Some heartfelt thoughts from people Families Out Loud have helped in Wiltshire.
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.