I lost my children because of drugs
Ex-addict and author, Melinda Ferguson, talks to Parent24 about drugs and what to tell kids.
How old were you when you first tried an addictive substance?
I was about 10 when I raided my mother’s liquor cabinet and pretty much from then on, I began an addiction to alcohol. By high school I was drinking almost daily, even taking alcohol to school sometimes and drinking at break. I also began smoking cigarettes at about the age of 15, dagga would come into the picture in my last year of high school. I was about 27 when I had my first hit of heroin and crack. That really was the beginning of the end.
How many kids do you have and how old are they?
I have 2 wonderful sons, my youngest is turning 12 soon and the oldest is 13, so they are quite a handful! Adolescence yikes! But all in all a great learning curve!
Has your drug addiction and recovery affected your parenting of them (negatively or positively), now or in the past?
It’s no secret that I had my sons when I was addicted to heroin and crack. In my first book, Smacked, I write at length about this time in our lives - my husband was an addict as well. As a result of our addiction the boys were taken away from us by my mother- in-law. My baby was 7 months and my oldest son, 2. My husband went to rehab and I went mad, simple as that!
It was mid 1999 and I went into a terrifyingly dark space. After they were removed, I moved to Hillbrow, losing everything, getting gang raped, taking more and more drugs. The darkness was endless.
When I got clean after landing up on a homeless farm, in September 1999, I hadn’t seen the boys for about 6 months - my baby didn’t recognise me. That ripped my heart apart. But I knew everything had been destroyed by me and my addiction. There were times when it seemed nothing would ever get better.
But as I stayed clean and sober, slowly my life began to take on a semblance of order; soon I was seeing the boys and we were slowly reunited. Their father and I got divorced, addiction had destroyed our relationship, but today we are pretty healthy as a unit. We share the boys, he is a great dad having stayed clean since ’99. As a totally drug and alcohol-free family, ironically today we are probably 2 of the healthiest parents around!
What do and will you tell them about their choices around drugs and alcohol?
I have been honest with the boys from Day 1. They know we had to separate as a unit because we were addicts and drugs were going to kill us and possibly them. They know I lost them for a while because of my addiction. It appears that honesty has paid off as they are amazingly well rounded and stable kids. They are sensibly anti-drugs because I think they see what damage it caused us.
They don’t see us smoking, drinking or drugging and so they are not being given mixed messages. Many parents get trashed and then tell their kids not to drink or drug. Hypocrisy will get you nowhere! They don’t trust double standards. Children know what is true and real - they know when we lie to them. As a result of us not lying to them, they don’t lie to us.
Do we do enough to teach kids about the potential dangers of drug experimentation?
I don’t think we talk enough to our kids. We are often not present; we’re too busy working and doing things to really sit down and listen and talk. The TV has become the surrogate parent. I think kids in crisis turn to drugs…If we loved more, the lectures on drugs would have to happen less…I think it’s almost too late to start telling kids about drugs if they are already doing them.
Ideally the conversation needs to start from a very young age. We must not hide the truth. Children should be shown what drugs and alcohol look like and what they do to people as part of the ongoing conversation.
Parents need to stop being ignorant and educate themselves. It is not good enough to say: “I don’t know what drugs look like or what my child is doing.”
Anything else you would want parents to know?
Love and listening goes a long way. Your child stands a much better chance at surviving the drug onslaught if they love themselves and feel you love them.
Melinda Ferguson is the author of Smacked (Penguin) and Hooked: Secrets and Highs of a Sober Addict (Penguin), an inspirational speaker and the Features Editor at True Love magazine.
Hooked: Secrets and Highs of a Sober Addict