Family estrangement and drug addiction can often go hand in hand. These two fathers, who've both experienced dealing with a drug dependent child, reveal the paths they took.
Preview above: One in 25 Aus. adults will be estranged from their family at some point. Insight hears what it’s like to be estranged from a family member. Full ep. for SBS On Demand.
For around seven months David had no communication with his daughter.
The father of three cut ties with her after she relapsed into drug use - a cycle that has been happening for around the past 14 years.
David’s daughter had been living with him at the time of their estrangement. He said he asked her to leave when she broke the rules he’d asked her to follow while she was under his roof.
“It’s absolutely terrible because my daughter is the most beautiful, giving, loving, person but the drug that she’s addicted to has just changed her whole demeanour,” he said, adding that it is crystal methamphetamine, more commonly known as ice, that she is dependent on.
David said during that period of estrangement he was able to “keep tabs on her” through his ex-wife who would keep him updated as to her health and whereabouts.
Their estrangement ended the night David received a call from her saying she was on the streets and needed his help. He picked her up straight away and drove her back to his place where she began to live once more.
“I would never, ever, ever turn my back on her.”
Soon after, the situation deteriorated. David said a third party became involved and violence between David’s daughter and this person escalated. David admits things almost got physical between himself and this person as well.
As a result, David once again asked his daughter to leave his house while the other person remains in her life.
David explained to Insight that he’s also financially and mentally exhausted. The coronavirus pandemic temporarily shut down his hospitality businesses which are yet to properly recover. And he’s mentally drained from the ongoing situation with his daughter.
“I’ve got to get my own life back in order to survive this pandemic so I’m just focusing on my own life at the moment rather than my daughter’s.”
It’s been three months since they’ve spoken.
To cut ties or not?
Knowing what to do when a loved one succumbs to drug addiction is a predicament Family Drug Support Australia chief executive, Tony Trimingham, knows all too well.
Around 22 years ago his son, Damien, told him he was using heroin. At that stage his dependency was costing him around $500 to $600 a day. In the 12 months that followed Damien’s drug admission, Trimingham fought hard to keep his son alive - but he says there was little support available.
“I never thought that drugs like heroin would affect our family.”
“It was a tough time and there was a lack of support and nowhere to go really.”
His son began using heroin at the age of 20, three years later in 1997 he would be found dead of a heroin overdose in a carpark of a Sydney hospital.
“When I’m looking back now ... I would rather have him alive and dependent on heroin then where he is now,” Trimingham said.
“That wouldn’t have been my ultimate goal but I think he had such a strong personality, and he had resilience and I think if we had kept him alive long enough he would have overcome these problems and he would have done something with his life.”
Trimingham went on to create Family Drug Support Australia. Today they take around 30,000 phone calls a year from concerned and struggling families.They also have a support kit available for families to help them navigate the challenges.
Trimingham said he understands that everyone’s situation is different. But his program advocates against estrangement.
Asking them to leave home doesn’t mean you have to cut them off completely, you can still have telephone conversations, you can still meet them from time to time, it’s about keeping the connection going.
Instead Trimingham's program advocates for setting boundaries, and he teaches families different ways to cope and handle conflict.
He said his program doesn’t condone violence and the safety of other family members should be paramount. But he still advocates for communication to occur.
“Asking them to leave home doesn’t mean you have to cut them off completely, you can still have telephone conversations, you can still meet them from time to time, it’s about keeping the connection going.”
As for David, he said that at the moment “it’s just one day at a time”.
“If she rang me tomorrow and said, ‘Dad I’m really ready to give it a go’ I’d take her back tomorrow, I wouldn’t even think about it.
“I do think she can beat this cycle … she’s got love and respect and everyone is there for her.”
Addicted Australia premieres Tuesday 10 November, 8.30pm on SBS and SBS On Demand. The four-part documentary series continues weekly on Tuesdays at 8.30pm and will be available with simplified Chinese and Vietnamese subtitles.
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For more information: sbs.com.au/AddictedAustralia