Change Grow Live – health and social care charity

Liz's story - family and carers service

My name is Liz, I’ve been attending the CGL Family & Carers service in Lewisham for over a year because my son, who is 37 now, has substance misuse problems. Cannabis I know from way back when he was a teenager, I didn’t realise at the time but that’s what he was mainly smoking. And apparently, he’s told me subsequently, that it’s been cocaine as well. So as a teenager that was the problem. Though I did have problems from when he was a baby, he would not settle, I would cuddle him, he would not settle. The bonding process I think suffered, I know it did.

As he got older he would become destructive, be aggressive, shout and swear a lot. It got worse and worse as he got older, into his teens. He would damage things, he would shout and swear at me, really bad stuff, smash doors, I’ve had cookers go and fridges. I tried to get a lot of help for him but really not for myself.

He’s 37 now and he’s stopped with the cannabis but he drinks. He doesn’t live with me but he’s been back and forth, coming to stay with me then leaving, then coming back to stay against my better judgement. I found it hard, really, really difficult. I suffered a lot with the abuse and the aggression. The police were involved.

I found out about the CGL Family & Carers service because I was going to Adfam, which I had found out about through a friend. I started to come along regularly to CGL, it was like a different world for me, where I felt isolated, where I felt I wouldn't be judged, where I felt I didn’t have a voice, where I felt I was suffering in silence a lot. It was so different because there were other people in the group who were going through exactly what I was going through. They were having problems, whether it be their son or their partner, their experiences were the same as mine, not in the exact same way but they understood. They spoke, they listened, I could speak, I had a voice. I could share and we’d support each other. It was all in a loving way, there wasn’t judgement. We had tears, we had humour but we had a voice. I just felt supported and I would come every single week, I didn’t like to miss a week as I felt something was missing. It was like warm, loving arms.

More recently, a new member of staff facilitated the group and again there was so much support. New people would join in, they would cry about what they had been through, they would feel supported. For me, I gained a lot hearing other people’s stories because I didn’t feel alone, I didn’t feel judged.

We started a telephone group where we would talk or text each other so if we didn’t attend on the Saturday, we could text each other. I feel that I have gained so much from attending Family & Carers and I have changed so much. And where I have changed I feel my son has changed as well as because of the support I have got.

We would talk about being supportive and encouraging to our loved one but not enabling, and I had not heard of all of this before. I started to feel I could do things differently, I started to feel I had more power in the relationship with my son. I felt I could talk to him, whereas before I felt everything was bad, his addiction was bad, my background and what I had come from was very judgemental, so it was all black and white. There was bad and there was good, the addiction was bad and therefore the addicted person was bad.

Now I can look at my son as not a bad person. The addiction was bad but he wasn’t bad. Our relationship has changed, it’s not wonderful but it’s a lot better. Where he would scream and shout and abuse me before, he can actually talk to me now. When we meet up, or he phones me, there is not all of that abuse. He’s working and he wants good things for his future. The change in our relationship is absolutely amazing. I didn’t think we would get to this point where I could talk to my son and he could talk to me in a reasonable way, without shouting and screaming, without judgement. Even on my part, I have changed the way that I was with him, because I would just react to his abuse.

He’s told me he loves me, he’s told me he realises what he’s put me through and this all comes from him, not me telling him how awful it was. He’s come to realise it. I think it’s a lot to do with how I have changed because of support from Family & Carers and that’s why I still come. It’s given me so much, I feel I need to be part of that, part of something good, part of something that keeps showing me the way.

If I can help anyone else who comes into the group and let them know my story, I think that can only be good, for them and for me. I feel I can be supportive. I feel I can support my son as I feel I have a voice with him now. Now he does listen, he does hear me. When he says ‘I love you mum’, I do believe him, I didn’t before. I truly believe Family & Carers can help, not just the group but it can help the person in addiction. If it can do that, it can make such a great difference to how we look at addiction.

If the person, such as myself, can change then we can help our loved one to change. We can change the whole way we look at addiction.