How Cannabis Wrecked My Son’s Life (This story first published in the Daily Express in July 2005)
With predictions of nine excellent passes at GCSE, how could we ever have foreseen that our eldest son, William, would follow a route of drug abuse and destructive behaviour that would bring our family to breaking point? This was the sort of thing that happened to other people, not to families that lived in nice houses in peaceful, leafy suburbs and cared about their children, wanting the best for them, and often making sacrifices so that they could have just that. But we were forced to accept that this was happening in our family. The drug weâ€™re talking about is cannabis.
William is now seventeen, and the eldest of three boys. The others are now 15 and 11. Heâ€™d been adored by all of us from the minute he was born. He was a lovely looking child, with bright blue eyes, olive skin and springy dark curls. Heâ€™d always been a loving, responsible and outgoing child. Heâ€™d done well at school right from the beginning. He had a tendency to be a bit lazy, but what boy isnâ€™t occasionally?
Our problems began when he started smoking at 14, and soon started experimenting with cannabis. Iâ€™d always thought cannabis to be pretty harmless, Iâ€™d smoked some myself at university and the worst it did to me was to make me want to pass out into a deep sleep ten minutes later!
William had been doing well at secondary school. He was popular and sporty, even being made captain of his school football team. Weâ€™d go to watch him on Saturdays. Things seemed to be going fine, heâ€™d occasionally be bolshy and difficult, especially to his father, but we werenâ€™t worried about that particularly. Things soon changed when he entered his GCSE year. Just when we presumed heâ€™d start to revv up for his exams, he began truanting from school a lot, and began also to be rude, aggressive and, at times, quite frightening in his behaviour at home. Iâ€™d feel very intimidated by him sometimes when heâ€™d square up to me and be verbally abusive. He started to spend more and more time away from home, sometimes for up to a week at a time without telling us where he was. Weâ€™d spend the whole time wondering where he was, instead of getting some rest and enjoying time with our other children. We started to obsess about what we should be doing, in order to solve the problems. So far, none of our ideas seemed effective.
William had begun to smoke dope at home, knowing we disapproved. We banned smoking of any kind in our house. We also drew up a list of other zero-tolerance rules, but within a few hours he would have broken every one of them! I presumed this was all just particularly horrible, adolescent behaviour, until I began reading about the dangers of teenagers starting to smoke so early on in their lives, when their brains were still forming. The dope wasnâ€™t the same stuff as weâ€™d smoked either, it seemed. It was around ten times stronger. I started to panic, and feel really nervous for William, praying heâ€™d stop doing it, come to his senses and get on with his school life. Weâ€™d always presumed heâ€™d go to university with a good set of qualifications. But this wasnâ€™t going to be the route for him or for us.
His behaviour at home became worse. We couldnâ€™t believe a word he said, he couldnâ€™t even remember his lies, and would just shout louder and slam out of the house when challenged. If he didnâ€™t get what he wanted, usually money, heâ€™d be beside himself. Once he slammed a door onto my hand when I was going through it, to escape from his raging, landing me in A & E. I didnâ€™t see him for three days after that. I was spending more and more time in tears, feeling frustrated, confused and angry. My husband was exhausted, working all day and then coming home to chaos.
William decided to leave school after GCSEs, saying he hated the place. He had passed all nine, some with very good grades. He decided he would go to the local state-run sixth form college. That summer, the worst was yet to come. He broke into our house when we were away and moved large numbers of his friends into the house, causing damage and mayhem. Every bed was slept in, and we came back to a filthy house, with condoms and evidence of drug use in the bedrooms. I was virtually hysterical and couldnâ€™t believe my eyes. This was a breaking point for us as a family. My husbandâ€™s response was to write the child off, saying heâ€™ll never come to any good, he wanted nothing more to do with him. I felt a surge of anger against my husband. He was our son, in spite of what heâ€™d done, I couldnâ€™t harden my heart against my own child. I turned to tell him that if he carried on saying those things that would be the end of our relationship. My other two children heard this outburst, and were obviously very upset. They had had enough disturbance in their young lives, the house seemed to be constantly ringing with arguments between us and William.
My husband persuaded me that we needed to align as a family unit, and gather strength from each other, and that is what weâ€™ve done. William was taking up too much of our time and energy, he would come home after being away for days and, like a tom-cat, spray the house with his bad odour and then leave. It wasnâ€™t fair on us a couple, or on our other two children. One thing Iâ€™m pretty sure of, is that neither of them will ever do what William has done. They have seen the pain it has caused. William has now dropped out of school altogether, and is looking for a job. We hope he finds one, and is able to stick to it. His first interview is today. Heâ€™s still smoking a lot of dope, and we are by no means out of the mire yet. But things are more peaceful at home. Heâ€™s realised that the house rules arenâ€™t going to change. Every time he comes back, they are the same. We did think at one time about excluding him from the house forever, the destruction he was causing seemed too much. But we didnâ€™t, and he comes back. William and my husband arenâ€™t speaking much, my husband is still very angry and also feels shame that this has happened in our family. Iâ€™ve told my son that we will always love him unconditionally, that we will be there for him to support him no matter what happens, but the rules at home remain the same. His actions have consequences and he has to realise that.
(c) Debra Bell 2005
- Debra I was very moved by your story, bravely published in the Guardian
- Our story echoes yours so much
- Maria’s Story
- A similar story
- Thanks for sharing your story on tv
- I think you were very brave to publish your story
- Hi This is an update to my previous story about my son Scott
- Sanctioned under the mental health act