Get Real, Mum, Everybody Smokes Cannabis – Maggie Swann
How cannabis claimed my teenage son
and the fight to get him back
“Honest, insightful, a bit gob-smacking.” – Jimmy Moncur
Get Real, Mum, Everybody Smokes Cannabis is a harrowing journey taken by a mother after her son is arrested for possession of cannabis with intent to supply.
It highlights the effects the drug has had on her family, from the extreme paranoia and suicidal thoughts experienced by her son to the raging aggression, violence and tension that goes with the territory.
It documents the police activity, the actions of the court and the trauma of getting her son’s case heard reasonably, so the actions of his stupidity didn’t ruin his future forever.
Advised by her son’s counsellor, who is helping with the campaign for fair justice for substance users, Maggie initially wrote down her thoughts as a means of coping with the stress of the situation, as she was thrown from blissful ignorance into the turgid world of drugs and gang violence. The subsequent struggle to control the volatile domestic situation while protecting her son from the prejudices inherent in society moulded her diary ramblings into a book.
Get Real, Mum, Everybody Smokes Cannabis is a true story, written to bring the issue of teenage social drug use out into the open. Maggie’s son had been a heavy user for years but, although she was an intelligent, professional woman, the extensive substance abuse went unnoticed. Horrified by her ignorance of the subject and the knowledge that the issue of drug abuse among schoolchildren is at record heights, Maggie wrote the book as the story unfolded.
This is no easy read; it tells it as it is and is essential reading for all parents and grandparents of young children and teenagers, so they can stay one step ahead in the fight against recreational drugs. The violence and mental torture that families of drug abusers have to suffer is not openly spoken about, yet it is estimated that thousands of families are affected in the UK alone.
Hopefully the book will get people talking about the horrific damage that cannabis is causing to the youth of today. It isn’t a harmless weed; far from it. Cannabis is a dangerous, mood-changing drug that’s responsible for family break ups, mental illness, crime, suicide and death.
“A well written, heartfelt book… Maggie shares her emotional exhaustion as she tries to deal with the continually draining situation including her son’s arrest and the continual repercussions of his use.” – Catherine Taughinbaugh
About the Author
Maggie Swann is a Mancunian mother, who began writing as a means of coping with the extreme pressures of dealing with her teenage son and his recreational drug use. Being personally adverse to drugs, and naively having thought she’d relayed those values to her family, Maggie was thrown into an alien life with all the associated dangers, criminality and destructive mental health issues.
Maggie initially chose to write Get real mum, everybody smokes cannabis to make sense of her personal situation, so she wrote the book as the story unfolded, more often than not in the very early hours when there was peace in the house. At the time she didn’t know how the story would end; whether her son would manage to put drugs behind him and move on to a better life, or whether he would die, another victim of the drug culture of the young. She endured a rollercoaster of raw emotions and hopes that by telling her story, more parents will be aware of drug dangers before they take a hold of their child’s life.
Since writing the book, Maggie’s life has transformed. From living in a bubble knowing nothing about drugs, she now works within the recovery community to raise awareness of the plight of addicts but more importantly, the possibility of recovery.
“When drug use begins to affect our lives, as parents, we don’t say anything, because we know that people will judge us, as well as our children. Ignorance breeds ignorance and unless the problem is talked about it will fester and grow.” – Maggie Swann
The weeks following the arrest were extremely difficult as we came to terms with the two people living inside my son’s body. The person we knew best was still the dominant force, but the intruder was slowly but surely gaining ground. The real Nathan was still caring and, get him on a good day, would help with jobs and join in household conversations. The other chap was just plain obnoxious; evil and cunning; devious and dishonest. He’d lie without guilt, he’d yell without shame and he’d abuse without feeling.
One autumn day, after the usual early morning wake-up fracas, which was necessary to prise Nathan from his bed, I’d gone off to work leaving him to get ready for university. As promised I sent a text message at 8am, ‘Are you up? x’, and received the reply, ‘Am now x.’ A kiss on the end of the texts signalled that everything was OK.
This university day was more important than most, as the weekend before it had been touch and go as to whether he would continue with the course. He’d become so depressed with the idea of standing up doing presentations in front of the group that everything had spiralled out of proportion and he was seriously considering packing in the course and maybe, as there was no future for somebody who couldn’t talk, packing in his life.
It is extremely difficult for a mother to sit and listen to her son utter words of absolute despair, with a grey emotionless face that holds no hope for the future. I couldn’t comprehend how he could feel so low, yet when I added up the worry, guilt, shame and embarrassment he was carrying about with him, I could understand that in his young head anyway, the feelings were an honest review of what he thought of his life.
Although I really wanted him to continue with his studies, I could see and sense the anguish that it was causing my son. If I was honest, I wanted him to continue with the course as it would be a massive tick in his favour for the forthcoming legal case against him. If he was seen to be on a degree course, it would surely elevate him above the scum he would otherwise be labelled alongside. Dropping out would also be a massive waste of his talents. Over the past two years I’d witnessed my son’s decline from a school star who gained 11 GCSEs (mostly at A or A* grade) without trying to a dropout who just scraped through his A levels. I knew he could manage this course and had a lot to offer, but he had to get back on track and believe in himself and a future that would be worth staying around for.
