By Nancy, 2021
How and when did the Caithness Family Support Group start?
Well, I’ve got a son who has drug problems. He’s coming up for 40 and I’ve had problems with him since he was 15. We’ve had good times and bad times. I tried when I was living in Inverness to start up a group, but then I moved to Thurso and got a new job and a new partner, and I just didn’t have enough time to give it the commitment it needed.
I finished up work in October (last year), I was a nurse. I was looking for something to do and a friend sent me a link to a lived experience panel with LEAP. I put my name forward for that. During the first meeting, I said I would love to start-up a family support group in Caithness – because nobody knows how it is unless you live it or have lived it.
One of the ladies in the group who lives in Inverness said we had to talk because she runs a family support group. So, we met, and I’d already printed out leaflets, phoned the local ADP (Alcohol and Drug Partnership) – didn’t get a very warm welcome, but I wasn’t going to give up. I also emailed local counsellors because there is a big drug problem up here. About half of them got back to me, and through the family member from the group I was put in touch with another family member who runs Families Campaign for Change. With all their support, I thought right, I’m just going to go for it. I met another family member in the area and she came on board, and we started the Caithness Family Support Group.
The group hasn’t been the success I wanted it to be due to low numbers attending. There are a few of us that go, but I think part of the problem is we’re in the Highlands, people don’t want to admit they’ve got a problem in their family. From my part, I’m very open about it and always have been – I feel there’s not enough help for people with drug issues, there certainly isn’t for their families, and I’m quite passionate around it. I’m not going to give up.
I’m not quite disappointed but I know how difficult it is for families. I think going back many moons ago, I had to phone one of my son’s friends’ houses to let them know he was in police custody, and I got the father. I explained who I was and why I was phoning, and he blethered for about 20 minutes about how it is and ‘will they ever grow up’. When he finished, he said ‘do you know I feel so much better’ because honestly, speaking to somebody who knows what it’s like makes you feel so much better. I let him know I was always here if he needed to talk. I’ve always had it in the back of my mind that if I can help just one person, I’d be more than happy. And that’s how this started.
A lot of getting people to the group is through word of mouth and that it what’s hard about it – promoting it. I managed to get an article in a local newspaper, and I got a lot of text messages after it from people I know who would say ‘you’re so brave’ and I thought no, really, I’m just honest. Because what my son does is not my doing, I certainly don’t want that for him, but it’s the choices he’s made. But promoting it and getting people along to the group, that’s the hardest thing.
It can be difficult running a support group when you are going through similar problems, how is it for you?
I try to leave my problems at the door but then when we have our group and the other family members are talking, I share with them because then they know that I do know what it’s like. And I think in some ways we all support each other and obviously with Families Campaign for Change we have the meetings each week, it’s a comfort to know that they are there if I need to offload. I’m very open and honest and maybe too open, I don’t know. And I would hope that the other family members that come are…well, it’s not cloak and dagger in any manner of means but I explain to them what is said in here stays here. I remind them they can phone me or text me at any time. If I don’t pick up the text right away, that I always check my phone a couple of times a day and I’ll always get back to them. This will sound silly, but I always feel I can deal with other people’s problems more than I can deal with my own and I’ve got a lot of good friends and they always say to me ‘how do you manage to cope with all that?’ and I say you just get on with it. You can’t bury your head in the sand, this is life.
We always like to ask this question, what does family mean to you?
I would like the family to be one. But because of what’s going on, it isn’t. My son that has the problems realised what he’s missing out on because there’s obviously grandchildren and he hasn’t seen them. But I agree with my other son who says he can’t have his brother in their lives and then out their lives again and again, and I totally appreciate that and agree with that. But I just feel my other son has missed out on so much.
A family is a unit where everyone should support each other in the ideal world, but we’re not in the ideal world and for people that have issues, they don’t realise that their issues hurt so many other people that are part of their own family. Also being part of family support and Families Campaign for Change… they’re like an extended family because they know what it’s like.
How can people get in touch with the Caithness Family Support Group?
We have weekly meetings, so you can phone me and have a chat if you’re wanting to attend the group. We also have a Facebook page if you need information.