Paula has been supporting both her son's deal with addiction for over 20 years. It's been a difficult journey but through continued support, understanding and peer support Paula is able to see a brighter future for her family.
“My problems with family using drugs started in the 90’s and continues to this day. Back then, my younger brother was going out partying with friends. I started to notice a change in him, in his temperament, in his appetite, he became very argumentative, everything was a big issue all of a sudden. Within weeks I was told he’d started using heroin. I knew nothing about this drug, had never heard of it before. I started to try and find out more about it. I found doors were closed on me. There seemed to be no available information on this drug, and nobody to tell me all about it, where they were getting it, why they were taking it or what it would do. I would seek the advice from doctors but was told by them that this wasn’t something they catered for. My brother’s drug use went on for years and I supported him during this time.
The one thing I didn’t expect was for my oldest son to get involved in drug use. My son who used to look up to his uncle as a role model. He started showing the same signs as I’d seen before. My son was 17. He was clever, had good qualifications from school, spoke 3 languages, he had everything ahead of him. I confronted him, he denied it but eventually we found out that it was true, he was also using heroin. They were both using. I’d struggled so hard and brought three children into this world, beautiful healthy children, yet here I was looking at one of my babies and he didn’t look like he used to any more. I was fighting something I couldn’t see. I took him to my doctor to get help, three days later I received a letter from the doctor saying that they were no longer our GP as they were condensing their service. I knew this was because there were drug use problems in my family. I spent the next two years seeking help for them both. Eventually my son decided to move out. At first I thought that would be a good idea, that it would make him take responsibility, that he wouldn’t have money to spend on drugs because of bills that come with having a house. But the opposite happened, he got more involved in drug use.
I never thought things could get any worse, but one day I visited his house, I looked through the window and to my horror I saw not just my oldest son, but with him and smoking heroin I saw his younger brother. I went crazy. They both fled. On that day I just wanted to get them in a car with me, and end it. By now this had been going on for four years and instead of things improving, here I was with it starting all over again. It consumed my life. I would often find myself finishing work and going out looking for drug dealers. When anger takes over, you don’t think of the dangers. All I saw was a need to fight for my boys ‘cos they didn’t have the strength to fight for themselves. They were being used, abused by people who were only interested in money. I threatened one bloke never to sell drugs to my family again, but they just went to different places, to people I didn’t know. I had three children, I also had a daughter, she was the youngest and I had to protect her, but she saw the heartache in our family from a young age. I loved all of my children the same, I always had and I always will but I needed to protect her. She saw the nights when I cried, she saw the days I didn’t eat, she saw people coming in to assess me in case I needed to be hospitalised, she was my lifeline. If I hadn’t had her, I’m sure I’d have taken my sons and finished it all. The peace that this would have given me was something I could never see. In a world of drug use there is no peace. For whatever reason people take drugs, it’s the loved ones that pay a price. I always wonder whether all those years ago, if I hadn’t tried to help my brother with his problems, If only I’d kept him away from my house, maybe my son’s wouldn’t become drug addicts. This guilt will never leave me.
For years and years, I kept my sons’ dirty secret to myself, I hid it away from family, from friends and anybody who knew us because I didn’t want people to look down on us, so I carried that for a lot of years, it overtook me, I went to bed and dreamt about it, I woke up and thought about it, my son’s came to my house and I saw it, I had no escape from it, none. One day, I felt I couldn’t carry it any more. My son looked like a little 7 stone bag of bones, dirty, gaunt. The thought of him withering away and dying was killing me. So one day I told my son’s I wanted to see them, I had planned to take my boys somewhere, put them in my car and drive off somewhere and finish all of us, but something made me think of my youngest child, my daughter, how will she live with the fact that her mother and brother were no longer here? Would this push her towards something? Would this destroy her life? This drug had destroyed too many lives already. So instead I walked into a doctors’ surgery, I was like a lunatic, I was in so much emotional pain, so much torment.
That was the first day my life changed. The doctor told me about a support service called Bridges, a support service for mothers who have similar problems as mine, mothers who have got together to fight the system, to get the help to change their son’s and daughter’s lives. I thought I’d won the lottery. I went there. I walked past for two hours without going in. But a man came out and invited me in. He asked if he could help, I burst into tears. I cried, I babbled, I talked....that day was as if a cloud had been lifted from me, for the first time I could see a glimmer of hope. Getting support made me feel for the first time that I wasn’t fighting this battle alone. There were other people just like me who had the same fight, against the shame, against the stigma, not being able to talk about it, feeling cornered and not feeling as though I had a voice to talk about this, hiding things from people, feeling as though I was the only one that this was happening to. Until I got support, this was a dirty secret of mine that I’d carried around for so many years. I continued getting support from Bridges, it’s been so important to me and my family. I couldn’t have done without it.
It’s not easy to accept that your loved one has changed, that they’re dependant on something that you can’t control, that they’ll actually choose that over you, these things are hard to accept but the only way you can get through that is by getting guidance, assistance, support from places like Bridges and from other carers in a similar situation. I met a girl whose life had been touched by family drug use...she was so upset...I told her “We’ve all been there you know......you’re at the beginning, some of us are in the middle and sadly some at the end” because sadly, enough people have buried their loved ones through this, some see that as a relief and it’s a horrible thing to say but it can be a relief ‘cos you don’t have to worry about them anymore, worry about the pain, the abuse, the way drug users are looked down on and mistreated and the way you see them suffering, the way people judge those who use drugs. People would say my boys used drugs because I was a single mother...well I worked three jobs, I always looked after my son’s, when they weren’t with me they were with my mother, they never slept out, ever. I was very over protective over them. I love my family so much but my son’s problems are not behind them. I’m sure I will die with my son’s being addicts. My hopes and dreams are that one day they will be clean, they will be better, they will have a normal life, that’s all I want. I don’t want them to be rich, I just want them to have normality, without the pain, without the ulcers, without the infections and without the dirty heroin....but do I think it will happen? No.
My daughter was innocent, she is innocent... once my boys were also innocent, they didn’t know that one day they’d need something on a daily basis just to survive. Yes they were young naive kids but they still made their own choices, I can’t deny they made their own choices, but I’ve had to look after my daughter, I couldn’t put my needs before hers, what would it do to her if I took my son’s and myself out of this world because of all the pain? What would it do to her? How would she survive? She knows how I felt back then and it was distressing for her to know how I felt. She’s astounding. She’s always been there to support her big brothers and always there to support me. My daughter has two children who were born with needs, nothing to do with drugs or alcohol. The lord decided to send those kids to be special, to bring the family back together, because when my first grandson was born on Christmas day, the next day my oldest son decided for the first time ever that he’d go and get help. Six months later my youngest son did the same.
I don’t know what the future holds. I know I will always need support for whatever I have to face.