My son’s death makes me fear for her family

John, an engineer in his fifties, lives in Scotland with his wife. One of their two sons, Simon, became a heroin addict.
I have huge sympathy for Amy Winehouse’s parents, I know exactly what they are going through.
We had high hopes for Simon. He was highly intelligent and had a natural ability with computers. We first realised something was wrong when he started having rapid mood swings, from happy to extremely angry. He also went from having glowing school reports to not doing well at school. He seemed to have got in with the wrong crowd.
Simon had started using drugs when he was 13 but we didn’t realise it until a couple of years later. I found cannabis in his bedroom and didn’t know what it was, but I flushed it down the lavatory. He said he was looking after it for a friend and, foolishly, I believed him.
We moved to the north of Scotland, in the hope of removing him from the bad influences, but again he got in with the wrong crowd. At 16, he was excluded from school for generally bad behaviour. We put him into a private college and he then took a string of manual jobs, but they didn’t last. He would just sit up all night watching television and then sleep through the day. And he would disappear for days at a time, leaving his mother and me tearing our hair out.
Simon left home when he was around 18 – a mutual decision. It had been like living in a war zone. There were lots of confrontations, occasionally violent, and he stole from us to the point where we never left money lying around at home, and put a lock on our bedroom door.
He denied taking drugs other than cannabis. He told me I was imagining things. I felt sad and disappointed, watching someone with a lot of potential and ability throwing it all away.
After leaving home, he still lived in our city. I continued to subsidise him, thinking that I was helping with his rent and not realising that he spent the money on drugs. I’m not sure when he progressed to heroin. But from the moment he started using it, it controlled him.
We would get calls from the police, who had him in custody for possession or whatever, or we would get calls from him in winter, saying he had no money for gas and electricity. At first I gave him money, but that meant that he could spend his benefit money on drugs. Eventually, I told him where to get emergency loans and free food parcels.
My younger son’s friends would see his brother begging. It hurt us terribly. At least the papers weren’t printing pictures of my son, apart from when he was in court, like they do with Amy Winehouse. Addiction affects the whole family – it’s a family illness – but a lot of statutory bodies forget this and focus on the addict alone.
There is still a huge stigma attached to drug addiction, which makes it even harder for addicts’ parents, because they are so isolated. A lot of my own family didn’t know about Simon’s problem – it’s something you don’t discuss.
Nine years ago, a friend of my wife’s suggested that we went to Families Anonymous meetings, and we’ve been going ever since. They allowed us to realise that we had no control over our son and that only he could change himself. The meetings also allowed me to get my life back. Before, it had been out of control, even though I was still going to work. They made me realise that I had to practice tough love toward my son. I would never presume to give advice to Amy’s parents because everyone’s situation is different, but the one thing I would suggest is to give Families Anonymous a try.
In 2006, Simon went to the Cenacolo rehabilitation centre in Ireland. He was expected to remain there for a year. We were told he was doing well but he decided to leave after four months. He returned to his flat that summer, and died in December of a drug overdose, aged 26.
• Names have been changed to protect anonymity. Families Anonymous helpline 0845 1200 660.

Source: The Observer 28th Jan 2008

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