Addiction – A Mother’s Story
Our family has been living a private nightmare for years.
My name is Jane. I’m a happily married, middle class healthcare professional who had no idea my young son was using drugs. Taking illicit drugs and drug dependence issues were completely out of our family’s experience.
In the healthcare space, there’s probably additional pressure to assume that we’ll recognise a problem when it comes up. We knew that something was terribly wrong and despite trying to seek help, Harry’s addiction issues slid under the radar. His changed behaviour was initially explained away by the schools, doctors and other professionals we consulted as teen anxiety and depression.
How did it start?
We had pretty much the perfect child – well behaved, polite and respectful, popular with both his peers and teachers at primary school. However, when he started attending high school, things changed dramatically.
Placed in an all-boys private school with hundreds of students, it seemed like Harry lost his way. Although we were always available for him and picked him up and dropped him off at school and his other activities, he didn’t really seem to be able to share how he felt. He seemed to be bottling things up.
After the first term of high school, where he did well, receiving good grades, life for Harry began to deteriorate rapidly. It started with small things, like breaching the uniform policy, then moving onto transgressions such as skipping classes and leaving the school grounds with another student during school hours. He started to associate with a new group of boys and not with the boys he had known since kindergarten and primary school. His grades slipped. He went from an A/B student to failing subjects.
He started to hang around boys from difficult family backgrounds, with little interest in schooling, who were regularly in trouble and spending a lot of time in detention and/or on suspension. When I raised my concern with the school at the time I was told not to worry, that the school thought that Harry could be a good influence on these other students.
We were concerned that something was wrong, but drug addiction wasn’t our first guess. We thought he was perhaps being bullied and suffering from anxiety. We considered all those types of issues and he started seeing a psychologist.
The psychologist attributed much of Harry’s behaviour to typical teenage issues and finding his place within a peer group. We were lulled into false sense that this was all normal.
It was never suggested to us that this behaviour could be potentially drug related. If we’d known, we would have gone down a completely different path.
My husband and I were older parents and drugs were simply not part of our life experience. It was a bit of a “fringe” thing – and really the only thing we heard about was marijuana.
When Harry got caught with a small quantity of marijuana at school, the school couldn’t get him out of there fast enough.
Which is fine. I wouldn’t want my child at a school that just accepted drug use. However, there was no compassion from the school for a troubled teen – not one suggestion of where to look for help, not even a brochure about drugs, rehab, Headspace, absolutely nothing!
Even more upsetting was finding out later that Harry and other boys had been getting drugs at school from a year 12 student. It was not from a dealer hanging around on a street corner after school. It was happening at school.
We felt lost, devastated and ashamed. The psychologist was encouraging us to press on, to place Harry into a new school.
Harry had to change schools three times, which was just extraordinary, but fortunately we eventually found an alternative school where he fitted in much better – there are no uniforms and flexible classes. He was able to complete his secondary schooling and gained entry to his preferred university course.
Like a lot of mothers of drug addicts, you want to believe them when they say that they’re “not doing that anymore” or they’re “not going to hang around with certain people” and they’re “not going to do this and that”.
Over the years we had the police turn up at our front door to serve search warrants on our place. The police coming to your home to search for drugs is quite horrific. There was drama, police, drugs, it was terrible. My husband and I were also continually doing searches of our son’s bedroom and everywhere else, always trying to get one step ahead. We were drug testing him at home, but there’d always be some type of excuse.
There were so many lies and so much deceit going on. Yet because we love him, we continued to hope against hope that he was telling the truth.
One of the things I learned, which I want to pass onto other parents, is that you cannot worry about what other people think! Once I got over that, I found things easier. I could focus on the more important issues like my son’s wellbeing and finding him the right help.
He finished school and he managed to get into university, which was great. We thought this would be the impetus to turn his life around. However, he became more and more withdrawn as drugs became his whole life.
We did all the psychiatrist and psychologist appointments, but once someone is in addiction, quite possibly they’re not going to get anything out of sessions because they’re not going to discuss what is REALLY going on.
Towards the end of the first year at university, Harry was arrested for drug related offences.
To say that I was shocked was the understatement of the century. Even now, I still cannot believe it. Absolutely unbelievable. The stuff that came out… I find it very hard to reconcile it with the person that was living in our house.
We knew that we had to do something. That’s when we came across the Hader Clinic Queensland. That was the turning point. We met with Mel and Harry was also able to speak to Mel and the manager of the rehab facility to ask any questions. He said that he felt they really understood what he was experiencing. Making a quick decision about Harry going to rehab was the right decision for all of us.
It turned out that Harry was more than ready to go to rehab. This made it easier than other cases I’ve heard about where the family has had to stage an intervention and drag their child off to rehab. That must be very hard.
Our overwhelming emotion was one of sadness. We were sad that it had come to this, sad to see him go to rehab and then you start to worry – “will he run away?” “will he kill himself?” You think of the worst-case scenario. But we came to realise quite quickly once he was there and we met the staff that he was safe, surrounded by support and did not feel judged.
Nowadays, our relationship is generally good. I try to preserve as much normality as I can. That doesn’t mean that I ignore the past or don’t have concerns for the future. There have been times where I’ve lost my mind; there’s been yelling and recriminations, and sadness and grieving.
My husband and I spent a significant amount on legal fees and then there’s been the cost of rehab and transition. We lost friends, we had strained relationships within our family. They knew we were good parents, but they thought we hadn’t been strict enough. There was a lot of blame and a lot of shame.
We have opened up to some people that our son has a drug problem and that he was in rehab. It is quite amazing how people have been – they were shocked initially, had no idea but were then very supportive.
Pick the right people that you can trust, who care about you, and care about the person. It’s a bit like cancer – some people find out and they don’t want to have anything more to do with you.
People shouldn’t be so worried about putting on the “perfect family” front because there are difficult things happening in many families. Harry masked his addiction well for quite a while. He seemed to be functioning. We appeared to be a happy family.
I hope by sharing, people can see what a terrible social problem drugs can be, and that anyone can fall victim. Drugs really don’t discriminate.
We all still live together, because I believe that living together as a family is the best chance Harry has got. We’re generally not in conflict. He’s never been violent or aggressive towards us. He is a mild mannered, thoughtful boy – who has an incredible backstory. Luckily there was also little conflict between my husband and me in terms of how we wanted to support Harry. We were always in agreement about that. We could not abandon him at such a young age and when he was at his lowest ebb.
We attended monthly family nights at The Hader Clinic. This was so helpful, providing us with information, advice and support.
I discovered that we did enable Harry in addiction unknowingly – for example, providing money, transport, a very comfortable home life without requiring any contribution.
I’d also be a persecutor too. “You did this, you didn’t think of that”.
If I had any words of wisdom to share with other parents, if you don’t understand sudden/dramatic behaviour changes or if you think that behavioural changes could be drug related, access advice from support services that deal with drugs and addiction issues sooner rather than later.
Reach out for help and advice from the Hader Clinic Queensland.
Overall, opening the communication channels was key for us – with our son, getting the GP on board, finding the right health professionals, getting support of family and friends.
I think the more open we can be about this issue the better.
We’ve been to hell and back with Harry’s addiction. Our family cannot thank the Hader Clinic enough for their expertise and support.
Queensland’s only private rehab centre with ACHS accreditation
We are proud to be the only private drug and alcohol addiction treatment centre in Queensland to be independantly accredited.