Monday, 27 April 2009
The reality of suicide and addiction - A mother's story.
Neil Gracia was your normal - happy go lucky- much loved son who shared a special bond with his mother who he shared some of his inner most secrets with. He was an honest, loving and caring son. Never a great lover of school and got himself into the odd bit of mischief much like other boys his age.
His story is quite unremarkable really a happy enough childhood which was filled with sports activities from golf, football, swimming and most importantly his beloved fishing. Some might say he lived for his fishing, any spare time he had he would be at either a well known fishing spot or one of his many "secret" spots.
He left school at the earliest opportunity, he was 16 years old. He had done some work experience on the States Tug boat which he loved as anything nautical was his passion. He went on to work in fishing tackle shops and eventually took a course in welding at Highlands college.
Neil was anti "hard drug" although had dabbled in a bit of "Puff" believing it was harmless enough and not realising where this "harmless puff" might take him. His mother Jill had no idea that her son was falling foul of the affects that grips most users. Neil was sharing a flat with a "non user" who, realising Neil had become dependent on harder drugs suggested he should bring this to the attention of his mother, who had absolutely no idea how far his dependency had developed.
Which he did by going around to Jill's house and saying "mum I am addicted to Heroin" The feelings and emotions Jill felt at that moment simply can't be put into words but those who have experienced this you will know that feeling, for those that haven't let's hope you never have to.
Mother and son talked very openly about it and Jill assured Neil she would be there to support him in any way she could although her knowledge on drugs and addiction were very limited. Jill will also never forget the day after Neil's revelation where the two of them were walking down a narrow road when a group of people were walking down from the opposite direction. As Neil and Jill were walking side by side they had to seperate to allow the group to pass. Neil's words were " have you done that because you are ashamed of me"? Those words were extremely upsetting to Jill, who replied "I'm not ashamed of you Neil, I'm just very saddened for you".
Going through Jill's mind were thoughts of "how did this ever happen"? "What could have steered Neil down this route"? "Am I to blame"? "Why Neil"? "Why me"? Jill started thinking was it the breakdown of her marriage with Neil's father, did I give Neil enough love, did I give him too much love? There were a million and one questions but no answers.
Neil was attending the Drug and Alcohol service run by the States of Jersey. Jill - being in unknown territory - frantically sought answers from the D & A service. They seemed reluctant to engage with Jill. The very little she did know about drugs and addiction was that the treatment on offer was not a solution but a substitute, but that's for another Blog.
By this time Neil's addiction had become Jill's addiction, in that Jill was addicted to getting Neil the right treatment. Every waking hour was filled with idea's and notions, research and the feeling of "banging my head against a brick wall", desperation and hopelessness. This was compelled by Neil's awareness of his desperate state and his desire to educate young people to the horrors of drug addiction. He would have liked to show photo's of his arms, feet, backside and indeed his whole body that was riddled with abcesses, holes and infections if it would put anybody off turning out like he had.
Neil was offered a Detox at the General Hospital (after months of Jill and Neil fighting tooth and nail to get, including staging a sit in at the D&A office) which consisted of 5 days detoxing in the hospital and put back out on the street again. He alerted the doctor in charge of his detox he didn't feel he was strong enough to cope in the outside world because by this time the only "friends" he had were either dealers or addicts who had become his world, his entire existance.
Unfortunately this fell on deaf ears. All that was open to Neil was a detox and the job of the States of Jersey was done, there was insufficient structures in place to help an addict to cope in the outside world with sobriety.
So as warned, he got his detox and walked straight into the arms of his "friends" and dealers who obviously knew what was best for him! So here he was back to square one again. After collapsing in a car park and spending 5 days in severe pain attending the hospital, on a daily basis telling them the pain he was in was unbearable he wasn't believed, rightly or wrongly, the staff believed he was just after more Morphine or strong painkillers to feed his addiction. It transpired that Neil was in fact suffering with Pancreatitis which eventually hospitalised him for the best part of a week.
Part and parcel of addiction comes the ability to be able to lie and deceive almost professionally so why should doctors and Nurses believe an addict, why should anybody believe an addict? after all they chose to be an addict didn't they? Or did they develop an illness that is still very misunderstood?
At his lowest points Neil had been very close to death several times. Jill had seen him in intensive care, deliberately overdosing to try and escape the chaotic lifestyle from which he could see no escape. He became a completely emaciated, pallid skeleton, a shadow of the young man who had been so proud and particular of his good looks and appearance. Jill had to feed him like a baby to ensure he got some form of nourishment, and bath him like a child to enable him to retain some form of dignity.
During all this time though, and despite his heavy, out of control using, he always retained a sense of morals. If he needed money Jill would give Neil her bank card to draw money from her account, (rightly or wrongly) and if he said he needed £30 that was what he withdrew, never a penny more. Nor did he ever steal from her despite having access to her flat at any time. All Jill wanted was to have Neil 'the son' back, the son she knew was somewhere inside Neil 'the heroin addict', and was determined to do anything to achieve that.
Jill wrote a letter to the JEP (our only "news"paper) highlighting the lack of "real" help in assisting addicts to, and in, recovery i.e rehabilitation. Addicts were being sent to prison with inadequate facilities and just slung out on the streets again.
The JEP contacted Jill asking if they could run her story as an article which she agreed to. This article was read by an expert in addiction therapy and rehab, who contacted Jill with the offer of help and advice. This was a huge relief and a massive weight off Jills shoulders who promptly accepted this kind offer.
