Annemarie is the magazines editor and regular columnist for the Bay of Plenty Times.

Growing up with a mother who is a P-addict

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Zara remembers the day she felt both hatred and pity for her mum.

Her mother had been sent to prison and Zara was cleaning the family home, preparing it for sale.

The full extent of her mother's 12-year methamphetamine addition was revealed.

"In her bedroom there were needles everywhere, hidden under the carpet, in lampshades. It was proof she was lying all along. I hated her at that point, but sad for her too. I remember sinking to the floor and crying for two hours in her bedroom, thinking - why me, why do I have to deal with all this. I felt angry, sad and confused ... I felt like I had to be the rock for everyone."

Zara is the daughter of Haydee Richards, 45, who earlier this month revealed her long struggle with P addiction which began when she was 27 - and Zara was just 11 and her brother Troy just 7.

Haydee's battle ended 12 years later when Haydee was imprisoned on drugs charges and was able to access the Auckland rehab centre, Higher Ground.

Zara says her mother would be dead if she hadn't attended rehab in Auckland, and is renewing calls for a residential rehabilitation centre in the Bay.

"Even though mum is clean now for five years, the meth scene is so bad here I worry about my own kids growing up. There definitely needs to be more help here for addicts and their families," said Zara , 27 year old mum-of-two from Pyes Pa.

Zara watched her mother descend into the grip of meth addiction that was so strong, Zara thought her mother would die,

"In the end I was scared to go around to her house. I didn't know what I would find - she could either be manically doing DIY, tiling or digging up the garden, or she could be slumped in bed, not wanting to talk to me. I honestly thought that she would end up dead - either from an overdose, or she would be murdered, or commit suicide. She was in so deep."

Growing up, Zara said she was often the parent. From a very young age she used to take care of her younger brother Troy and turn the stereo down during parties.

She didn't invite friends round as she worried they would be "scared" of the "drunk" people in the house who she would often find in the mornings on the couch or floor.

"I was unable to sleep until I heard mum have a shower, because that is when I knew she was going to bed ... safe."

I honestly thought that she would end up dead - either from an overdose, or she would be murdered, or commit suicide. She was in so deep.
Zara

Troy, now 23, a builder in Tauranga, said that he remembers his sister Zara, not his mother, doing things for him, like getting him up for school and making his lunches.

At 13, Zara learned her mother was taking P when she read Haydee's diary which recorded how she had to inject meth into her toes as the veins in her arms couldn't cope,

"I had no idea that my mum was taking drugs, not only that but needles ... I was disgusted."

It was a secret Zara tried to hide from her brother "to protect him".

When Haydee began a relationship with a gang member, which lasted seven years, Zara remembers that as a more stable time, despite the house often being full of patched members.

"They were always kind to us. I remember it as a happy time as mum was the happiest, and he looked after us."

Zara had "lots of freedom" as a teenager but remembers wishing that her mother would be stricter with her,

"People at school knew mum was with a gang member, and I think some parents didn't let their kids come round. I envied them that their parents were strict, that they sat around the table for dinner, just normal family things."

Zara said she never saw her mum, or anyone do drugs in front of her.

"I had no experience of drugs, to this day I haven't even seen meth. I don't even know what it looks like. Looking back there were signs, like I remember she would stay up for ages. She would have these big DIY projects like she was obsessed by them. Her eyes would look funny, widening and shrinking as she looked at her phone. She would ask the same questions over and over. She was always thin ... but it wasn't like she didn't take care of herself ... she always looked good."

She didn't know that Haydee was hiding a 3-grammes-a-day meth addiction and was still injecting several times a day in her bedroom. It was only when her mum's relationship was over that Zara suspected something again.

"I had borrowed a jersey from mum and when I put my hands in the pocket discovered a needle, I rang her up crying

"She had some excuse like it was her friend's insulin ... who had diabetes. Deep down I didn't believe her, but I wanted to, as she was my mum."

At 16 Zara was working full time and moved in with her boyfriend and Haydee would ask her for money for food or gas.

"In the end I didn't give it to her, as she would end up spending it on P or on the pokies, even though I would look in the pantry and there would be no food ... I felt stink."

I had borrowed a jersey from mum and when I put my hands in the pocket discovered a needle.
Zara

With his sister Zara gone, Troy said he "pretty much fended for myself". Once he found a glass pipe in the mailbox but his mother said it wasn't hers.

