Hello my name is Lisa. Last year at the (Aquarius Staff) conference my mom and daughter spoke about their experiences living with a drug addict and how it affected the family. We thought it would be nice to finish the story and talk about my recovery back to normality.
My brother has been a user for over 20 years and still is using but his drug use didn’t affect me. I had my own house, sports car, credit cards and worked for the family business. I was too busy working and taking care of my two children to worry about what he was doing to himself and the rest of my family. My mom and dad taught me well, i would work in the office doing the accounts but if they needed me to then I would drive one of the skip trucks. I can cook a Sunday roast and take an engine and gearbox out of a car. I didn’t have to rely on anyone but myself. I had it all and didn’t even realise it. I didn’t smoke a cigarette till I was 28 and by the time I was 30 both my partner and I were heroin addicts.
It didn’t just happen, it crept up on us very slowly. Back then my mom and dad didn’t believe in depression, they would say “just pull yourself together” so when I did start to get depressed I just ignored it. My partner’s mom had just passed away, she was only in her early 40’s, his brother had been smoking heroin for a long time and so my partner started smoking it to forget his loss. Everything in my life was falling apart and I had no control. I finally went to see the doctor and he sent me to Mind, they told me I was suffering from a controlled breakdown, which meant I knew things were falling apart but I wouldn’t accept it, I was convinced I could sort things out. I would go into my office at home and just sit there for hours, my partner and all my family thought I was working but I was lost and didn’t know how to pull myself out of it.
I can’t remember the first time I smoked heroin but all I do remember is that it took away all my stress and fears , I could forget everything and it made me feel warm and safe. Bit by bit we lost everything, the house went, the car went, I cashed loads of cheques at the local Co-Op and then when I used all my credit up then we started to sell things around the house to the local Cash Converters. We now lived in chaos the kids were being bullied because their mom and dad were ‘bagheads’. Each day the number one thing to do was to get our gear, then the kids came after we were sorted. Day in day out for twelve years, we were convinced that everything was fine but we knew things had to change, all the time we were using my partner worked, he had been to college and trained to be an electrician and I worked at my sisters business. We never stole and conned anyone, we haven’t got criminal records, we just had a drug problem. We couldn’t figure how to get out of it, we both had drug workers but they just gave us our prescriptions and sent us on our way.
We usually had two bags of heroin each every day, even if we had £500 in our pockets we never went over that because we knew we had to get food, electric, petrol for the next day. On the 21st November 2009 we had spent almost £80 on it, every time we got something it was rubbish and doing nothing for us. The last time I went out to get some I had to meet my brother under the Hockley fly-over because he was the only one who could get anything. I always used to go to one person and never associated myself with other smokers but on this night I had no choice. When I arrived there were about 15 other people waiting for the same dealer. I sat there at 1am thinking what the hell am I doing here. I went home with the gear and it was the same rubbish, my partner went mad and said “I have just worked all day for this, don’t get any tomorrow and we will try and just have the meths”. So that was it, after trying to stop for almost 12 years it just took that one night to change our lives forever. From that day we have never touched heroin and came off meths the following year.
My point is that addiction of any kind can and does happen to anyone from any background. You can be rich or poor it doesn’t matter and once it grabs you it’s hard to find the strength to get away from it.
A few days after stopping we went to see our drug workers to tell them. They gave us a pat on the back and said well done, then sent us on our way. We knew nothing about recovery or aftercare and wasn’t told anything about the help that was out there. Things slowly got back to normal in our lives, we had money to spend, we could go out and enjoy ourselves and most important we had our freedom back. We were no longer tied to times and meeting places with drug dealers, we didn’t have to make sure we had enough drugs to get through the day, we no longer had to lock the bedroom door and tell the kids that we were busy and leave us alone, they always knew what we were doing but never saw anything. We finally got our relationships back with our families, it wasn’t easy and it took time, they needed to learn to trust us and we needed to learn how to be parents again, because when we were users we were adamant that we were the same parents as we had been before, deep down we knew we weren’t but if anyone questioned or confronted us we would defend ourselves by saying “look, the kids have food, clothes, so what’s the problem” and “don’t tell us we don’t look after our kids, who are you to tell us that”. Over time the kids took us back into their hearts and now although we still have our ups and downs (mainly when they need a favour or money lol) we are very close and if anyone dare slag or criticise us they will defend us.
