Sunday, February 3, 2013

Leaving a legacy

There has been an outpouring of emotion in the wake of Sir Paul Holmes' death, much of which has centred on his outstanding broadcasting career. The Herald on Sunday though has reprised a column from Holmes from a couple of years ago on methamphetamine, and what it did to his daughter. Here it is, in full and unedited:

Not the best week, but we were ready for it at least. My daughter faced it bravely and the outcome could have been a lot worse. I find it hard to write about the evils of pure methamphetamine, because of the heartbreak it has caused us all. And I have a dilemma.
Every time I mention meth, as I have vowed to do because I feel an obligation to play a part in the struggle against it, you will form a picture in your mind of my daughter.
She is not a circus, yet every time I mention the drug you will be reminded of her mistakes. But meth must be spoken of because it is a pernicious, insidious invader of the soul.
It is insanely powerful. The men who make it are sending our children mad. There might be hundreds of addicts in New Zealand but its victims number in the thousands. It is everywhere, and it seems everyone I meet has a meth story.
Here is some of what we know about methamphetamine. It is the most addictive drug any generation has had to deal with. Mike Sabin, the ex-cop whose company educates people about meth, says those who make it and distribute it are waging biological warfare against our community.
He quotes Dr Alex Stalcup from California's New Leaf Treatment Centre, who says he has never encountered a drug that can take over the lives of eight or nine people out of every 10 who take it. In the United States the average purity of meth is 30 per cent. In New Zealand it is 60 per cent. The greater the purity, the more likely addiction will occur.
Sabin says despite restrictions on the sale of pseudoephedrine, the purity of meth has increased. At our ports there are still daily seizures of Chinese-manufactured versions of the pills.
In the US, 1g of meth sells for about $90. In New Zealand it will fetch between $600 and $1000, Sabin says, which is why the international boys are attracted to the New Zealand market.
If you use pure meth regularly, in five years you are either sobered up, locked up or covered up, he says.
Methamphetamine makes people feel marvellous, invincible, 10-feet tall and bullet-proof, which is why it preys so easily on the young and vulnerable.
P is thought to make you feel up to 12 times better. An addict going off the drug feels bad by the same factor. The craving for pure meth is akin to someone going without fluid for three days, and our wanting the addict not to use is like wanting that thirsty person to refuse a glass of water, says Sabin.
It is incredibly hard to get off this drug. Recovery rates are low. Meth keeps you up - literally. Users lose all rationality from staying awake for days or weeks. They become paranoid and compulsive and secretive. They can lie like railway sleepers and all trust is destroyed in the people who love them. Mood swings are extreme and sometimes terrifying. Tempers can be awful, with screaming and shouting and the slamming of doors.
The behaviour caused by meth addiction creeps up on a family until one day they realise they are living in an abusive home.
Some people call meth the Great Deceiver because the user thinks the drug is marvellous, but it is out to destroy their mind. I call it the drug of invisibility. The eyes don't go red, the person doesn't become mellow and vague, you cannot smell it on clothing or in a room. You cannot tell if someone is using meth until it is too late, until a life is spiralling out of control. If the user is a teenager you might write it off as the tempestuous behaviour of adolescence.
Despite all the evidence in front of you, you choose not to believe what is happening. We are like that, parents. We don't bring kids up for this. We cannot bear to believe this. At least, that is how I was. Things had been difficult for a long time, really, but we started to get bad feelings towards the middle of last year. Things were getting weird.
I was powerless. The mysterious absences got longer. The people coming to the house were wrong. Things disappeared and were stolen. Doors were slamming shut in more ways than one.
The call from the police came on a Sunday in June, and the phone fell out of my hand. I called Millie's mother. TV3 called an hour later. I felt nothing but sadness and fear for my girl, and we dreaded the storm that was about to hit.
We switched on the TV at 6pm for the news, with the sound muted because I thought it would come about 10 minutes in. But there, right at the top, was the reporter - under lights, all lit up, outside the Auckland City police station telling the world my daughter was being held, facing serious drugs charges.
I stood reeling quietly in the kitchen. My daughter, our clever, kind and witty girl, was on her own in a police cell in God knows what state. My friend Paul said, "At least you know she's safe tonight". And that, in a sad, simple way, was true.
Suddenly, an immediate problem: where to place her after bail next morning? Where to keep her safe, somewhere secure, somewhere she could be kept under guard and away from the low people she had come to know? It was Sunday night and we knew nothing of detox facilities.
In the end, Deborah's sister Janine, at home during the day with her toddler, agreed to take Millie and there she stayed for six weeks - sleeping through days and nights, sleeping and eating, sleeping and eating, until she was well enough to go willingly to rehabilitation, which she did.
Thank goodness we did not need to seek help from the public system. Can you believe this? With meth running riot, there are only 16 secure detoxification beds in Auckland. To get in you have to be assessed. There is a waiting list, of course. If you are an addict in trouble, you wait in jail.
Michelle Kidd, a Methodist missionary - a kind, wise and dedicated woman I met at the Auckland District Court - speaks passionately about the need for secure 24-bed detoxification centres around Auckland. She wants them to be medical as well, because people with rampant addictions are likely to have long-standing mental vulnerabilities.
She speaks of the growing crisis of P addicts with nowhere to go. We were lucky: we had family. And we were lucky that we could afford the residential rehab. It is not cheap. But while we can write the cheques for that, we also face unique pressures.
I found out this week that Woman's Day magazine was in a bidding war for my daughter's story, and was offering her $20,000. I was appalled. That money would be a terrible temptation. I rang Sarah Henry, the editor, and told her that if payment occurred I would hold her personally responsible for how Millie spent it.
The Woman's Day offer was heartless, brainless and irresponsible. I have taken money from women's magazines on special occasions over the years. But I was not profiting from criminal offending. Perhaps I set a bad example, but a dad can blame himself for everything and it gets you nowhere.
I will tell you about the worst day, when we bundled a terribly thin, unkempt, irrational and angry Millie into my brother's car outside the court. My brother and I were stunned by her state and our minds flashed back through the years.
Long ago, my father brought home a man with whom he served at war for a long time, a man he had not seen for 20 years. The man's marriage was in chaos and he needed somewhere to stay. Mum and Dad, kind people trying to help, invited him to live with us for a while. He stayed for about two years.
He could be charming but he was a chronic, manipulative alcoholic, a man of wild mood swings, a ghastly, ruined man. Towards the end, he spent nights ranting outside, staggering in the gravel all round the house shouting: "Bastards of hell! Bastards of hell!" One afternoon I found him standing in the toilet, guzzling a bottle of cheap brandy, muttering insanely, a fag in one hand. That day, aged 15 and without a driver's licence, I drove him into town to the doctor and sat in the car until it was dark and Mum and Dad came to get me.
He came home for a while, until the men in white came and took him and we never saw him again.
As Ken and I drove my daughter north to Deborah's sister we felt he was back again, so strong was the cruel presence of rock-bottom addiction. My poor girl had not slept for a long time. We stared through the windscreen, hardly blinking, stunned at the power of the demon in the car. My daughter had flown out of her skin and something from hell had moved in.
That was then, of course. Things are so different now and Millie has made huge progress. Her letter to the judge was moving and insightful. But I would never wish that day on anyone.
Sabin says the meth epidemic should be given the same health priority as any other contagion. If it were meningitis, the place would be crawling with intervention. The social consequences of ignoring meth could be with us for generations.
You can contact Mike Sabin at

