” I have been at war with myself for fifteen years now. Oh, the sorrow of war! “
Mother of a Heroin Addict
Nicholas was a much longed for child. Aware I would have no further children, his birth seemed especially poignant. Lavished with love he flourished growing into a kind, caring, sensitive, intelligent boy. From a young age he was a voracious reader mastering Shakespeare, the bible and war history. For the first fourteen years of his life Nicholas brought us nothing but joy.
My husband’s work was such that we were required to live in different countries in the world. Nicholas was raised in privileged environments which included expensive private schooling, drivers and servants. We decided to remain in New Zealand when he was due to go to secondary school as his older brother had not enjoyed boarding school and we did not wish the same for Nicholas.
A change in behaviour became apparent in his second year at High School. He dropped out of the sports team he had loved, the choir he had enjoyed and his friends changed. Previous good mates avoided him and different friends became part of his crowd. On Friday nights he disappeared and on Saturday he couldn’t get out of bed. He had a part time job and when I went to pick him up one day was told he had been fired three weeks prior. His report cards, previously excellent, were now appalling. Teachers said he had potential but was lacking motivation. He was suspended for getting drunk at a school social. His father’s sleeping pills disappeared. Money vanished out of my purse. What was happening? Nicholas had an answer for everything and I wanted to believe him. I minimised his behavioural changes. Don’t all teenagers do this? Isn’t it normal? Surely this wonderful clever son of ours who had grown up with every advantage would not be doing something like smoking marijuana? (I never imagined anything worse.) Never! We had brought him up strictly and well! It was just a phase. Most teenagers go through phases. I was in denial.
Finally he was asked to leave school. And so began the merry go round of jobs, flats, geographical relocations, courses, excuses, reasons, hiding, running, criminal convictions and secrecy which goes with drug addiction. As an educational professional with a job of some standing I was ashamed. What had I, as a mother, done wrong? Why was my son not at university? Why wouldn’t he answer my calls? Why wouldn’t he let me in the door of his flat?
I stayed in denial for a long time. My older son and Nick’s former friends shielded me from the worst. They didn’t want me to know the extent of his problem,(by eighteen he was an intravenous heroin addict) although it was obvious something was amiss. I spent many sleepless nights often pleading with him to come home. Come home for a meal. Come home for a night. Come home for Christmas. Come home for your birthday.
He began to move around the country, always in search, so he said, of work. He went north. He went south. He went to Australia. Always, within six months to a year he’d be back penniless and full of bravado. Nicholas never allowed me to see him with his guard down. He presented himself to me, as much as possible, in a positive light. Almost always he worked and kept his habit secret. Then he fell in love with a beautiful girl, they moved in together, he held down a well paid steady job for just over a year and they were happy. The relationship broke up after two years. Neither would tell me why. And now his life spun fully out of control.
Gradually, in the midst of chaos, I developed personal coping strategies. I learned how to detach. I learned to compartmentalise my brain so that I gave what I was doing (usually my work) complete focus and all other problems were shut out. I went to church regularly and prayed. I can’t remember a sermon but found sitting in a pew kept me calm, my prayers repeating over and over in my brain. I did yoga every day, swam and walked regularly. I maintained a circle of women friends with whom I socialised on a regular basis. They did not know of my problems with Nicholas. But my greatest break through came when I finally lost all vestige of denial and with some relief joined a support group.
In the support group I met other people with drug addicted family/whānau members. The group was a space where we talked freely about problems living with or having an addict in the family/whānau; through this I unburdened and learned. I learned about enabling. I learned I must wait until “rock bottom” before expecting the addict to accept help. I learned about a place of residential care for addicts. I resolved to wait till Nick hit “rock bottom” and then act. I had the phone number ready to call for help.
About a year later, having borrowed money and gone to Melbourne, Nicholas rang, distressed, saying he was sick and asking for help. His diary at the time records: “I knew it was only a matter of a couple of weeks before I was either dead or in jail.” I sensed he had hit “rock bottom” and offered a deal. I would pay for air tickets home if he agreed to go straight into residential care. He agreed.
The last two years of Nicholas’ life are happy memories for me. He came out of care mentally equipped with the tools necessary to keep clean and manage his life. I will never forget hearing him singing outside the day he came home. Slowly he rebuilt a life for himself, studying, gaining qualifications and getting a job. There were relapses: it wasn’t all easy. Drug addiction is a relapsing disease. But he attended meetings and pulled himself together restoring equilibrium.
Death of a son
In a new relationship Nicholas became engaged and a wedding was planned. One weekend he and his fiancée had an argument. She left and went to stay with her mother for two days. On her return Nicholas was discovered dead from a heroin overdose. I have been told that because he had been largely clean for the past two years his body could not cope with the heroin dosage he took.
In his diary Nicholas wrote: “I have been at war with myself for fifteen years now. Oh, the sorrow of war!”