My Favourite Blogs: ‘Experiences of a mother of two young heroin addicts’ by Mark’

IMG_4069A very moving blog which first appeared on Wired In To Recovery (WITR) in May 2009 and on Recovery Stories in June 2013. Mark blogged regularly on WITR until the community closed.

“We found my 20 year old brother dead of an overdose. He had just kicked the habit so tolerance was low. He started a job and the first payday was his last.

Mum wrote this after I got clean. Copy and use it anywhere it can be of use.”

‘What is it like being the mother of an addict? (Experiences of a mother of two young heroin addicts)
Sheer horror! I just could not exaggerate the chaos drugs cause in a family.

It sort of creeps up gradually, after the disbelief that it really can’t be happening to your boys. You think that it is something that only happens to other people’s kids. You know, the type that don’t have any parental control.

Well, all of a sudden, it’s your turn to be judged. You just know that everyone thinks that you must have been a bad parent. You even jump on the bandwagon yourself and keep asking yourself where you went wrong, with a long list of ‘if only’s’.

But the real hurt comes with watching the ones you love and have cherished turning into the low life everyone despises – even they themselves.

Your heart breaks as they become a physical wreck: thin, gaunt, grey, full of cigarette burns they didn’t feel, with only two things on their minds. Where to get the drugs, and how to pay for them?

The realisation doesn’t come all at once and it takes a while before the stealing from your purse begins. But it is inevitable – even though you’ve convinced yourself that they wouldn’t do that to you.

From then on, the inconvenience of having to hide every penny starts. Not just because you don’t want to lose your money, but because you don’t want to become part of the problem by financing their habit. You can’t even give Christmas presents in case they sell them to buy drugs (not that Christmas will ever be the same again).

There is so much lying, scheming and deceiving that it is impossible to know the truth or to believe anything. Obviously, you cannot allow drugs to be taken in your home; so with the threats of them being made homeless, come all the promises of giving up, and you just have to believe it, because what else can you do?

Giving up on them does not seem like an option.

Coming off heroin, they need a lot of help to have any chance of success, so they now become a full-time job. You feel yourself withdrawing from the outside world and dreading visitors calling, while they ‘cold turkey’ on your couch and leave the fires on all night, and burn holes in your furniture – surrounded by bottles of pills to get over the withdrawals, most of which are also subject to abuse.

Then of course there’s the naltrexone (which is your only weapon to stop them taking heroin) – but it’s not long before they develop several ingenious ways to hide it, spit it out, or some other way to look like they’ve taken it and put you off your guard. Always one step ahead!

You live in a constant state of stress, trying to catch them out, wondering which drugs they might be taking, always hoping your suspicions are wrong. But sooner or later the needles and paraphernalia start to appear and you know you’re going round the same old cycle again.

There’s something demonic about the whole thing; the thought of your son sticking a needle full of poison into himself is excruciatingly painful. You just wonder: what has happened to my family, my life?

You feel too ashamed to tell anyone and so you become very isolated, fearful and helpless. Then – just in case you had a little pride left – you (and probably all your friends) see your son begging in the street. Your child, begging? Can it get any worse? Unfortunately, yes.

The most horrific part of it all: the overdosing.

Now you watch your son on the point of death, wondering whether the ambulance will arrive in time, trying to keep him alive in the meantime, watching him turn blue, and the life trying hard to leave the worn out, abused body.

After regular arrivals of ambulances outside your house, you start to leave the house by the back door. And just when you are starting to get complacent about the whole thing, you are hit in the face by the reality of a dead son.

And while you grieve for your precious one who lost the battle before he’d barely got into it, the other son is stealing your money to buy more drugs. The dead brother, the near-death experiences of his own, seem to have no impact at all.

So afraid that he will die, too, we go looking for him, and find him, and drag him out of public toilets, but he goes off anyway. Maybe that’s the only way he can deal with the situation.

A few more overdoses down the line and I’m completely neurotic about leaving him in the house, for fear of coming home to a corpse: it’s been too close, too many times. I have to come in slowly, listening for a noise, or for evidence of signs of life – too scared to look properly.

Once I came home to find him tangled up in the telephone cord – followed shortly afterwards by an ambulance and the police, who had presumed he’d died while calling 999. Another time, while fighting for life, a loud, shrill, almost inhuman noise was coming from him although his mouth was clenched shut. That was the time the ambulance crashed on the road just before arriving. Of course, he was oblivious to all this trauma.

Every time he left the house it was a worry. It seemed a bit naive to trust him even though I really wanted to. Always on your mind is – is he getting drugs? Where has he got the money? Will he overdose and die? Then the cycle starts again, the cold turkey, the getting better and then back to the drugs again.

We wanted to help him stop so badly, and in the early days we really thought that if we could keep him off the drugs for a couple of weeks the habit would be broken. We tried shutting him in but he escaped through a very small upper window (that’s how thin he’d become).

In desperation we’ve followed, chased, begged, threatened, bribed, but nothing ever seemed to make a difference for long. To us, he was a sick child, but really he was a grown-up with free will, so we were helpless. All we could really do was provide a safe environment for the times when he wanted to try and get better, and swallow our own heartbreak and anger.

Next came the hope of going to rehab. This created its own tensions with trying to get funding (we didn’t know there were any free rehabs then), getting a place in the detox at the right time to go on to a room in the rehab, and hoping that he would not go off the rails in the meantime.

When it finally all fell into place it was a relief beyond imagining – only to have our hopes dashed again when after months of waiting, he only stayed a few days.

Giving up still wasn’t an option, so after getting funding again and his returning for three months, things were at least improving for a while, and we were all getting a much-needed break.

He left early and relapsed, however, but had a few more attempts at rehab. Although he never completed much of the program there, they certainly seemed to help – even though (until the last time he went) he relapsed every time he left and usually overdosed before he got back home.

Thinking back, I know I underestimated the power of the drugs, how evil they are – the hold they have and how difficult it is to get off them. The personality change and the times he let us down, seemed almost out of his control.

A turning point came when he reached a new low while injecting crack cocaine. I had always thought my money was safe as long as it was on my person, and that he would never hurt me, however much he was under the control of the drugs – but things changed.

He prised my bag out of my hands while I was screaming and begging him to stop. I was hoping something would click in his mind and he would realise what he was doing, but he just had a blank look in his eyes. I was absolutely devastated.

For the first time, I felt frightened of him, and called the police, hoping they would find him before he got more drugs – knowing that that was where he was headed. But they didn’t know where to look as there were too many dealers in our small town.

I didn’t press charges just in case it was a one off, and thank God, it was. It was the turning point in his recovery and for us. I knew everything would have to change after that: a line had been crossed and everything would have to change one way or the other.

I think, looking back, it may have been the best thing that happened – his real recovery began here – but it didn’t seem like it at the time.

I’m so thankful we didn’t give up on him – but most of all I am so thankful he didn’t give up on himself.

(S. died of a heroin overdose in 1999, aged 20; T. has now been clean for nearly a year and is rebuilding his life)

PS. Where was God in all of this? I can’t write this story without mentioning the strength God gave me when I most needed it. It was the times when I really thought I couldn’t take anymore that He really helped me through, sometimes by using other kind, helpful people and their prayers.

One person in particular was like a gift from God. Also, I believe it is only by a miracle that I still have one son alive. God kept on giving me hope in what seemed like a hopeless situation, but then that’s what God is like. I just can’t imagine how those without him cope.’