When I look back I see the journey with our son has been shrouded in substance use for a very long time. Publicly I was in denial, although privately I could see the journey he was on from his late secondary school days. Marijuana was initially his drug of choice. Most likely this was partially used to self-medicate the social anxiety he experienced. Despite this drug use, he managed to pass six School Certificate subjects.
My dreams were answered when he gained a university degree. Education had been a significant part of my life. I was incredibly proud when he graduated. I was under no illusion that there was drug use alongside his achievement, but that did not diminish the joy I felt.
After a contract job in the city, he left for overseas to undertake work in his chosen field. While he managed to maintain the job, weekends were apparently filled with London experiences, and drug use was part of the experience. Eventually he decided to come home to New Zealand when a business opportunity presented itself. His father had died suddenly several years earlier and I was able to assist him into the venture. He used his ability and skills to make progress. I was always told not to worry when I talked to him about his drug use. Two beautiful children arrived during this time. He was a caring and loving Dad. His settled life as a child growing up with caring and supportive parents was his foundational experience of parenting.
In his mid-thirties methamphetamine hit the streets with vengeance. It was expensive but once he had experienced the feeling for this drug, he was able to find the means to sustain his use with money he was able to accumulate. Other drugs supplemented methamphetamine but this one was like no other. It allowed him to feel so much energy, often working days at a time without sleep.
He allowed himself to be fooled into believing he achieved more when using it, failing to consider the days sleeping to recover from the days of work. No amount of comment from me, be it warnings, pleading, discussion or boundaries, had any impact on his use.
Eventually his partner left with their two children. His use escalated as he experienced the loss of his children on a daily basis, his increasing isolation from non-using friends, and in hindsight, possibly depression.
Drug using associates increasingly came onto the scene and methamphetamine was readily available. His life was in chaos, despite the fact he thought he was in control of his use of a variety of substances. I felt completely at a loss to help him, despite my professional life in fields that included mental health. My life became almost unbearable and I waited for the next call on my phone to announce the next crisis. There were many.
I believed that I had tried everything. In fact, the main thing I now realised I could have done was swallow my pride and seek support from people who really understood what I was going through.
Many people proffered unhelpful advice about tough love (it never works), cutting off all ties (it diminishes hope) and leaving him out on the street. None of that advice was helpful and would have been contrary to what research says would have helped me or our son.
Eventually I did talk to family/whānau members who were wonderful support. They made sure I had someone to listen to my fears. My biggest fear was that our son would end up in prison. After being caught with methamphetamine and failing to stop for police he moved through the system, to prison on remand. I learnt a lot about the prison system and the lack of addiction services and rehabilitative options available. The experience did, however, give space to detox, a chance to get the brain circuit back into operation and to work out that there were consequences to his substance use.
Over the years I had felt so much shame and tried to keep my fears to myself. I had to swallow my pride in the end and admit I needed support. I had tried to set boundaries, but it was hard to maintain them when I feared the consequences our son would suffer.
It was clear that methamphetamine had completely altered our son’s ability to process information. His sense of entitlement was unbelievable. When desperate for money for drugs his manipulation was traumatic. I had my hopes dashed many times. Prison had been my worst fear and when my worst fear was realised, I had to look at caring better for myself. I needed to look after myself and still maintain strong links with him, so he had hope. I needed to be a strong significant adult for his children.
Addiction is a complex condition on many levels and requires comprehensive solutions. I found very few people who understood this. Addiction is also a relapsing condition and this must be faced.
I would never ever have chosen this journey. It has been hard, and at times almost unbearable. Our son’s addiction has had a significant affect on other family/whānau members. With good self-care, a clear understanding of addiction, faith, a focus on helping others, and the support I now have asked for, I feel strong enough to support our son on his journey and care well for myself.
I have developed greater compassion, wisdom and more realistic hope. Just as our son needs to have hope on his journey, I also need to have hope. My love has never diminished for him, despite being tested at times. I have confidence that change is possible wherever there is hope.