Visiting UK Recovery Friends: Part 9 (Ian and Irene MacDonald)

After leaving Wulf and Melanie Livingstone’s house in North Wales, I headed to Ian and Irene MacDonald’s home in the outskirts of Cheltenham. I first met Ian Macdonald at the FDAP (Federation of Drug & Alcohol Professionals) Annual conference in 2007; we had previously corresponded about a few articles that I posted on our news portal Daily Dose. We hit it off immediately. Ian told me how he and Irene had he had lost their 27-year-old son Robin to an accidental heroin overdose in November 1997.

After a long period trying to get their lives back on track after Robin’s death, Ian and Irene realised that their lives would never be the same again and accepted that their lives would not be bad, just different. They then began to wonder if there was any possibility of something positive coming from Robin’s death.

They spoke to each other about this for a long time, until one night it occurred to them that what they could was to provide what they had wanted when they first discovered their son’s addiction to heroin—’quite simply, someone to talk to, understand what we were going through, be non-judgemental, have a knowledge of drugs and addiction, and be able to act as a signpost to further help.’

And so, on a cold November night, CPSG (Carer and Parent Support Gloucestershire) was conceived. Ian and Irene agreed that this service should be free and confidential and available to anyone concerned about another person’s substance use. You can learn how they developed their service over time by reading their Recovery Story, Living Through Our Son’s Addiction and Death: Our Journey to Recovery, which was posted on this website in 2013.

Ian, Irene and Andrea Wilson invited me to give a 90-minute presentation on recovery at a ‘Who Cares?’ Carers’s conference in Gloucester in September 2008. My current partner Linda was visiting me at the time from Western Australia, and she attended the conference and also spent an evening with Ian and Irene. It was an excellent conference and I really enjoyed giving my talk and meeting various people. I was really struck by Ian and Irene’s courage, and their determination to help other people. I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose a child… and then recover some sort of order in one’s life.

After we launched the Wired In To Recovery (WITR) online community in November 2008, just before I left to live in Australia, Ian and Irene became active members and wrote blogs. Somewhere along the line, they decided to write their Recovery Story and I helped in an editorial role. This story was published when I launched the Recovery Stories website in 2013.

I was really taken emotionally by this Story, from which I have taken one quote here:

‘6. Early recovery moments
Irene: I remember what I now think of as my first real recovery moment, although I didn’t see it as such at the time. I had been supporting another mother through her son’s addiction and subsequent recovery, and she had called on the helpline to tell me that things were going well, that he had just been accepted back into university, and to thank me for the ongoing support.

She then went on to say, ‘You’ve been so helpful and knowledgeable about the problem that I can’t believe you made a mistake with your own son.’ I found myself replying, ‘Oh no, Mrs P. I didn’t make the mistake—he did. I just picked up the mess.’

It was quite a Damascene moment for me and I felt so positive about it.  She quickly said that she realised it was a bit of a thoughtless thing to say to me, but I assured her that was not the case and that thanks to her I was able to realise how much more I understood about addiction and recovery. The way I bounced straight back with my comment without even thinking about it made me realise how recovery was happening to me too. I no longer felt the need to make excuses for Robin’s drug use, and accepted that no guilt on my part was necessary. Lasting sadness yes, but certainly no guilt!’

Please read the rest of Ian and Irene’s Story, as published in 2013.

It was wonderful to see Ian and Irene again on 26 September 2022. I’ll write more about this meeting in my next blog, along with the 2021 update of Ian and Irene’s Story.

PS. I forgot to take photographs when meeting Ian and Irene in September 2022. The photograph above was taken in September 2008.