‘My kids use heroin’

You’ll see him in town most nights. He’s dirty, smelly and
homeless. He is my son, Ray*. Aged 25, he is a heroin addict and
begs in Bristol.

Why does he use heroin? When Ray was 14 he was abused while in care
and started using drugs to forget. He is angry and like a child.
Ray thinks I’m a 24-hour bank, always there for a handout. He has
been in prison lots of times for drug-related crime. He has lost
everything – his home, his girlfriend and his son, who he doesn’t
visit at all.

My daughter Angel* is 23 and a heroin addict like Ray. She says
she’s trying to give it up. She too has been in prison; she used to
work the streets, has been a shoplifter and worked in a massage
parlour. She’s a beautiful girl – I try to forget she was once a
prostitute. Angel now has a partner, Jim, who is not long out of
prison. Jim uses heroin and robs houses to get money. He’s been
using since he was 11 years old and is now aged 34.

When my kids were teenagers life was a struggle. Every day was like
standing on the edge of a cliff. I never had anything of value in
the house because it would go. I could never put my bag down. I was
afraid to go home. Would I find another break-in or the house full
of drug users?

They’d take anything to sell – even the old black and white TV they
wouldn’t get £2 for. I always had to watch what I said to
them, for fear of getting my windows broken. Kids don’t care who
they hurt to get their fix. The police would come round looking for
the kids and treat me like a criminal.

I applied to do a college course that included a placement in a
voluntary organisation. My tutor told me about a drug counselling
service based in a project in Southmead, Bristol. It was close to
my home and I knew I’d be running into the local kids. I thought
about it and decided to do it. At the service I found a safe place
to talk about my son and daughter and I had counselling. I learned
it was not my fault my kids turned out as they did.

Later on I went to the parents support group at the Southmead
project. It was wonderful to find other parents the same as me. I
learned about things like tough love and began to believe there is
a future out there. Often addicts get the help but their families
are just left to get on with it. It’s like a hidden illness you
can’t talk about; there are too few parents support groups around.

Volunteering at the Southmead project has given me the confidence
to move flats and find a job. I’ve started to write about my
experiences and, with the support of the project’s manager, I give
talks about being the parent of drug users.

As for Ray, the only time I see him is when he wants money for a
fix. I can’t turn him away. He’s still my son.

* All names have been changed

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