This is adapted from a speech given by Anyone’s Child member, Anne-Marie Cockburn, at the University of Essex’s THINK debate: ‘the War on the War on Drugs’
I’ve had a break for a few months from talking about drug policy. I needed to rest awhile and come back to it with a fresh eye. I spoke to an audience of students at The University of Essex as part of their Think Series of Debates.
I was in good company, sitting alongside, Neil Woods and Jason Reed of LEAP.
I started off a bit shakily, but calmed down after the first couple of lines.
Here’s my speech:-
Looking around this room at all of you, I think to myself that Martha would be turning 20 this year, but I can’t let myself dwell on that thought for too long as it’s an impossible dream, therefore I don’t.
My dreams have changed, my identity felt as though it was wiped away on that fateful July day in 2013 as I stood beside my girl who was no longer and declared to the world that ‘I’m not a mum anymore’. In that very same hospital I gave birth to her in some 15 years and 9 months earlier.
As I looked around at the barren landscape of my life in that moment the words ‘I have a future and I have a life’ came into my head. They were loud and they were clear. I have no explanation for that, but I have taken great comfort in them ever since – a new mantra at the core of me, telling me that I can survive beyond my worst fear coming true. The seed of hope that I needed in order to carry on alone without my precious girl.
Martha was 15, she was curious, and she was wonderful. She was a normal teenager going through the angst that many of us do at that stage in our lives – she was trying to work out who she was, she was dealing with the pressure of her GCSEs, she was trying to fit in with her peers and with the messaging our society advertised she should look like. Looking back, I think it was a lot easier to be a teenager when I was one. Simpler times in some ways – meant that my childhood seemed to last a lot longer.
Martha went to a great school, she talked about becoming an engineer, she loved physics and was obsessed with algebra, she played the piano by ear and had a quirky sense of fashion.
After she died I collected her exam results of the 2 GCSEs she had sat in Science and French, she got a B in science, and although she was predicted to get an F in French she actually got an A. I sighed to myself as I opened that envelope shaking my head and thinking what a waste.
A few months earlier I had found out Martha had taken ecstasy. In my naivety I just sat her down and shouted at her, refusing to listen to what she was trying to tell me. I asked why she’d do such a thing and she rolled her eyes and said, it makes me feel happy. I barked ‘aren’t you happy’ and she said yes, but it makes me feel even happier.
I was dumbfounded, no longer was just being happy enough, but ‘even happier than happy’ is what she was striving for. Martha was a child of her time. Based on what her life fed her, she deemed what she was doing as normal – you learn by example, you learn from what you see around you in your life.
Throughout her childhood I encouraged her to try new things: spicy food, an oyster, to climb a tree, or swim in the lake. I wanted her to not be scared, I wanted her to love life and immerse herself in everything it had to offer – little did I think that her sense of adventure would lead to taking drugs age 15, but she did and what she took was ½ gm of MDMA powder that turned out to be 91% pure. I’ve since been told that it was enough for 5-10 people.
After her death, I found her google search – she was looking for information on ways to take ecstasy safely, but obviously didn’t realise that by taking so much it wouldn’t just make her extra high, it did in fact, lead to an accidental overdose.
Martha wanted to get high, but she didn’t want to die. She loved life, she took risks and for most of us we survive the risks we take and live to tell the tale. We look back at our younger selves and wonder how we are still standing, despite the treacherous tapestry of our journey to that point.
How I wish I had known then, what I know now, but by telling my story, painful as it is – hopefully others can learn and engage with this important subject, as every single one of us can play our part in contributing to this important dialogue.
In August 2015 The Anyone’s Child: Families for Safer Drug Control Campaign was launched. I walked proudly alongside a dozen other families whose lives had also been blighted by our failing drug laws. We wore t-shirts somberly advertising our respective losses; my daughter, my partner, my 2 sons, my dad, my husband, my brother, my cousin. We walked arm in arm as we took a petition up to the shiny black door of 10 Downing Street. As we knocked on the door 3 times, we stood united as we handed over our petition demanding for an independent review of UK Drug laws and for us to adopt an evidence-based approach to our drug policies.
Looking around the world, there is so much we can learn from. In Portugal where drugs were decriminalised over 15 years ago there are 3 O/D deaths per million, in the UK it’s 44.6. Now those figures are compelling and shocking. Every day 10 people die of a drug-related death in the UK and it is now barely newsworthy. As I stand here beside my dead daughter’s shoes, I shudder to think that 10 more families every day become me and another 10 pairs of shoes will be empty.
That is 70 people every single week.
But I want you all to know that there is hope. A lot of change has taken place over the past couple of years with regards to international engagement with drug policy. Other countries may be ahead of us with regards to their bravery and vision, but it is only a matter of time before commonsense will prevail and the UK will catch up.
With initiatives like LEAP who Jason and Neil are here to represent, and the Anyone’s Child initiative I am here to represent – we are all determined to do what we can to push for a sensible dialogue for change.
As I said earlier, my dreams have changed, I now dream of the day that we will all look back at this era and shake our heads as we read about people in the history books who died from taking ecstasy.
It is too late for my girl, but I live in hope that your children and your grandchildren will not inherit the rusty shackles of outdated laws that do not keep our loved ones safe.
And this will ensure that they too can share my sentiments and say: ‘I have a future and I have a life’.