We have nothing but respect for the way that Sir Paul stood by his daughter Millie through those dreadful days when she was in the grip of methamphetamine. As a father, we cannot imagine a worse dilemma than our son or our daughter being controlled by this evil drug, and by those who profit from its distribution and from the misery it causes.

If, God forbid, we were ever in the situation that Holmes found himself in, we hope that we would have the courage to act as he did. His public war with the Head Hunters gang is a matter of public record, and it to Holmes' eternal credit that he stared them down and won. That Millie is now two years clean of methamphetamine and is finding her feet again is in no small measure due to the courage and the unconditional love shown by her adoptive father.

Forget broadcasting. As far as we are concerned, that is the true legacy that Sir Paul Holmes will leave behind; the unconditional love of a father for his child. 

In his final interview broadcast last Sunday night, Holmes talked about making his peace with God. Whether he did that before he died, only he and God will know. But the love he showed to Millie was a Christ-like love; loving her even though she was doing terribly unlovely things, and helping to rescue her from a dreadful addiction. Is there a higher calling than that? 


Anonymous said...

Yes there are higher callings - he's done nothing more than would be expected of any loving father. Given his last minute fear of death and what lies beyond the following are a couple that come to mind:

Love the Lord your God with all your soul, all your heart and all your strength and love your neighbour as yourself.

Greater love has no man than he lay down his ife for his friend.

Holmes was hoping his ledger would be seen to be more good than bad and that would see him in. He clearly had no knowledge of Christ in a manner that will help him. Now is the time to preach the gospel rather than say nice things that don't help anyone contemplating the great leap and what lies beyond. He was right to be afraid - his best on its own, like mine, is simply not enough.

If you think its all bollocks that's fine but this is about Holmes and he didn't feel that way.


Rex Widerstrom said...

Unlike anonymous, casually damning Paul to hell because he didn't kowtow sufficiently to an overweening and egotisitcal diety (Christian charity and foregiveness, anyone?) I'll comment under my own name but for obvious reasons anoymise what I'm about to say.

I've been where Paul was taken. Not by one of my children but by someone close to me. To say trust is destroyed tells only the half of it. Promises broken, empty pledges made with no intention of honouring them, callous contempt for your raw and aching pain - if someone you love is taken by this insidious drug you'll live through all that and worse.

What they become is enough to destroy love. Yes, all the songs and poetry tell us otherwise. We can fall out of love, but no outside force can break it.

Well "P" can, meth can, even abused prescribed dexamphetamines can. As Paul so aptly put it, what you knew and loved leaves, and something else moves in. After a while, when you no longer see what you once loved, you stop loving to save what little you have left of yourself.

You become numb, hollowed out by the love you give that isn't returned in any way. The addict's need is endless, your own capacity finite. Exhaustion sets in. You stop caring how it ends; whether, as he says in this piece, it's by the addict being locked up, covered up or sobered up (but you've stopped believing the latter is ever possible). You just want it to end.

Much is written about the horror of addiction from the perspective of the addict, and rightly so. And if they commit offences to feed their addiction, attention and sympathy focuses on their primary victims.

But - just like the families of prisoners - there are secondary victims, the very fabric of their lives torn, sometimes irreparably: the family and loved ones of the addict.

With the exception of Nar-Anon (which requires that you accept a "higher power", something that renders me either ineligible or a hypocrite) there is no support.

And added to the pain caused by the actions of the person we love is our own guilt. Could we have prevented it? Did we not do enough? Could we have noticed sooner? Isn't wanting to be rid of them for the sake of our own peace of mind wrong?

That Paul was so open about his own suffering as well as that of his daughter was an invaluable service in itself. It allowed others of us experiencing the same rollercoaster ride realise that our responses to it weren't wrong, but common to others in a similar position.

paul scott said...

I dropped here by accident, again,another painful night in the life of an addict. Holmes' writing was gifted in this case.