'Shattered Dreams'

Behind every person who chooses to use drugs is a family.

My own story commences over 20 years ago. I always describe myself as being an ordinary mum, living in the suburbs. I was married, my husband was an executive chef, we would no doubt have been classified as middle class, and I had five beautiful children four boys and a girl ranging from 15 down to 2.

My family and I had what I would best describe as a fun loving lifestyle. It was based around love and joy, extended grandparents, roast dinners, school holidays, babies, swimming and football. I honestly perceived myself as being a great mum and I encouraged education, trust, honesty, support, and good communication skills, as I aimed towards guiding my children into responsible adults.

My eldest boy was articulate, intelligent and was doing well at school. He had a passion for football and cricket, and a part-time job. Noticeable changes started to occur during this period around the end of year 10. He started dropping out of school, his grades dropped noticeably, he started bringing home new friends, and he lost his part-time job. The stereo that he had saved so hard for went to the porn shop.

Drug Paraphernalia also started to appear. Marijuana pictures became displayed, a marijuana plant suddenly appeared on his bedroom windowsill. My hose suddenly became smaller, as I also found plastic drink containers, buckets up in the shed, plastic shell bags, eye drops etc.

He became irritable, angry and demanded a family focus. But it was to be my own behaviour that I found so insane. I became obsessive, found myself trying to control his whereabouts and tumbled regularly through all the emotions. I honestly thought that I could make him stop. I felt violated, angry, scared, isolated, secretive, guilty and shame based. As I have often described, my son would say jump and I automatically said how high. Our family life started to crumble.

His drug use continued; drug paraphernalia moved to sachet bags, teaspoons, syringes, and cigarette filters. He moved out of home, his girlfriend (who was also using) became pregnant, and he had several bouts of STDs. He became extremely abusive to his girlfriend and she relied heavily on my support during this period. I was with her when she presented me with my first grandchild and then a second in rapid progression.

During this time, my second boy was also experimenting with drugs. He would continually assure me that he was only smoking herbal cigarettes. He also chose to polyuse, but presented a very different personality behaviour. He was more inclined to suffer depression and paranoia. He completed his apprenticeship, through my continued assurance with his employer and a large amount of luck.

During these turbulent years, I did eventually find help, I became empowered and strong, and was able to become honest and less isolated. Drug use continued to take a very tragic toll on what was once my beautiful family. I have been blamed by other parents who have not been prepared to look at their children’s drug use, and as such have suffered great shame and embarrassment. Eventually my marriage finally died.

But it was to be the agony of my third boy that would eventually destroy the final fragments of our family. Adam my beautiful black-eyed boy who was born exactly a year after my stillborn child and had been the pride of my life, was dead at 19 from a heroin overdose. Adam started using marijuana with his brothers when he was 11 and he progressed to amphetamines by 14. His behaviour went from loving, affectionate, and incredibly clever, to an aggressive, defiant person, who thought nothing of beating up my two younger children and breaking down doors etc. He moved in and out of home from 14 onwards, with me frantically running behind him. It eventually reached a point where his behaviour was so unacceptable, that after a brush with the police again, it was suggested I take a restraining order, against him. Fortunately during that year, I saw Adam several times, at his brothers wedding, at the birth of his brothers baby, and at Christmas, which was to be the last time that I would see Adam. He stayed with me all day and I actually had a special day with him. It was like the old Adam, he was calm, and loving. He kissed me when he left and I remember thinking God please keep him safe. On the eve of April 7th, he rang me, very high and very abusive. I ended up hanging up on him, only to have my friend come and get me from work the next day, to tell me he was dead.

That day will be there forever, I knew instinctually that Adam was dead. I remember screaming, and then floating as I looked down on this lady in a blue dress who seemed to be getting older by the minute.

So commenced another chapter in my family’s life. We were again subjected to massive scrutiny. I felt very violated and best described it as having had all my dirty underwear displayed. I became the mother of an addict.

