My son was 17 when we began to notice he was “different”. Interestingly, he knew he was “different” from his peers too, but we didn’t learn that until much later. He started smoking marijuana halfway through Year 12 at school and we learnt later that this was his way of self-medicating as he was being bullied. He never felt that he fit in and so from a very early age he was the “class clown” and just wanted to be accepted as part of his peer group all the way through school.
When we realised that his marijuana use was not a “stage”, he was well entrenched and he didn’t have the same personality as the one we once knew. He was often irritable and lazy.
The impact on our lives was huge…..we also have a daughter who is 3 years older but by the time addiction raised its ugly head, she was away at university in the South Island and wasn’t home enough to really be affected. Having said that, she certainly heard about our woes enough, to the point that one day she asked if we could talk about something else when we rang! That was a wake-up call for me as I hadn’t realised how much this situation had consumed our lives.
My husband and I were extremely stressed a lot of the time, trying to make sense of the choices our son was making over the years. In turn, this affected our relationship, particularly as at one point our son went to Wellington to do a course and lived with my husband’s sister. She had not had children and could not understand how/why our son was behaving the way he was. This was so understandable, looking back as we didn’t even understand it! The stress affected her health and he was only there 4 weeks before we went down and got him out of there for everyone’s sake, including our marriage!
There was financial pressure as well – we enabled our son by giving him money, misguidedly thinking this was “helping” and bailing him out financially.
At first we coped very badly and felt anger towards our son, struggling to understand why he was not learning from the mistakes he made, time after time – why couldn’t he see what he was “doing to us” and himself and the impact this would have on his future?
Thank goodness help came when I was desperate and discovered, through my doctor, the Families Overcoming Addiction Support Group. The facilitator has lived experience and is fantastic and we, as group members, offer each other support, advice and encouragement. That is why I continue to attend every Monday night, 9 years on – not just when things are tough, but when things are going well too, as this is a huge part of being able to cope in general.
Number one rule of thumb, when on a journey with a loved one with addiction, is to look after yourself! For me, first and foremost, it is attending The Families Overcoming Addiction Support Group. I get amazing strength from this and am constantly learning. I have also made some amazing friends who truly understand the journey I am on.
I practice self-care by doing physical activity –walking my dog and swimming. Socialising with my friends is also hugely important and I find pleasure in meeting friends for coffee and chatting – feeding the soul!!!
To complicate the addiction, my son also has Bipolar Disorder which was diagnosed 5 years ago, quite probably rearing its head due to his use of marijuana, initially. Mental illness is such a common thread for so many of our loved ones with addiction – a double whammy! Once my son realised he had both depressive times and manic times, the battle was on with Mental Health Services to have the illness recognised for what it was. Even then, there have been times when he has gradually stopped taking his medication (mainly through excessive marijuana use and therefore lack of responsibility). This then results in brushes with the law, police and court processes and then consequences.
It’s not an easy journey but we are so much more empowered when we begin to understand the complexity of addiction and have learnt so much about ourselves along the way, becoming stronger and definitely more empathetic and non-judgmental through this process.
Written by Angela