Pubdate: Sat, 12 Feb 2000
Source: Irish Times (Ireland)
Copyright: 2000 The Irish Times
Contact:  Letters to Editor, The Irish Times, 11-15 D'Olier St, Dublin 2,
Fax: + 353 1 671 9407
Author: Kitty Holland


How should you react when someone you love is destroying themselves? Was
Sinead O'Connor right to report Shane McGowan to the police? Kitty Holland

'I love him to bits but in the end I had to put that somewhere else. In the
end, we knew we could do no more for him. That's when we threw him out,"
recalls Susan Keegan. With her husband Phillip, she tried everything she
knew to help their son, Phillip (24), a heroin addict since he was about
18. Six years into his addiction - now to methadone - the Dublin couple sit
in a city-centre hotel sipping milky tea remembering the details, the
running order, of watching an addiction destroy someone they love.

They recount finding Phillip "cooking up" a deal in the family kitchen,
attempts at home detox, paying drug debts, buying back jewellery he had
sold to the pawnshop, trips to back-street GPs to buy methadone. ... the
lies, the deceit, the shame, the hurt, the damage, the rows.

"Oh, the rows we had," says Phillip, shaking his head. "I was the
heavy-handed father and," he smiles over at Susan, "he always knew he could
get round his mammy. It drove a huge wedge between us and it was a long
time before we came together against his addiction."

When they finally threw their son out Susan felt she had utterly betrayed
him. "I was never in that house while he was out. My mind was out there
with him. I had his funeral played out every time the phone rang.

"Each time [they threw him out several times] I thought he'd come back
reformed, knowing he had to get better. But he'd have lost weight, his
clothes would be a mess and I'd feel I had to take him back. And of course
within a few days it'd be back to where we started." In the past two years
the couple have "toughened up", have come together through support groups
and have, in Susan's words, emotionally "distanced" themselves from the

"We had to take the power back," she says.

Taking the power back, showing "tough love" is perhaps what Sinead O'Connor
felt she was doing when she reported fellow singer Shane McGowan to the
London police last month for possession of heroin. She did it "out of
concern for his life", she told Q magazine. She said she hoped it might
force him to seek treatment.

It can work. Sean (not his real name) had been using heroin for a number of
years when he was finally "busted" by the Gardai 12 years ago. A young and
successful professional, he did not see his drug use as problematic. What
he did see as problematic, and what forced him eventually to tell his
mother, was an impending court appearance.

"Luckily, she came down on me like a ton of bricks," he says. "She insisted
I get treatment and to get her off my back I agreed. This doctor
recommended I get in touch with NA [Narcotics Anonymous], and I have been
clean since."

Sean, however, qualifies the good that came of his moment of crisis.
"People react in different ways. If it had happened six months earlier or
six months later I could have told my mother to get lost and ended up in
prison resenting her, or six foot under."

He also points out that a comfortable middle-class life was at stake. "It
was a shock to the system. I had a life to lose."

Indeed, according to Ms Maura Russell, director of the Rutland Centre, an
addiction treatment centre in Dublin, drastic action by an individual such
as reporting an addict to the police or throwing them out of the family
home in the hope the addict will "wake up" is often the precursor only to a
sense of betrayal for the addict and further hurt and disappointment for
the loving onlooker.

"We would encourage as many people who love the person to come together, in
a context of love and concern rather than anger and frustration, and
present the impact of the situation on them [the loved ones]."

The term "tough love" need not mean belligerent confrontation, she says. It
means showing an honest interest in one's own welfare as well as that of
the addict.

"Each individual may have to take steps to protect themselves," she says.
"A partner might have to say, `If your behaviour doesn't change it may come
to me having to leave this relationship'. Or a child might say, `I'm just
going to ignore you', and use these as leverage."

While agreeing that these are difficult steps for someone who is
emotionally involved, she says those who love him or her must remember
there is no reasoning with an addict. "An addict rarely knows they are
addicted and if they do, they may deny any insight they have. An addict
will meet reason with more reason. The best one can do is try to tip the
balance with as many people as possible setting reality before them."

She advises people never to threaten anything they can't follow through on.

"Think through your actions. You will have to live with the consequences."
And if you don't follow them through, the addict will see you as easily
manipulated, she adds.

Ms Russell does not agree that an addict must reach "rock bottom" before
they can lift themselves out of addiction.

"More people are coming in for treatment earlier through effective
intervention," she says.

Phillip is living at home again, addicted to methadone and tranquilisers.

"I'd walk to the ends of the earth for him," nods Susan. "Sometimes I want
to hug him so much and I have to sit on my hands to stop myself. We have to
stay strong because the only help we can give him now is to show him he's
not hurting us any more."

Narcotics Anonymous: (01) 830 0944 Rutland Centre: (01) 494 6358 Details of
family support meetings around Dublin from Citywide: (01) 836 5090.
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