What would you do if your child was a heroin addict suffering from acute withdrawal symptoms – disintegrating in front of your eyes – while waiting for rehab treatment to start? One mother from a village in the south-west of England describes how she ended up driving her daughter to town, and paying for her to get a fix.
She was pouring with sweat, vomiting, crying, hysterical, shaking – just desperate, feeling desperately ill. I felt like I was trapped in a corner and that there was nothing else I could do. So I said to her, “Is there any way we can do this – on the street?”
She spent a good hour and a half ringing around, and people could only offer her heroin, not methadone.
That’s how we ended up in the middle of a local town with me handing over my hard-earned money to buy a drug.
The problem really started five years ago, when she was 18. She had some life changes in terms of friends going off to university and changes in a long-term relationship that she had been happy in, and then it had gone wrong. Her behaviour, her personality, started to change.
Before she had been hard-working, she had loved her horse and would ride, and all these things started to fall by the wayside. She slept a lot in the day. I kept saying to her, “What’s wrong with you?”
And then she started hanging around with people that we knew were not a good influence – older people who were using drugs. And it started to sort of click into place.
We were driving back from somewhere one day and I asked her again what was wrong with her.
And she said, “Imagine the worst thing it could be.”
I said, “Are you pregnant?” – which, when I think about it now would have been nothing. It would have been fantastic in a way if that had been the answer, because the answer was: “No, no mum. Think of the worst. Worse, much worse than that. Think of the worst thing.”
I said, “Are you a drug addict?” And she said, “Yes.”
Then she broke down, and it was heartbreaking. It was the worst day of my life.
We talked about how to stop it there and then – how to bring it to a stop as soon as possible. We talked about it as a family, and there was a bit of shouting. You had different emotions – one minute you are shouting and angry, the next minute you are upset.
My husband’s brother had been a drug user and had died through depression, when he was trying to come off them. I think my husband thought it was a waste, that his brother could have been a really valuable part of our family life and our society. And I think he felt the same way about our daughter – that she had so much to offer, and he didn’t want her to make the wrong choices.
Our daughter at that point didn’t feel it was a problem. She kept saying, “It’s just fun, OK? It’s just fun.” And that would be interspersed with periods of depression and it not being fun, but her not being prepared to admit that. And as time went on we gave her an ultimatum. Looking back I don’t know whether it was the right decision or not, but we said, “If you continue to use drugs, you can no longer live at home.” And we kicked her out, because she continued.
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Listen to the daughter speaking to BBC Radio 4’s iPM programme on the BBC iPlayer.
You can also hear the mother’s account in audio here.
Then her drug use got worse, and her friendship groups deteriorated more and more.
I hated her. I hated her so much.
I felt that she had all the power to stop it – and she didn’t. Nothing your children can do will stop you loving them, but the hatred was enormous. I was just desperately angry. I wanted to pick her up literally by her shoulders and shake her like a doll and say, “For goodness sake! Look at what you are doing!”
I had always been a very controlling mum when they were younger. They had set bedtimes and they ate their vegetables and all that. And I felt very out of control. I couldn’t say, “No you’re not going out. You need to come home and stay home and sort yourself out.” Because she would say, “I’m an adult, I can do what I like.”
I was disappointed. Very disappointed, because I had great expectations of what she could achieve. She wasn’t managing to achieve anything at that point, although things did change briefly when she started to realise she wasn’t happy.
She applied to the army, to the military police, and she did her basic training really well and got a good job in the military police. We thought she had kicked her drug habit and turned her life around, and we were just immensely proud. I remember thinking, “Oh my goodness, she’s done it. Not only has she done it, she’s done it big time – she’s got a really good job.” We didn’t know there was still a problem.
She was earning good money but after about a year, at the end of every month, we started getting phone calls. She kept saying, “I don’t know where I spend all my money mum, it just goes. At the end of every month I’m left with nothing and I’ve got no money for food and stuff.”
So we would forward her a sub for the next month. We weren’t actually giving her money, we were subbing her until her next pay packet.
All the way through she had a problem, which she was hiding because she was ashamed, I think.
She would come back and associate with the same people, so we would see her very little at weekends, and then she would go back to base on the Monday.
But I think it started to impact on her ability to work. She was getting exhausted, you could tell. She was tiring of partying all weekend and then holding down a full-time job in the week. When you haven’t slept from Thursday night until you go back to bed on Monday evening after work, you’re very exhausted, and it started to catch up with her. I think her colleagues and her boss started to see there were changes, because we started getting phone calls from the army.
