I had grown up with many addicts who were friends or associates of my parents that had tragically died one way or another through their heroin addiction but none of this prepared me for the loss of my beautiful mum. I hadn't had an easy childhood. I had watched my parents taking heroin day in, day out, year in, year out throughout my childhood, adolescence and early adulthood. I had witnessed some pretty horrific events.
In the early years, my parents were very young and struggled to control their addiction, turning to crime in order to finance their habits. I gradually became an accomplice, helping them as I developed from a child into a teenager. As I was so emotionally attached to my parents, all I wanted to do was help them. I felt sorry for them so I took on much of their responsibilities including helping with the cleaning, shopping and caring for my two younger sisters. They told me that one day when they had enough money, they would be able to kick their habit for good and begin a new life. I remained patient and hopeful for years but also suffered bouts of depression due to the effects their lifestyle had on my mental and emotional wellbeing.
I grew impatient and became angry and frustrated with my life and realised at the age of 24 that my parents were never going to give up for me or my siblings. They would only ever do it for themselves. I was getting older and needed to find my own way in the world. I had never wanted to live in the environment I had been born into. I decided to move on and left home after travelling through Mexico for a few months to find myself and then went on to meet my partner who I later married and had two beautiful children with. My life improved significantly but there were many emotional and mental scars.
In 2006, I discovered my mum had hepatitis C. I had been married three years and had a son at this point in time. It was a shock because she had been told she'd had the virus in her body for up to 25 years. This meant that the people around her during those years were at risk too. I was scared for my mum because she had lost her best friend some 12 years earlier to the same virus. My mum was beside herself not for her own circumstances but for fear of accidentally infecting one of her own children. We all had to be tested. I was more concerned for my husband and son than for myself. I felt guilty too for exposing my partner and my child to that danger. Luckily we tested negative but my father refused to get himself tested. He convinced himself that he was immune and wouldn't even discuss it. Mum tried to turn her life around and got clean (or so she told me).
She went on a waiting list for a medication called interferon. For months she endured blood tests, scans and consultations before she received anything. Then came the treatment which totally sapped her energy. She slept all day and would be in a lot of pain. She suffered depression and became anxious about her future prospects. I tried to remain upbeat and positive around her but I would cry myself to sleep with worry. I hoped that she would be one of the lucky few that would defeat it through medication. She very nearly did, when a blood test revealed there was no detection of the virus in her blood but it came back with a vengeance and took her too soon.
All I ever wanted was for my parents to be drug free and live a normal life. Instead it destroyed my dad’s personality and killed my mum. It left me devastated and numb. The only way I could overcome all of the heartache that this tragedy had caused was to write about my life growing up with addicts and the effects this lifestyle had had on me mentally and emotionally. Now I am a published author and hope to reach out to others in similar circumstances.
I have a strong message. Addiction doesn't only affect the user; it also has serious implications for the children and families of the addicts also. I am a voice for the least addressed part of a user’s life, their children. And I am a survivor.
Veronica has published a book about her experience growing up with parents in addiction, entitled Veronica, Hidden Harm.
She also appeared on Channel 4 news to talk about her experience, see here: https://www.channel4.com/news/womens-deaths-from-drug-misuse-up-95-per-cent-in-a-decade