The professional arena conducted their duties in an unacceptable manner. The police failed to arrive until very late in the afternoon, Adams body had been found very early in the day. The state mortuary complained bitterly about the amount of viewing I requested. When I asked if I could have a t-shirt placed on Adam to have a photo taken, they said I would have to do it myself.

Out of our family’s agony fortunately came strength. I was familiar with the procedures of saying no to an autopsy. I allowed only urine and blood to be removed from Adam, which was no more intrusive than going to the doctor. We had eight very special days with Adam, my children were all encouraged to hold him and kiss him, wrote wonderful poems and letters that were placed in his coffin, along with other special trinkets. They participated in all the funeral arrangements, were poll bearers, and organized the music. I feel very satisfied that we conducted a wonderful Celebration of Life for Adam.

Adam was found in a car in Kardinya. I felt very denied and extremely bereaved that I wasn’t their for him when he died like I had been when he was born.

Society’s condemnation has been agonizing. Our family has been subjected to immense discrimination. My workplace colleagues were very tactless often in their approach and I heard regularly comments such as never mind love, we’ve got one of those in our family, at least you know where Adam is now and you will never have to worry about him again. I know exactly how you feel, that’s how I felt when my dog died. One acquaintance even suggested that it must have been the years that I was a volunteer counsellor with the nursing mothers association that caused it.

And yet through it all came some beautiful, compassionate strangers. The photographer who combed Adams hair with his own comb, the social worker at Family and Childrens’ services who cried with me, as he assisted me to organise Adams funeral, the catholic priest and nun, who still continue to pray for me.

During my early grieving days, I again reverted back into a disempowered intimidated personality who spent a great deal of time beating myself up, because surely I could have done more.

I now feel that my children have chosen to use, purely because it feels good. They have all been risk taking individuals with an over abundance of self esteem. I believe that drug taking in the beginning is a very attractive culture, somewhat sensational and deviant which is appealing, and the life style is great fun.

And yet I miss so much of Adam. I miss his tears, his laughter, his youngness, his intellect, his love and affection. But I know what I miss most, the message that always came home, even in Adams blackest days, ‘Tell mum I love her’.

My journey has not been an enviable proposition, and yet out of it has come incredible courage. The grief of losing a child is horrendous, losing a child from a drug related death is exasperated many more times. There are persons I will hold with the upmost esteem for the rest of my life. Compassionate Friends, The Silver Chain counselling service, the clinical psychologist who validated me and guided me through Adams life and the bereavement group at Palmerston, which provided me with a connection to other parents who have experienced the death of their children through drug use. This connection again offered me normalcy and support. But through all this I know that I will still continue to catch glimpses of my child in other young men of his age, that it will always prompt heart rendering regret and a yearning for what might have been.

During 1999 I was again thrown into drug use when my youngest son became very depressed and commenced using Methamphetamines. He required a tremendous amount of support from myself and Palmerston. Fortunately he entered Bridge House at the end of the year 2000 and I was very proud of him when he presented our family story at the Community Drug Summit.

As such, I absolutely honour we families who have been affected by another persons drug use. We do know how it feels. To continually beat ourselves up, to continually blame ourselves, to look constantly for reasons why we must have been bad parents. To feel isolated and shamed, to not be able to ask for help because it’s not happening in other peoples families. To have your class structure pulled down in front of your eyes. To feel almost murderous anger, and yet compulsively love your child at the same time. To live in fear, what will happen, will our child die, will they get Hep C, HIV etc and a complete sadness as we see our family fragmented in front of us.

As I re-read my family story and reflect on the wellness of my family now, I am very pleased that so many more services are now available for families. My family and myself will always be grateful for the assistance and kindness that was given to us by the staff at Palmerston. I am also very proud of my continued connection with Palmerston.

True Stories

"You have returned my son to us and there is no greater accolade I can give to you other than to say that I will remember what you have done till I die. Words cannot possibly cover the emotion I feel at knowing that ………… now has a future, largely due to the time spent at Palmerston Farm."

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