Earlier in 2017, my daughter was sectioned after being found on a railway line attempting to take her life. She’s been hooked on heroin for over twenty years. Despite estrangement from her two children, periods in psychiatric units, spells of homelessness and three prison sentences, she remains trapped. The fact that heroin and other psychoactive substances (apart from alcohol) are illegal, has made no difference to her access to drugs or impacted her decision to continue using.
If you’re affected by someone in the grip of addiction there appears to be only two options. One, the most natural, is to jump in and rescue; the other is to cut yourself off, to demonise the person you love. I’ve tried both and neither of them works. If you jump into the well, thinking you can rescue your loved one, at best all you do is enable them to carry on; at worst you end up drowning with them. Cutting yourself off doesn’t work either – you live your life as if inhabited by a ghost.
I once believed that going to prison for drug related offences would be the life changer, after every other attempt to help my daughter had failed. On her release she would see sense, she would become the person she was born to be. But I was naïve — going to prison didn’t change a thing.
When my daughter was growing up, I believed she was destined for something special. She was a gifted dancer, gaining honours in her first ballet exam, and winning medals for gymnastics. She had a beautiful smile and possessed a sense of fun. I never imagined she would end up on the streets begging for money to pay for a fix.
For many, life isn’t easy. We all find our own way of existing — whether through work, gambling, God, alcohol, drugs, or (in my case) poetry. So inevitably, as someone who’s hooked on words, I chose poetry to tell the story of my daughter’s addiction. My writing, developed into a performance piece entitled ‘Zones of Avoidance’, went on to win the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry.
My daughter is a victim of the current failed war on drugs. She is just one of the millions at the bottom of the ‘food chain’, an easy picking. I have come to accept that perhaps for her it may never be possible to break free. But I would sleep more easily if I knew that her supply of powerful drugs was in the hands of a GP instead of criminals. I have come to believe the decriminalisation and legal regulation of psychoactive substances by Governments is the only humane way forward. All I can do is hope.
My Daughter’s Habit
A month’s respite doesn’t stop the heart
tilting in its cradle at the knock.
The scene replayed before I open the door.
I know from her expression what she wants
but still she asks, and I fetch,
like a dog, hand over the score,
notice once more the half-moon scar
on the bone of her cheek.
The night swallows her shadow,
catches my sigh as she walks away.
I lean awhile against the door,
listen as the wind worries the trees,
smother the thought: to press
a pillow against my slipping heart.
(from Zones of Avoidance, Cinnamon Press 2007)