It was like a knife through my heart and against every instinct I possess as a mum. It almost broke me and I now have to live with the knowledge that one of the people I love most in the world is out there leading the worst kind of life.
I could not have carried out the ‘tough love’ without the support group. They gave me the courage to do one of the hardest things a parent can do: totally withdraw from your child. Over the following months the group encouraged me to keep going and supported me when I doubted myself. Some of them had already taken that step and some were a million miles away from even thinking about it. But every single person listened, counselled and gave me love. They understood my agony.
Two years on I still have bad days; not long ago I had a total meltdown, just thinking about my son. I love him so much but I can’t have any kind of relationship with him until he decides to change his life. I’m always in touch with the probation team and I’m thinking about meeting him there when he’s released. But I’ll talk it through with the group first as they are the best experts in the world. They care about me and they’ll give me the best advice possible.
When I discovered that my 16 year old son was using class A drugs it literally tore through my world. Anxiety and helplessness left me in a terrible place, it felt as though my whole life was under threat and everything that I had hoped for my son was ruined. I was lucky to find my way to the counselling service provided by FOL, where I received support and advice that helped me manage my anxiety and cope with life again. Finding out that you don’t have to cope alone makes all the difference in the world.
At first, I came to the group wanting help with my relationship with my father. The side effects from his drinking habits were confusing, destroying and battering me mentally and emotionally. I was desperate and would do anything to change a pattern which had persisted for years.
For most of my life I believed I was at fault and in the wrong. I felt not wanted, had low self-esteem and this affected all areas of my life: relationships, family, work, socially. I was going nowhere. Over the years I had learnt effective ways of covering up my lack of self-worth, had tried to change. I felt powerless and needed help.
Attending weekly meetings of the group has given me the support to change. I have learnt to stand up for myself, take charge of my decisions, trust myself, understand that I can say no. I do not have to put up with situations which are uncomfortable and mentally manipulative and abusive. I have set boundaries with disruptive relationships and am learning to step out of dramas. I am starting to hear and see more clearly and realise I do not have to please others.
I now have the confidence to speak up in the group, socially, in relationships and negotiate in my work. I am communicating more effectively with honesty. This is setting me free. I feel movement and change, more at peace with myself. It is with small steps I am starting to create the life I have always wanted.
The group is quietly a powerful tool facilitating change within us as we tell our stories and listen to others. The ongoing support of the group and leader allows change, new good feelings and positive attitudes to take root.