"I didn't like the people coming to the house ... I saw things that I don't think a kid should see. Sometimes mum would be up for days, then other times she would lay in bed for days and I had to shout at her to get up, to get us some food."

Once he found his mother loading a gun,

"Someone had ripped her off. I didn't want mum get hurt so I went round to the person's house to try and get the money myself," he said.

When the house got raided Zara felt anger towards her mother as her younger brother was living there.

"I had grown up trying to protect him, and it was awful for him, being there."

Troy said he remembers the police storming into his bedroom and shining a torch in his eyes.

"Then they took away mum, and I was left alone. I didn't know what was going to happen," he said.

When Haydee was sent to prison Zara burst into tears in court. She was just 21 and left to care for her 17-year-old brother and sort all her mother's debts and finances. Despite the shock she felt relief.

"I felt like a weight off my shoulders that I didn't have to worry about her anymore."

Worse was to come when Zara had to clean up and sell the house, and she discovered the full extent of her mother's addition.

"In her bedroom there were needles everywhere, hidden under the carpet, in lampshades.
It was proof she was lying all along. I hated her at that point, but sad for her too. I remember sinking to the floor and crying for two hours in her bedroom, thinking - why me, why do I have to deal with all this. I felt angry, sad and confused ... I felt like I had to be the rock for everyone."

Having to sort out all her mother's financial affairs, including drug debts, and selling the house before the bank took it, took its toll on the 21 year old, her own weight dropped to 42kg and she got a stomach ulcer from stress.

When her mother was in prison Zara wrote her a long letter detailing the impact that the drug use had had on her, saying that if she ever returned to using meth Zara would have nothing more to do with her. When Haydee went to the Higher Ground rehab centre Zara wrote another five-page letter, at the end writing:

"Everything I have been through because of what you did hurt me ... but it taught me a hell of a lot about life and I have to say made me a better person. I have moved on and I have forgiven you. I feel really good about everything now that I made every effort to help you. I will always love and support you as you are my mother. I want you to be a big part of mine and my children's life, love you always."

Troy said he was "pretty angry" with his mother and "is still dealing with it".

"I think I am okay with it, but then I remember how it was as a kid, and then I don't feel okay about it."

In prison Troy wrote a letter to his mother that was covered in teardrops, Haydee said.

Now married with two children of her own, mother and daughter have a close relationship and Zara is happy to have Haydee as part of her own children's lives. Zara says she does not blame her mother,

"I now know that addiction is an illness, it was like she was really, really sick but had no help. None of us did. There was nowhere for her or me to go for help. I really think we need something here in the Bay like Higher Ground that helps not only addicts but their families. If it hadn't been for them, she wouldn't be here today and my children would have no nanny, and I would have lost my mother forever. I don't want other people lost."

Haydee's response:

"I know I hurt both my children badly. I cannot take that away or make it different because it happened. I have to own it.

"It was only through going into rehab that I could understand about the nature of addiction, it robs you of control, of choice. I know it must seem hard for people to understand a person could behave like that with their own children and I do not make excuses, I was an addict, I lost control. The meth addiction took over me and my only focus was feeding this addiction. Not that it was all fun, there were times I wanted to die.

"I am one of the lucky ones, to get off it, stay clean but most of all to be able to have a family who is still there for me. Meth ruins people's lives, it ruins families, it takes parents away from children and children away from their parents. It is not enough to say 'oh it was her choice, she could stop taking it' - once you are on it, it has you in its grip and won't let you go.

"Higher Ground is one of the few places in the North Island offering residential care and therapy for long-term addicts like me. I have no doubt that if I hadn't gone there I would be dead and my children would have lost me forever.

"My hope is that more people in the Bay can access something similar here in the future. It would literally save lives."

Her comments come after another former drug addict, Stephen King, announced he was hoping to open a rehab centre in the Bay to cope with the region's meth "pandemic".

Stephen King, who runs a drug and alcohol rehabilitation recovery house service in Waikato, is pitching to bring a similar service to the Bay of Plenty.

Mr King, 62, is founder and director of Alcohol and Drug Community Support Trust Hamilton, which helps the transition and re-integration of former addicts back into independent living. It also helps people awaiting admission to residential centres or considering entering recovery prepare before undergoing full rehabilitation.

More residential services were needed in the Bay and elsewhere but believed any new ones were at least a year away, if not more, he said.

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