I am a mother of four, two boys and two girls, who are all now adults. Our second child had a few behavioural issues as a child and often seemed quite jealous of her younger sister, but we didn’t really worry about her until she was about 14 years old. Around that age she was often extremely angry and on one occasion overdosed on her Dad’s blood pressure medication which led to a CAMHS referral for a short time. There was another incident when she went out with friends and got so drunk that she passed out on the pavement and was taken to A&E. At sixteen she said she wanted to leave home and live in supported housing with a friend. Because of her frighteningly aggressive behaviour towards her younger sister I supported this move.
We kept in touch and she seemed to be getting on better, attending college and successfully gaining a place to study at a university in London. However once she was there her life rapidly spiralled out of control. She was thrown out of halls after being caught with a group of people using drugs and we started getting increasingly frequent requests for financial help. She failed her first year and decided to repeat but was obviously struggling. When she came home that Christmas I was shocked to find that all the alcohol I’d bought for the family for the holiday – about 6 bottles of wine plus a few other drinks – had disappeared virtually overnight. I realised who’d had it and told her I was worried about her. She agreed to start counselling at my expense and after about 6 months she acknowledged that she had an alcohol problem. We went to the GP together and she was referred for help from the local DAT.
Four months later she went missing in London then, after I had spent a morning frantically phoning around police stations and A&Es, she turned up on our doorstep very drunk, saying she could no longer carry on and asking for help. I contacted the DAT asking for an urgent first appointment and advice. They said that the earliest they could see her was in two weeks time and that I should ‘just let her sleep it off’. They clearly thought that I was making a fuss about nothing; that this was just a typical 21 year old who’d had a bit too much to drink and Mum was panicking unnecessarily.
The next 3 months were an absolute nightmare as I desperately tried to control my daughter’s drinking, cope with her behaviour and get help for her. I felt very isolated and didn’t know what to do or who to turn to for help. She was often abusive towards her sister who was now aged seventeen and responded by leaving home to live in a tent at the St Paul’s Occupy demonstration most of the time. She said she felt safer there. On one occasion after she’d been attacked by her drunk sister she ran out into the night and phoned me while having a panic attack. Another time she bunked the trains up to London and slept at Liverpool Street Station as she had been so desperate to get away that she’d left without money, phone or her asthma inhaler. Our younger son, aged 9, withdrew into his bedroom, put on his headphones and played Minecraft obsessively. I was desperate for help and tried to talk to the people at the local DAT but they just stonewalled me, saying that I was ‘not in their remit’. Eventually our younger daughter’s college intervened, saying that her life was in danger. As a result our older daughter was funded for a detox and 3 months rehab. When we saw her a couple of weeks later we couldn’t believe the transformation and thought that our troubles were over. We were totally unprepared for the roller-coaster which followed.
Over the past ten years I have gradually learned more about addiction and how best to support our daughter’s attempts at recovery without losing sight of my own needs. I have driven the length and breadth of the country, visiting her in various rehabs, rescuing her from dangerous situations and just being there when she was in court on a drugs charge. I’ve also had to deal with social workers, attend Child in Need meetings for our younger son and learn how to cope with a treatment system which often fails to recognise the impact on family members. Slowly I have become more confident and gained a better understanding of when to offer support and when to back off and accept that I have no control over a situation. I have realised that it’s not my responsibility to fix every crisis and that by going out and having fun, following my own interests, my daughter has become less dependent and better able to take responsibility for herself. For the last six months she has been sober, is doing a job she enjoys and is looking forward to starting college in September. I still take it a day at a time but, after all that we’ve been through, I have hope that she will be okay.