One day she drove back on the Monday, having not slept for days, and smashed her car into the central reservation on the motorway. My husband and I realised that if we didn’t stop her, she would kill herself, or someone else. And when the army rang me in the week I said, “You should know, I think my daughter takes drugs at weekends, and she needs to be drug-tested.” So that’s how she lost her job.
I am sure she resents me for doing that, but I feel that I saved her life, or someone else’s, because it was only a matter of time before she didn’t smash into the central reservation, but smashed into someone else. That would have been on my conscience forever.
After that, she just sofa-surfed really. She would go from sofa to sofa, drug place to drug place. She had lost her driving licence for drug-driving so she went from being independent, having a car, having a career, to having nothing essentially. At one point one of the houses that she was staying in burned to the ground – luckily, when she was not in it – so she lost all her possessions as well, literally everything she owned.
Each time we saw her, a lot would depend on her state of mind, and on where we were in terms of our ability to accept her for what she was and what she was doing, and love her regardless. But at a certain point we argued, and she said she didn’t want contact any more. So we didn’t speak for three months.
Then finally she rang and said it was not helping. I think she thought not having contact would help her feel better, mentally, because we were a constant reminder that her life was going down the pan – no-one else was saying that to her, but obviously we were.
So we got back in contact and we had a Christmas meal, which stands out in my memory because she had obviously been using drugs through the night and could no longer stay awake. She fell asleep with her face in the Christmas dinner – just asleep in the plate. It was an indicator of how bad things had become.
Initially my daughter would say taking drugs was fun, just really good fun. After about five years of quite heavy use, she would say it numbs emotion and numbs you to real life, so you don’t have to worry, and you don’t have to think or care. So at this stage she didn’t get an awful lot of enjoyment out of it, if any. I don’t think she trusted many people, including me, because you become suspicious of everything and everyone.
Nobody can help. Nobody knows what to say. Everyone’s desperate for it to be good news. They say, “How are things getting on?” And if it’s good news, they’re like, “Oh brilliant, brilliant!” But nobody really wants to hear that it’s still the same, or worse. And there is very little professional support unless you’re prepared to pay for it.
At times we saw counsellors privately. We had lots of conversations with her about planning for the future – “If you do this and this, then maybe you can move on from drugs” We even got to the point where we locked her in her bedroom. My husband boarded the windows and locked the door, but it wasn’t successful because the person has to want to do it themselves, and she didn’t. In the end, one of her companions, who she would be using drugs with I believe, came to the house, threatened my husband and barged in to let her out.
Eventually our daughter got caught stealing from her employer to fund her addiction.
She had also stolen a cheque from the back of my chequebook, written out a cheque for just over 1,000 and cashed it. And we pressed charges.
We had tried everything else that we could. We have a very strong moral compass, and we have two younger children looking at our behaviour and looking at our decisions, and we wanted them to see that you don’t steal from your family, and that’s the end of it.
We personally took our daughter to court and sat with her and supported her and said, “We are here for you, but you are not going to do this – you are not allowed to steal from us.”
And the court issued a drug rehabilitation requirement, which means she has to be tested twice weekly, commence a methadone programme, and receive counselling in group sessions at a specific place for people with addiction problems. She also has a tag for three months, which means she has to be in our house between the hours of 7pm and 7am – which we thought was the best scenario, because we didn’t want her to go to prison. We just wanted her to get help, and we just didn’t seem to get help from anywhere else or in any other way. So we thought this was the best possible outcome.
We walked out of the court at about 2.30pm or 3pm, and I said to the solicitor, “When does this start?”
And he said, “Now.”
And I said, “So we have to go home to the family?”
He said, “Yes, because the people who do the tags can turn up any time from seven o’clock onwards.”
And I said, “Well, what about our daughter’s drug use? You know, she can’t just suddenly stop here, now. What’s going to happen? She’s going to immediately fail. She’s going to run because the desperation to get drugs is so huge that we won’t be able to keep her home.”
And he said, “Well go to the GP.”
So we went to the GP and the GP said, “We no longer prescribe methadone, you need to go to Turning Point.”
And they said: “Oh sorry, we’re not an emergency service, you’ll have to contact the GP.”
And I said, “We’ve been to the GP and the GP said we have to come to you.”
And they said, “Well, we can’t do anything today. She won’t actually die from this withdrawal.”