Six months after we stopped smoking drugs my father passed away suddenly. On the one hand I was so pleased that he was able to see me clean but on the other hand I was angry with him, why had he gone so soon, why had he left us like he did. I know and understand that he had no control over this but I was angry. All through this time we never turned back to drugs, it never entered my mind to fall backwards and if anything it made me stronger to go on, I didn’t want to let dad down and I also needed to be the strong to support the rest of the family.
One day my mom went to Summer Hill House to support a friend of the family, when she came back she told me about an amazing recovery community which none of our family had known about, not one of the fifteen drug workers that we had over the years had ever told us about a recovery community. Mom wouldn’t stop talking about how welcoming they all were and had sat and listened to her story about our family’s journey, through talking to other people in recovery she realised that things can change for both the person with the addiction and the family members. She came back with a greater understanding of addiction. At that meeting she met a lady from Aquarius who invited mom to a relatives group at Bristol Road, she went and came back saying how good it had felt talking to other family members with the same problems. She kept asking me to go with her and I’d laugh it off “I’m not going to a bloody group, I don’t need it”. Finally she wore me down and I went.
When I went there for the first time I was so nervous, I just sat there and listened. Even though I knew the heartache we had caused the family, the more I listened to the families the more I felt guilty about what we had done. It forced me to think about things I don’t want to think about, things I had pushed to the back of my head because they were too painful. Then one of the members asked me to tell my story, they couldn’t believe what I told them and was amazed to hear about my recovery. I suddenly realised that I was in recovery and that it’s not just about stopping the drugs, it’s about getting your life back, it’s about facing your problems and issues and learning to deal with them without relying on drugs or alcohol to get through. All the family members were giving me hugs and telling me how well I had done, how proud I should feel about myself. It made me feel great but also guilty for what I had done to everyone, my mom and dad, my brothers and sister and most importantly my two children. The more we went to the groups the more mom and I got closer and could talk about the past and how it had made both of us feel about each other, sometimes it was hard, really hard but I knew that I needed to hear things from mom as part of both our recovery. My children began to speak more openly with us and I found out things from my son and daughter about the bullying they had gone through at school and in the community, that was the hardest thing to listen to, I realised that our actions and life styles had and still are affecting their lives. My son left school with no qualifications and suffers with his anger and confidence. My daughter has other issues but despite all this we are very, very close. We tell each other all the time that we love each other, we have three nutty but fantastic grandsons who we adore and my son and daughter are forever telling us how proud they are that they have got their mom and dad back.
Over the following months we got to know the members of staff more and got involved with the groups as peer supports and family mentors. I went to Fircroft College and took personal development courses , these really made me look at myself and helped me understand who I am and where I want to go in my life. I then went on to complete the Stepping Stones courses which cover part of the Health and Social qualification. This was something totally new in my life. I never thought I would go back to college again, I never thought I could do anything again. My family supported me all the way and in December my mom and I went to the Barber Institute to collect my certificates, it was a very proud moment for both of us and I couldn’t have done it all without my mom’s support, she encouraged me every step of the way. I now know that I want to train to be a support worker, I think with my experience and qualifications I can help others who are trapped in their addiction and can’t see a way out, I can give them hope and show them that it is possible. You can have a better life without alcohol or drugs.
I don’t think the staff of Aquarius realise the difference they have made in my family’s life. My mom is a totally different woman, when we lost dad we also lost a piece of my mom, we lost a father but she lost her husband. My mom is not the mom I had before, my mom is now my best friend, we have a laugh, we talk about anything and everything. She is the strongest woman I know, my rock, my supporter, my everything. This is all down to Aquarius, they treat you as a person, they support you with idea’s (even if they sound a bit daft), they are down to earth, they tell you how it is and most importantly they treat you with respect.
I have learnt so much from different staff members and feel a part of a family. I know that if I have a problem I can pick up the phone or pop into the office and chat to staff. They don’t judge you, they care about how you feel and your opinions on issues that you’re concerned about. Aquarius is the only organisation I know that the CEO is available for you to speak to, Annette is a lovely lady who is so welcoming and gets involved. She visits the groups, she gives you feedback and most of all she encourages everyone within Aquarius to do their best to help every service user.