It is almost 13 years since my youngest son Ben died – releasing us from the horror of watching our handsome, intelligent, sensitive boy turn into a manipulative, lying, hurtful addict. I sometimes think that if I could have him back for just one day I’d get him clean – realistically, I know this is madness. Ben was hooked for 17 years, half of his life – and we had spent 12 of those years trying to help him do just that.
Ben was 16 when he started smoking cannabis although he was smoking cigarettes long before that. For Ben cannabis was definitely a ‘gateway’ drug – leading to him trying anything and everything. So why did he start? I do think with Ben that taking drugs was a lack of education – I’m going back to the 1980’s when it didn’t seem to be the issue it is now, in fact the only (known) takers then seemed to be musicians and people in the public eye. Ben always mixed his drug habit with drinking and, if I am honest, I could cope better with Ben on drugs than Ben on drink. On drink he became argumentative and downright nasty whereas with drugs in his system he was dopey and anxious to avoid confrontation.
From the day Ben told us that he was on heroin and wanted to stop (from age 21 until he the day he died at 34 – still trying to detox) we – the family who loved him – knew no peace. He spoiled every family occasion, including holidays and his dad and I in turn became weighed down with worry. Life revolved around Ben and his problem – his demands for money, his remorse, his mental health issues. Yes his mental health issues, caused by his drug taking, the cannabis caused anxiety and paranoia…which was incredibly hard to live with.
Ben managed to complete a college course in printing and over the years had several jobs. He came and went, returning home when things got too difficult and he needed help. He was living rough in Boscombe a couple of years before he died when he rang to tell us he had deep vein thrombosis, the result of him repeatedly injecting into his groin. His dad and I did what we had always done, we went to his aid insisting he come home with us. In retrospect I think this was possibly the worst outcome for Ben – returning home at 32 to be looked after by his parents. For us too, it was difficult. We live in a beautiful village where everyone knows everyone’s business and we had to cope with the shame of being unable to hide Ben’s problem from our neighbours and friends. When Ben’s dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer Ben decided to try yet again to detox. We had paid twice for private detox which, back then, was one week in Detox 5 – after which you were supposed to be cured of the addiction.
Another time Ben managed to get his methadone level down enough to get into hospital under the NHS. This turned out to be farcical as they allowed visitors into the rehab centre and of course… after a ‘visitor’… he relapsed – resulting in him being discharged. Wasn’t this setting them up to fail?
After this point, Ben’s dad was dying and I believe he wanted to get clean for his dad. He was on probation for driving under the influence and they put him on a methadone programme with the promise that if he got his meth level down to 35mls they would get him into rehab. To me this seemed a bit like dangling a carrot in front of a donkey’s nose – in other words, almost impossible. Ben ended up begging and imploring them to hospitalise him and finally, they did. I took him there on the 6th July 2006, on the 7th he was dead. Drug addicts lead chaotic lives and Ben hadn’t been for blood tests, essential with his deep vein thrombosis problem. Prior to his detox treatment, the hospital had neglected to check his bloods but started him immediately on withdrawal programme. Ben died 30 hours after admittance with a cerebral haemorrhage – his death certificate recorded that his death was a ‘recognised complication of drug withdrawal’. Our only consolation was that he died in a hospital bed and not in some dirty toilet somewhere, alone and afraid. Ben’s dad died 9 weeks later.
Society today would call us enablers – we never gave up on Ben. The advice today would be ‘tough love’ but 13 years ago than wasn’t in the equation. It was less talked about. People ask me for advice now when they are faced with the nightmare of living with the problem and I always answer that I can’t help them – only that they should go with their gut reaction, do what they feel is right for their situation. With the escalating problem worldwide of drug taking, I don’t know what or if there is an answer to the problem.
Ben was the youngest of my four children. He was on drugs for half of his life and when he died I couldn’t remember ‘lovely Ben’ only the mess he had become. Time has rectified that and restored him to the beloved boy that he was – he and we, are finally at peace.