I had to balance that wish against the look on my son’s face when the course was mentioned, the constant battle to make sure he turned up to class and the ongoing war to make sure he completed some work and gave it in on time. Although the course only expected two days’ attendance, it required major effort on his part and nerves of steel from myself and his father, who were on tenterhooks constantly.
I held back the urge to text again, just to make sure it wasn’t one of his usual ‘fob off’ texts sent just to get me off his case. I was getting so used to those that I just didn’t believe them any more. The number of times I’d received texts from his room, telling me the progressive stages of his awakening, only to find him still lying in his drowsy state under the duvet when I went to say my final goodbye before going to work.
That day, I was determined to step back and try to trust him. I watched the clock hands move minute by minute; past the usual ‘final warning’ to get out of his pit; past the ‘leave now or you won’t get to your mates on time’ stage, until it got to the absolute final deadline which just gave enough time to get to the university centre, driving legally. I couldn’t stop myself ringing the house phone, knowing that if it was answered, he’d be late or he’d lied and had no intention of going.
I pushed the numbers on the handset and waited for the ring. Once, twice, three times – it was looking hopeful, four, five.
‘Yes, hello,’ said Nathan.
‘Oh, why?’ I blurted; I was furious!
‘I’m going, I was just putting the key in the door but I had to come back, to answer the fucking phone, you bitch!’
The slam of my work phone silenced the open plan office immediately, as I tried to regain my composure and pretend nothing was wrong. I knew I’d lit the touch paper.
Mid-morning I got a text from Nathan. ‘If I get to your work, could I borrow some money for lunch? x’. It was as if nothing had happened; he was a different person.
‘Of course, text when you’re outside x’, I replied.
Ten minutes later I got the text, so I popped out to the car park to slip him a tenner.
‘I only just got here ’cause I’ve got no petrol,’ Nathan explained,
‘What have we said about keeping the level topped up? It will drive badly if it’s running on dregs. Come on, take me to ASDA and I’ll pay if you put some petrol in.’
We kangarooed up the road and just about made it to the pump, so the car could be refuelled.
‘Fucking heap of shit!’ said Nathan.
‘Hey, no cars go without petrol. If you run on dirty sludge, the car will drive like a clapped-out old banger. Just put some petrol in. Put £20 in, that should last a few days.’
I gave him my debit card and told him the PIN. Luckily it was a self-service bay without a manned kiosk; the mood he was in, it would have been a major ordeal to bring another person into the equation, whatever their role.
‘Pile of fuckin’ shit, this is. It’s a fuckin’ embarrassment. It’s a piss-take.’
‘Nathan, just stop it. It’s fine now. What’s the problem?’
‘Shut up, you bitch!’
‘What? I’ve just given you a tenner and put £20 in your tank. What are you saying that for? This is ridiculous; just take me back to work, please, and get back to uni.’
Nathan revved up the engine and speeded down the road. The veins on the side of his head were raised and his eyes looked glazed. His skin was white as a sheet and pallid, not like the healthy glow he usually had. Suddenly he looked dingy, dirty and menacing.
‘I didn’t ask to be here, you bitch. I’d rather be dead. You and Dad are both the same. I hate both of you.’ He was driving too fast and far too close to the car in front.
‘Just pull up please, you’ll get stopped. You’re on bail, remember, they’ll wipe the floor with you.’
‘You think I give a shit about that? You really think I care? You sad pathetic cow!’
As the traffic came to a halt at the lights, I could sense the tension brewing in Nathan. He was like a madman and I wasn’t sure what he’d do next. I couldn’t risk it, so I seized my chance, grabbed the door handle and jumped out of the car. I crossed the road as quick as I could and walked speedily down the road, not looking back. I didn’t want to see the evil crazed look on the face of my son, or ignite an explosion of verbal abuse in the street.
Back at work, as I walked through the front door of the factory building, I had to regain my composure and put on the fake face I’d been used to wearing. I knew the odd person knew what Nathan had done, after reading it in the local press, and no doubt behind my back they had a good gossip. However, I also knew that very few if any would ask me face to face. If I was grateful for one piece of advice given by my retiring predecessor as I accepted the management role, it was ‘keep your distance and remain detached’. I’d done it for the last 17 years and it was about to pay dividends.
“Cannabis destroyed me from the day I started taking it. Not only was it my gateway to a life that was to be fuelled by getting high but it was the drug that changed me from a polite, loving if a little wayward 14-year-old into a uncontrollable monster.
I couldn’t understand my family’s ignorance, as I saw it, to the facts about weed – it’s harmless, everybody does it – and therefore I could not connect with the damage I was doing to them emotionally.
That someone has chosen to share her story, from a parent’s point of view, about what it is like living with a ‘me’, is a gift to society that should be welcomed with open arms.
I pray this book is nothing more than a voyeuristic read for you, but if it becomes a reality in your life or already is today then now you know you’re not alone, and it is OK to talk.” – Dominic Ruffy, Programme Manager, Drug and Alcohol Awareness The Amy Winehouse Foundation