My son’s death turned me into a campaigner | Hilary’s Story

Hilary - Anyone's ChildCaring for someone who is dependent on drugs is one of the most exhausting, emotional and confusing experiences, it’s like living on a rollercoaster that you can’t get off of, you are constantly full of hope one minute and the next you are sick with worry.

My rollercoaster ride ended on 18th May 2018, I was woken up by the phone ringing constantly, “hello” I answered sleepily, it was the intensive care unit at Queen Alexandra hospital, “is that Hilary” they asked “yes” I answered “your son Ben has just been admitted”, suddenly I was awake. 1 minute, 1 sentence had changed my life forever. It transpired Ben had overdosed on heroin in a toilet at the supported living accommodation he was staying at, the paramedics had been called, and after 30 minutes of CPR had managed to revive him, 3 weeks followed on a life support machine but sadly the brain damage was too severe and we had to make the heartbreaking decision to turn the machine off.

Ben was my first born of 4 children, we had an extremely close bond, from a baby to a young child he would always cling to me and seek my approval. But right from a young age it became obvious he struggled with concentration and school. He was a natural risk taker, and had no fear, on his first day at school he charged onto a bike before anyone could stop him and fell off cutting his lip. If he was told not to do anything he wanted to do it, it was like he had to test everything regardless of the consequences, he was later diagnosed with ADHD. He was excluded from school, partly I feel, because of the lack of understanding, knowledge and support at the time of ADHD, and also his struggle with a school curriculum that focused mainly on academic work, and hasn’t changed for many years. I feel that he needed more support and maybe to find something he was good at such as sport or building things, he needed that self confidence and approval because his self esteem and worth was so low. He was such a kind, caring, empathetic boy, with a smile and heart as big as each other, despite everything you couldn’t be angry for long because I genuinely think a lot of the time he didn’t understand himself or what he was doing was wrong until it was too late, and this made him extremely vulnerable.

Anyone's Child campaignerMy relationship with his father who was also drug-dependent ended, and this is probably when Ben’s descent into addiction began. He was close to his dad but we were both polar opposites when it came to discipline, views and how to cope with Ben. He ended up in prison when he was 15, for burglary, I thought that maybe, however heartbreaking it was, he may get some help. Little did I know laws and the system are not designed to help, they only served to make life more difficult. He was labelled and given a criminal record, so therefore would find it harder to recover from any addiction or obtain any employment or career. So, jobless and without any form of aftercare he was released, he lasted about 2 years before ending in prison again this time for nearly a year. When he got out we did begin to see an improvement, he got a job, and a lovely girlfriend and generally life looked more hopeful for him. But sadly this wasn’t to last. I don’t know exactly when he began taking heroin, but now I can see there were signs. I remember him being violently sick at a family BBQ, finding screwed up silver foil in his room, lying about days off work, telling me he was using rent money to save for a place of his own and getting his girlfriend to vouch for him. I believed it partly through ignorance and partly because I didn’t want to believe he had relapsed.

It all came to a head when he had split from his girlfriend and then we had an argument because I had strangers in the house who were obviously using. I gave him an ultimatum, no drugs or drug users in the house, unless you get some help or I couldn’t have him in the house. He left shortly after and for 3 months I had no idea where he was. Eventually after people had said they’d seen him in various places in our local city, and after driving around for weeks, I found him walking down a street. He was dishevelled, shaven hair, he obviously hadn’t been looking after himself but alive! That hug he gave me when I asked him to get in the car will live with me forever, a hug of desperation and love. He got into supported living a while after and we tried to care for him, I was a frequent visitor, and plenty of times we saw glimpses of the old Ben but then he would relapse and he’d hide away in shame. The dealers meanwhile were always there like vultures ready to pounce, hiding behind other vulnerable users.

Finally we all paid the ultimate price, Ben’s death is a scar that will never heal, it’s a sadness that’s always there, ready to pounce at any time, we miss him terribly, and this loss is compounded by the feeling that maybe it could have been prevented, the feeling of the stigma and misunderstanding of addiction, and that Ben is another statistic, but he’s not and as his mum I wont allow it, he was my precious boy. The police were frequent visitors at his home, arresting people for possession, petty theft and other drug related crime, but so many of their targets were victims, not criminals. I’m sure they cared but all too often they were tied by laws that say to prosecute, wouldn’t it be better if people who are dependent on drugs were offered help and support instead, this could keep criminal records down, and give people a chance at a new life.

Regulation of drugs would also keep them safer and good education at schools is essential, at present it has only just become law to teach children about drugs, but there is no mandatory time they have to spend on it or proper training. Currently the law only serves to keep people in that cycle of addiction, which costs lives, crimes to rise and communities and families to fall apart. I really feel Ben was let down by a system that is old and clearly not working, we need change now, before more lives are lost, more families left heartbroken, and someone else wakes up to a phone call from the hospital.

This blog was originally published by Anyone’s Child. You can read the original post here.

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