My Mum Was Not An 'Addict' - An 'Addict' Replaced My Mum
Updated: Sep 30, 2019
What I wish people knew about my Mum before the grip hold of addiction took over.
What if I told you my Mum was a beautiful, kind and caring soul that worked as an auxiliary nurse and helped nurse the elderly?
What if I told you she cared so deeply and selflessly for my little Sister and looked after her around the clock because she was ill more often than not?
What if I told you she was a model citizen who helped everyone in her presence and had the heart of an angel?
What if I told you her 5 year old little girl died unexpectedly on holiday to an asthma attack?
What if I told you her heart died with her little girl that day?
What if I told you she faced a crippling mental breakdown where she was given little support on her mental health to help bring her back from the darkness that now overshadowed her life?
What if I told you addiction offered her a new happiness, a way to cope with the loss of a child?
What if I told you my Mum was consumed by heroin addiction that then led to her death?
My mum was stunningly pretty. She had a Princess Diana hairstyle she would prune every morning with her gas curling tong and Elnett hairspray. I would admire her from the bedroom door as she sat in front of her dresser mirror every morning and applied her perfectly placed lipstick, dressed to perfection. Then, before heading off to take all three of us children to school, she would make sure my sister was given her asthma medication through a nebuliser and was bandaged up so she couldn’t scratch her eczema. When we arrived at the school gates she would know and speak to everyone. Always smiling. She petitioned for a number of events to help the community. Always fighting for what she believed in and never backing down for the greater good with the strength of a warrior. She was my hero. The woman I wanted to become. That woman, was my Mum.
It was 1997 and we were on our annual family holiday in Cornwall. During a game of hide and seek at the campsite, it was my turn to seek. I was walking through an un-used field at the back of our tent and I heard un-controllable coughing and wheezing. I followed the sound and waded through the overgrown grass and came to find my sister. She was sat with her legs tucked into her chest rolling her head back and forth struggling to breathe. I panicked. I ran back to the tent and screamed for my Mum. Without question, she rushed over, scooped her into her arms with a look of sheer terror spread across her face and called for an ambulance. Me and my brother stood watching and waiting in shock. My sister was laying lifelessly in my Mum’s arms whilst she tried to help her breathe using her nebuliser. Once the ambulance arrived and my sister was taken away, life changed forever.
We were back from Cornwall. Life felt empty. Mum wouldn’t eat or sleep. She just rocked in the corner of the room and cried. Weeks passed and things were still the same. My Dad tried everything to support her but he was also battling grief for the loss of his daughter and trying to provide for the family and had no one to turn to. Day by day, her mental health deteriorated, sinking deeper and deeper into a pit of depression. Social services support was minimal at this point. The options were either medication or fight this alone. So as a last resort, she chose to try medication. The cocktail of pills she was prescribed by the doctor saw her admitted to a psychiatric ward which would later put her into the arms of the wrong people who would lead her down the wrong path.
That inevitable day came in 2002. That fateful day I had thought about for so long. The day that addiction finally won the battle. By this point, my Mum was no longer my Mum. That beautiful woman I once called my Mum hadn’t been around for some time by now. She was buried inside her body that addiction had unapologetically claimed as its own. I had been grieving her loss without even realising it. Watching heroin addiction slowly engulf someone to the point of no return is one of the most helpless situations anyone can ever wish to face. It tears you up inside seeing someone so close to you slipping away, day by day. Knowing there is nothing you can do that will ever defeat the grip hold it has over its victim seems like an endless battle. That sensational smile and cheery disposition is replaced with a nervous grimace and a demonic presence. You want to believe that person you once knew still exists deep within their shell but addiction is a force to be reckoned with. It doesn’t leave without a fight and it takes no prisoners.
Society’s Misconception of Addiction
Society has this misconception that 'addicts' are less worthy than those with a recognised illness or disease. That they choose to put themselves through the malevolence addiction brings and being given funding to help them would be better spent on someone who 'deserves' this. I want to ask you this; Why did my Mum not deserve that opportunity?
Everybody goes through difficult times. Life throws us unforeseen curve balls that can change our whole dynamic and perception of reality within seconds. It can happen to anyone, at any point. I know from my own experience that I never thought any of the events in my life would ever happen to me. You only hear or read about those things on the internet and then right before my eyes, the unthinkable is now my reality. No one is ever prepared for the loss of a child or a close loved one. It can cause us to shatter into a million pieces and to some, this is incomprehensible. How a person then handles this life altering situation is not just a matter of choice, it is about the available support to help understand and process such tragic circumstances and how to find the courage to continue with life again. Circumstances led my Mum to heroin and not the other way round.
The Relationship Between Trauma and Addiction
So let me explain the relationship between trauma and addiction. Statistics show that 2 out of 3 people who experience addiction have endured some form of emotional or physical trauma from either childhood or adulthood. The reason behind this is when the human brain witnesses a traumatic event or frequent and continuous trauma, this causes extremely high levels of stress that can alter or impede normal brain function and development. Physical stress responses that are experienced over a period of time and are not addressed with specialist treatment, can cause disruptions which are likely to make victims more vulnerable to substance abuse disorders and later develop mental health conditions such as PTSD, Complex PTSD, anxiety and depression.
Now we know that nearly 70% of addiction is caused by traumatic events that are out of a victims control, is it not fair to say that it is, more often than not, severe trauma that makes someone more susceptible to substance misuse? Perhaps it is not necessarily a conscious decision someone makes to start taking drugs or using alcohol but more them being in a mentally vulnerable place that makes an individual more likely to experiment with the idea of self medicating to numb the pain of trauma? When support services have failed to play their part and prescription medication is not closely monitored to ensure it is having the right effect, what other options are people left with? If you asked anyone that knew my Mum, they would tell you she was the least likely person to turn to heroin. So if that probability was proved wrong, then I can safely say there are many other individuals who have been through similar circumstances. If it can happen to my Mum, it can happen to anyone.
So I am asking everyone to consider this next time they learn of someone with an addiction; Take the time to try and understand every part of that person’s life and consider the circumstances that led them to that point before making a quick, un-educated judgement. Be kind. Everyone deserves their story to be heard and given the same buttress and opportunity to survive and the chance to lead a happy life. I for one know that if my Mum had been given specialist trauma treatment and was supported through the death of her daughter as soon as it happened, she would never have been led to heroin at that vulnerable point in her life. I refuse to let my Mum, or anyone else who has lost their battle to addiction, be remembered as an 'addict' because that was not my Mum. My mum was all the things I have written about and so much more. Addiction is not permanent and should not define someone for the rest of their life. To anyone who has battled and survived addiction, you are my inspiration! To have the strength and the power to overcome such a powerful feat is nothing short of amazing and you deserve the upmost respect.
When I was a little girl, I remember walking round the house, wearing my Mum’s heels saying, “I can’t wait to grow up to be like you, Mummy” I still live by those words. I still believe that if I am lucky enough to become half the woman my Mum was, then that would be my greatest achievement.
In Loving Memory of my Beautiful Mother and Sister, Gillian Nanette Anns and Jaclyn Emily Anns.