I met Kevin in December 2013, we soon became a couple in the months that followed. I did not know that he was addicted to heroin and had I, I probably would never of entertained a relationship with an “addict”.
I grew up in a small coastal town in West Wales, the kind of place that everyone knows everyone and everyone knew who the local drug users were. These people are labelled as smackheads, junkies, bagheads, scumbags, druggies, cast into the corners of society, shamed and stigmatised, I knew then that loving an addict was not going to be easy.
Kevin’s addiction was “our secret”, I could not confide in friends, I daren’t tell my family and I absolutely feared my work colleagues finding out. Would they think I was using drugs too? Would I lose my job? Would my family stop Kevin from coming around to the house? Would my friends distance themselves from me?
“Our Secret” became a heavy load to carry; I was constantly living in fear of someone finding out but at the same time was desperate for someone to talk to. In time Kevin confided in his parents and told them all about his addiction, together we became a trusted support network for Kevin and for each other.
To anybody on the outside looking in they wouldn’t have known the battle we were all in, constantly fearing that Kevin would harm himself. Kevin presented well, always dressed smart and smelt good, for the majority of the time he was able to hold down a 9-5 as a highly skilled tree surgeon, taking up job opportunities across the UK and overseas, was in good health and was physically strong. Nobody would have guessed he was an addict and nobody would have known to ask how I was coping with loving “the addict”.
By March 2017, “our secret” had taken its toll and I had developed severe anxiety. I’d been living in a state of confusion, desperately trying to make sense of my view on heroin. My mind was consumed with fear-based thoughts, reminding me that heroin was illegal; convincing me that using heroin was wrong. Whilst my heart would remind me of my love for Kevin, and that addiction is an illness and not a crime.
A short while later I ended my relationship with Kevin, I couldn’t bare the inner conflict any longer. I needed to take time out to make sense of my thoughts and to take care of myself. However, he and I both knew this was not forever and only until he was “clean”.
In September 2017 I spent one day with Kevin before leaving for Manila to take up a volunteering opportunity, we told one another that we loved each other and said our goodbyes. That was the last time I ever saw Kevin.
On December 12th I received the dreaded call, the call that any loved one of someone battling with addiction would understand. Kevin had been found in a Marks & Spencers toilet; he had overdosed on heroin and was in intensive care.
The next morning I had the second call, Kevin had died.
When I found out about Kevin’s death, I was still in the Philippines. Due to their own war on drugs I was unable to tell anyone about his cause of death. I lied and told people it was a heart attack. I felt trapped, unable to grieve openly and honestly. For my own safety I had to delay my grief. It was then that I first realised how deep the fear of judgement was rooted and vowed to let go of my fear and be more open when I returned to the UK. Now I’m committed to ensuring that no-one else has to go through what me and Kevin did by getting rid of the stigma of drug use and campaigning for safer drugs laws.
Before Kevin entered M&S, he had collected syringes from Boots Chemist:-
I ask “Where was the safe place for Kevin to go to medicate himself”?
Kevin was medicating because heroin offered him a sense of comfort in a world he often felt indifferent in, he experienced early trauma as a baby, followed by early years spent in the care system and an ADHD diagnosis which made social situations extremely difficult for him.
I ask “Why this drug could not have been regulated, given in a dose that was enough to medicate him and not kill him?
One of the reasons Kevin continued to use heroin was that he feared he would become unwell during the withdrawal stages and would not be able to go to work. He would dread the drug tests required for such a dangerous and skilled job. On numerous occasions Kevin would choose to drastically stop using heroin, opting to ease the withdrawal symptoms with pain medication he would purchase from someone he knew. Kevin was reluctant to go to the doctors as he feared it would reflect badly on his future job applications that required a medical.
I ask “If the laws were different, would Kevin have been able to get a medical certificate such as someone with a broken leg or someone suffering with depression. Would Kevin have got the time he needed to heal from his illness, just like other people get”?
Kevin knew the law on drugs, he knew what he was doing was illegal; therefore it made him behave in secretive ways, such as the day of his death where he overdosed behind a locked toilet door. I knew the law too; I spent every day in fear of it. I feared Kevin would end up in prison, I feared the police pulling my car over and searching us, I feared the judgement from people in my community if they knew I was with a “criminal” or participating in a criminal act. One thing that I have realised since getting involved with Anyone’s Child is that prohibition and fear of judgement was often worse than the addiction itself.
I ask “Why is addiction still seen as a criminal issue instead of a medical issue?
It’s now been ten months since Kevin’s death, I am still battling with the changing tides of grief but the constant fire that burns in my heart, screams “the law must change”. I spent over three years fearing judgement from society, instead of opening my heart up further in love, compassion and understanding to Kevin’s illness. I now live with feelings of regret and ask myself why did I allow these feelings to take control over me like I did. Knowing that nothing will ever bring Kevin back, I can only hope that the laws change for the rest of the Kevin’s in our world and for loved ones who are still living in fear like I was.
Current drug policies failed Kevin and they failed me, its time for change. I hope for a future where drugs are legally controlled and safely regulated.