And I was shocked at how nobody was taking responsibility and the whole burden was placed on us, as the parents. “It’s your problem, now she’s tagged to your house she has to be there.” You cannot live with someone who’s withdrawing from a 100 a day habit, who’s going to be kicking off and screaming and crying and vomiting and probably smashing stuff in a few hours, because she’s so frustrated and panic-stricken. But nobody wants to know. A&E don’t provide methadone. You’re absolutely stuck.
I didn’t personally buy the heroin. I just drove my car to the area and she went off, injected herself, and came back, but somehow it felt like we had taken a step into a different place – like I was a different person. I had done something that I never in my entire life have done, and never thought I would do.
But my husband felt utterly betrayed. It was something he felt very, very strongly about. He was very upset. He felt I’d betrayed him by going out and buying drugs off the street because one of the things we’d agreed years ago, right at the beginning when our daughter admitted a drug problem, was that we would provide all the support we could whenever we could, but we would never buy her drugs. We would never give her money or presents, knowing that she would sell them to purchase drugs.
When I got home and told my husband what I had done, he was so distraught… for days. I had not realised at the time, but he emailed the BBC: “Our heroin addict daughter was given a drug rehabilitation requirement, a 7-7 curfew with tag as long as she moved back to our family home. Still unable to get methadone prescribed. My wife has taken her to try to buy some off the street (it’s midnight now).”
I promised him I would never do that again. And he made it very clear that if I did I may be dealing with this on my own, because he couldn’t stand the betrayal – my having gone against his wishes.
He has a very black-and-white attitude to life, as I think a lot of men do. And if there is something I’ve learned from this situation over the past eight years, it’s that there is no black and white. There’s a massive area of grey in between. We’ve had long conversations about it since. I wouldn’t do that now. I think I would go to A&E and insist she was given some sort of strong sedation.
She is now on a prescribed methadone programme, which means she has a set amount of methadone that she collects once a day in the morning from the chemist, swallows it in front of the chemist, then comes home. She doesn’t have any of the withdrawal symptoms, and she doesn’t have the high. It doesn’t make you feel good, it just stops the sickness, and she is functioning during the day. She’s helping clean the house and cook the tea. And slowly she will take less and less each day, with the aim of being off methadone altogether in six months.
Before we went to court she had said to me, “I’ve just had enough. This is awful.” She had a couple of suicide attempts, one very serious one that resulted in liver damage. But you have to really show willing to be put on a methadone programme. You don’t just go in the door and say, “I’ve had enough of being a heroin addict, I want to go on methadone.” You have to go for about two weeks’ worth of meetings at least, and you have to be attempting to come off heroin yourself before they even start you on a methadone programme. It’s a real Catch 22 situation, because she wanted to come off it by that point. She was hating her life. She was obviously extremely depressed, because she was trying to take her own life. She was becoming very thin and she’d stolen off her sister, who was, or is, her best friend. There were no positives in life.
By ordering a methadone programme to proceed, the court forced the hand of the local drug help centre. They then had to start her on the programme sooner rather than later.
We are taking one day at a time. It has taken five years to get to this point, so it’s not all going to turn around and change within five minutes. Our daughter now has her own accommodation, which is part of our house, but we have sort of made it so that she has her own access and we have to knock to get into her bit of the house. So this is her own home now. She has got her dog back, which the dog is chuffed about, and she is too. So it’s small steps like that, remembering that you are loved, remembering that there are people back at home who are still there waiting and wanting you to recover.
I know it’s boastful, but she’s absolutely beautiful looking and very intelligent. I think she could have been anything. She is so massively into animals that she used to talk about being a vet, so years ago I guess we used to dream about that. And it’s so far away from the reality of what her adult life became. Now the dream is very different. It’s just, “I want her to be drug-free and happy.”
I feel 50% responsible because I think all mothers do. Some days I think I’ve done everything for the right reasons, even though she may see it like that, and I’m proud that I am still here and sane and standing. But then on another day I get up and I think this is all my fault. Perhaps if I hadn’t kicked her out in those early few months when she refused to stop using drugs It’s hard to know.
Currently I trust her totally not to steal. I leave my handbag lying around. I don’t worry about it. I don’t entirely trust her not to contact the wrong people, because it’s a slow process. Initially, in the first days she was back, I’m sure she didn’t trust me. I’m sure she knew that I was going in her room, just having a look around and checking there wasn’t any drug paraphernalia – because that’s what you start doing, as a parent you start searching out the equipment and the stuff that they’re using. But I’ve stopped doing that now, and she has had clean tests for nine weeks, so I suppose the trust must be building.
Illustrations by Emma Russell
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