When we were growing up we lived in an old Vicarage (free with the job), with a spare room. Dad hates waste and couldn’t bear for it to go unused so they filled it. With people who needed a chance in life. They didn’t advertise and it was only open to people who’s history they knew well. I think I was about 8 years old so my sister must have been 5.
Our childhood was a bit unconventional at the best of times. I remember coming down for breakfast one morning as a teenager and there were 40 people in the kitchen having a ‘bring & share’ breakfast they’d forgotten to tell me about. At 7:30am! Or we’d just be eating tea together and someone would come in and announce they’d come for a cup of tea, or they’d just nod hello as they walked past the table to go and use our loo. The house operated as an open house for the village and people did (and do) just walk in to say hello. I think it’s amazing that Mum and Dad did that (Mum died 3 years ago) and it’s as a result of this I think that I genuinely love people, whoever they are. I love that feeling of bustliness when there are lots of people around. I do on the other hand protect my own home like a mother lion. I need space and lots of it.
Anyway – there was one particular event that had a huge impact on me (in a good way). I remember a big discussion at home. A friend of my Mum and Dad’s phoned up, desperate for their help. I was still in primary school at the time and then suddenly ‘Ann’ moved in. Ann was in her early 20s, a heroin addict and was going to go through cold turkey. In our spare room. She also turned out to have Hepatitis B, which we didn’t know about until later on in her visit.
I remember studying the face of this shell of a woman when she arrived. She didn’t even look like a real person to me. There was something about her eyes. They were dead and sluggish. She was dirty, her hair was matted, her hands swollen and yellow, stained with years of cigarette smoke. She was so thin. Her teeth were black and some were missing. She shook, she sweated, she didn’t talk, she shuffled. She couldn’t even stand up straight. She looked awful.
And then the vomiting, the screaming.
She swore and she threw things.
Then finally it was over and she left.
I remember the bed, the mattress, the wardrobe and everything else had to be burnt because of the hepatitis.
What an appalling thing to expose your young children too. Or was it? I don’t actually remember feeling traumatised by it at all. I remember thinking she was silly for getting in that state in the first place. Mum and Dad firmly believed in showing us life and hiding nothing. I think they were absolutely right in every way. A lady in the village hung herself. Naked. Outside her children’s bedroom window. Her husband had gone in to their bedroom when they woke and saw her hanging from a tree in their garden. He’d immediately phoned my dad and asked him to go down. When he got back I grilled him on what had happened and why. What did she look like? I needed to know every detail to help me understand what had actually occurred. It didn’t make sense to me. Oddly I don’t think it affected me as much as it would do if I heard it as an adult. I think kids are much more matter of fact and for the moment. Or maybe it was because I was particularly used to hearing news of how people had died, who found them and all the other gory details. I was certainly desensitised and I imagine that what you might think was dreadful for us was actually ‘just normal’.
It was the same with Ann – I grilled my parents on how she’d got in such a mess and why couldn’t she sort herself out. Why was she choosing to live like this? Well she was and she wasn’t. She was sick. So I asked them about that too. My parents made the most of my curiosity and told me everything they knew. I was also told (of course) that the trouble with drugs is you believe you’re invincible and this won’t happen to you. The best thing is not to start.
The images were so strong that I vowed there and then I wasn’t going to go down that road and I was SO terrified of inadvertently ending up in a life like Ann’s that no-one was going to have a hint of a chance of getting me to take anything. As I grew up every time there was a story in the news of a fatal overdose, my parents told me about it. They explained that my life would be hell: I’d have no money, I’d have to steal, I’d feel desperate all the time, I’d look awful…and I believed them because I’d seen it with my own eyes. I’m so pleased I had. It’s entirely possible that I might have ended up like Ann if I hadn’t. Who knows?
So how have I approached talking to our kids about drugs? I’m doing the same – we’re not having heroin addicts going cold turkey in our house obviously, but I’m so telling them how it is. I’m giving them the worst case scenario and I’m being absolutely no holds barred with it. I don’t want there to be any wavering if they’re offered anything and if there is, it won’t be through any lack of information giving on my part.
The other side of the coin is – am I actually better to take a more lenient approach so if they do end up experimenting with drugs, they’ll they feel they can tell me about it? What do you think? I’d actually really appreciated hearing your views, so please do leave a comment if you have a mo.
If you think ‘Talking To Our Kids About Drugs’ might help others, please share it as much as you can. It’s such an awful waste of a life and as a Mum myself I don’t think I could cope seeing any of our children in the same state as Ann.
To receive our posts straight to your inbox do sign up at the right hand side of this page. Do also have a browse through our other posts and come and join us on Facebook!
Don’t forget Elfie’s Birthday Letters are now available in the shop.