Jill was put in contact with a therapist and recovering addict who was very instrumental in setting up a residential rehab facility here in Jersey, the treatment was based on the 12 step programme. This was a huge turning point for Jill and Neil. Mike Delaney was the answer to all their prayers. He listened intently to their story which was so similar to hundreds if not thousands that Mike had heard during his time as an addict and as a counsellor but at the same time made Jill feel their story, issues, dilemma, heartbreak and struggle were of the upmost importance and they, for the first time, felt they were more than just another statistic.
Neil for the first time felt a detox would be worthwhile as there would be something at the end of it, he was going to be given the tools to deal with his demons, understand and recognise his emotions, be shown a way forward by a man who has been in the same dark place and come out the other side. For the first time they were given hope and inspiration. Neil became more than a no hoper, somebody had faith in him besides his mother, somebody had faith in his mother besides him.
Mike admitted Neil into the residential rehab centre where he spent approximately 16 weeks of intense rehabilitation. He was completely free of any drug including prescription drugs for the first time in his adult life. He embraced the 12 step programme, although it was a very "sobering" and uncomfortable wake up call but necessary if he was to achieve his ultimate goal to live a drug free and productive life.
Jill very quickly noticed the difference in Neil, he was starting to look like and act like the son she thought she had lost to heroin and addiction. Although the intensive programme Neil was on, was not plain sailing he had his own doubts in places as did Jill. Jill dare not allow herself to believe unquestionably that life was now going to be a bed of roses, she had allowed herself to think that in the past, only to be knocked back down again.
During his time in rehab Neil had built some genuine relationships and amassed a wealth of true "friends" not only fellow recovering addicts but people from all walks of life, including friends who had shunned him during his using days. Jill gradually was allowing herself to "let go" of her addiction (Neil's addiction) knowing Neil had a good support network around him and she was able to relax, just a little bit for the first time, in a long time.
Everything in the garden was rosy, Neil was clean, the son had returned for Jill. Neil was accepted into Highlands College and enrolled in a number of courses with the ultimate aim to go to university and study Marine Biology. He was leading a productive and honest life which was filled with all of his favourite things, fishing, welding, socialising, studying, and most of all a proper mother and son relationship.
Things weren't to stay rosy for too long. The 12 step programme has certain guidelines, or recommendations, they suggest you follow. Things were going that well for Neil he felt he had the strength to cut a few corners, not to do all "the suggested things" one of them being not to get involved in a relationship.
True to form Neil threw himself wholeheartedly into a relationship. Addicts by nature tend to throw themselves into anything they do 100% it's all or nothing. Again things were going well in this relationship but this too was not to last. The relationship started, for whatever reason, to hit rocky grounds. Was this relationship Neil's new addiction? How was he going to cope with all these new emotions that had been numbed for years by heroin? Sadly it appeared he couldn't.
Jill believes a couple of weeks before "that tragic day" Neil had come to believe he couldn't cope with life on life's terms. He had taken the decision to turn back to his "old friend" heroin. This decision could not have been taken lightly. It is Jill's belief the day he picked that drug up he knew this would be the end.
Although for those couple of weeks Neil had started using again he managed to keep it hidden from Jill. Although he was still in regular contact, by phone, with Jill as he knew if he wasn't in regular contact with Jill she would worry. It was almost as though Neil was comfortable with the decision he had made, to end it all. For the first time ever Jill could not sense anything in Neil's voice that might be troubling him.
Unusually Neil had not answered Jill's phone calls on the Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. After Jill frantically phoning around others she learnt Neil had "picked up" again. I asked Jill how she felt when she learnt Neil was using again. She simply didn't have the words, these feelings and emotions might not even have a name but will only ever be recognised by those who have experienced them.
That fateful Tuesday the 31st of March 2004 Jill was still busy phoning anybody and everybody who might be able to give her some kind of info on Neil, where was he, how was he, had anybody heard from him? Nobody could answer any of the questions. Jill phoned the mother of one of Neil's friends in the afternoon who phoned her son (Neil's friend) and asked him to go round to Neil's flat to check on him. Another friend was able to do this and every parents nightmare had become realised by Jill.
The son she had loved and cherished, the son she had witnessed take his first steps, the son she had left toothfairy money for under his pillow, the son who came home with his first school photo and school report, the son she watched grow from a baby to a teenager, from a teenager into a man. This is not supposed to happen, parents are not supposed to bury children, it was literally incomprehensible. How could this have ever happened why, why, why, did this happen? These and many, many more questions haunt Jill to this day, knowing she will never have them answered.
Some questions have been answered in Neil's "suicide note" which further evidenced the fact he was in control of what he was doing, had planned it and was determined in going through with it. Jill, knowing Neil as she did (does), believes he saw no other alternative than to end his life. He felt he had let down all those who had helped him and been there for him and would have felt it too much to cope with the consequences of his "picking up" again.
Neil has been gone for more than 5 years now and there is barely a single minute in the day where he is not in Jill's thoughts and there is not one single minute he is not in her heart. She sleeps with the pillow case Neil's head was resting on in his last minutes in this life, she can still smell and feel him and his presence.
Jill is hoping by publishing this Blog others might gain just a little understanding of addiction (no matter what form it takes) it kills people. It has no social barriers, it knows no boundaries. Jill believes it is an illness that she has first hand knowledge of. It is the only illness that tells you, you haven't got it.
Jill has met some wonderful people on this journey, people she will never forget, people who understand and people who have been there, for Neil and her for this she will be forever grateful. Mike Delaney, Alberto, Liz Cutland and all Neil's friends who supported both Neil and Jill through all of this.
Neil Gracia 01/02/1978 - 31/03/2004 R.I.P
Alcoholics Anonymous Jersey 01534 - 726681
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Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide 0800 735 1017