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Mark's story

Let’s start off and think about what life was like before I started to meet with you.  What was going on back then?

Everyday I would be skipping school and going out and getting really stoned with my mates.  I would be coming home in the early hours of the morning.

So school was out the window at that point?  You were smoking a lot of cannabis at that point?

I was smoking a lot a day.

How much is a lot?

One to two grams per day.

So £10-£20 per day. So that was with friends?

With friends and on my own.

Was it easy to find the money for that?

Not really, but we would find it.

Would you chip in with your mates?

Yeah.

How many friends were you hanging around with?

Five or six,  maybe more or less.

So was that £10 to £20 worth between all of you? 

No, I would have a minimum of £10 and then we would spread any extra between us.  My mates would buy their own as well and we would chip in together for more. 

So you would each buy your own £10 worth.  So £60 per day purchased as a minimum and more would be bought on top to share between you collectively.  So a dealer is getting quite rich off the back of you and your friends.

Yeah.

So that was going on for how long?

A good couple of months at least - maybe longer, but it was getting worse and worse. 

What do you mean by ‘worse’? 

I was doing more stuff to get it.

Like what?

I would do anything really, I sold quite a lot of stuff; I sold my phone my computers - stuff like that.

So you sold all your property.  Did you sell anyone else’s stuff?

No I didn’t steal, I just sold all my own stuff.

If you look back to a year ago, could you have imagined that you would have sold all your possessions to get high for an afternoon?

Definitely not, I just thought it’s a little bit of weed but now I’m thinking I shouldn’t have done that.

You don’t think it was such a good decision now, looking back at it?

No. 

Sounds like things were getting quite chaotic for you, you said you were coming back late.  Were you getting in trouble for that? 

Yeah quite a lot of trouble, every morning my dad would come in and we would have an argument because I had come in late or stoned.

That sounds pretty tough.  If we were to break it down a minute, you were running out of possessions, your relationship with your dad was going downhill, and you weren’t going to school.  In the middle of this you were just getting high and this went on for a few months.

Yeah.

When did it all come to a head?

Around about Christmas time, then I decided that I wanted to start cutting down.  As soon as I did, I found it a lot easier to cut down more towards quitting.

That was around the time I first met you. 

Yes.

Because something had happened at school, hadn’t it?  The school had referred you to Y-SMART.  What had happened?

I had been caught with a shottie tube at the school.  I was searched under the misuse of drugs act by the police.  They found the shottie tube and tobacco.

What was that whole experience like, because not many people have been searched by the police, or had that kind of thing happen to them at school?  What did that feel like?

At first I was OK with it but then I started worrying about it because they got my dad involved and the school were involved and I might get a record.  Now every time the police see me they can search me whenever they want and even if I’m just walking down the street they can search me.

Is that because you have been found in possession of drug paraphernalia?

Yeah.

So carrying drugs is now an even bigger risk for you?

Yeah.

So it all came to a head with school but they took you back?

Yeah.

So Y-SMART started to come and see you…

I realised what I had been doing, I had sold all my stuff and thought that things were going to get worse if I didn’t do something about it.  So I started cutting down with Y-SMART. 

Could you see your life branching off in a direction that you didn’t want it to go in?

Yes and this will get it back on track.

More recently your relationship with dad and step mum has continued to go downhill resulting in you moving out.  So, at 16 years old you are now living in a Bed and Breakfast.

Yes.

You have said that a lot of the problems at home were about arguments and your anger.  Was cannabis at the route of these arguments?

Some of them – well, quite a lot of them to be honest.

So, the centre of your relationship issues with step mum and dad was your drug use.  And because of those arguments you have been asked not to live there anymore.

Yes.

What does that feel like?

It feels depressing and I feel angry about it because I know that if I had done something about it, or changed, I could still be there with my family - now I’m just by myself.

You still have a relationship with your dad and you still talk to him, so hopefully that will get better and better.  If I had said to you a year ago: 1. You’re going to sell all your possessions; 2. You are going to get very close to permanent exclusion form school; 3. You will get arrested; 4. You’ll be kicked out of home.  Would you have believed me?

No.

But all of that has happened to you…

Yes, because of cannabis.

People always tell me it’s not a dangerous drug.

It is dangerous, I think, from my point of view. Like the things that happen around it and  like the things that can happen at home or school.  I don’t think the drug itself is dangerous but it’s the stuff that happens.

So a lot of chaos can follow it?

Yes. 

So, more recently you have made further changes to your drug use, what have you done?

I don’t smoke it on the week days anymore and only a little bit on the weekend.

How much are you spending a week on it now?  It was £70 minimum a week.

About £10 a week, if that.

Has that been easy?

I thought it was going to be harder than it is.  With your help cutting down has helped.

I know that a lot of people reading this are thinking about getting in contact with Y-SMART or just having a go at changing their drug use.  One thing I ask a lot of young people when I work with them, is what will be difficult about changing - and lots of people say to me they think it will be really difficult.

Yeah. I thought it would be harder than it actually is.  We imagine the worst case scenario but it’s not as bad.

So what has helped you?

Doing normal things; seeing my friends; spending time with my girlfriend.

So your girlfriend is a good influence?

Yeah, she doesn’t smoke weed so I don’t use it around her and so that helps.  Doing things that occupy my time.  Sitting around at home is hard.

Can you hang around with your mates that use?

Yeah, I still see them and it’s ok.

Another thing lots of young people worry about is that their mates who still smoke will turn their back on them or give them a hard time for cutting down.  Has that happened to you?

Not that I can think of, my mates have been saying it’s a good idea and now want to quit themselves.  They have been supportive.

Has your making a change made them think about their drug use?

Yeah - they are now.  I have spoken to them and said that I was spending £70 per week and selling all my stuff and I just feel like shit when I don’t smoke it.  They are like yeah I see your point.  I think they have more of an open mind now and are thinking about it.

I have seen this happen lots of times before.  It only takes one person to make a small change and that can have a big effect on the people around you.  It’s affected you, your friends, your teachers, other students and even your dad.  Although you aren’t at home, he will notice differences when he speaks to you.

He has already said that when I was smoking it regularly I seemed down and angry but now he thinks I am more switched on and sorting things out and that I am motivated.

Do you think your motivation levels were affected?

Yes, when I was using it daily, I was thinking this was pretty good because I was using it: now I look back and think I don’t want to be like that all the time.

Can you see your life being completely drug free?

I can see it when I go to college as I need to focus more.

The changes you have made have been fantastic and I hope you continue on this path.  You mentioned that Y-SMART’s support has helped you.  How has it been useful?

It is useful as I have someone to talk to and you come every week and if I have any problems I can tell you about it and you support me.  If I didn’t have your help I don’t think I would have bothered trying to cut down.

I’m glad it’s been of use to you.  You are dealing with a lot of things at the moment that most 16 years olds don’t have to.  You have had a couple of arrests, spent a night in a cell and been involved with social services.  You had a brief spell in care when you were a bit younger and now they are supporting you with your B & B place.  What has that been like?

It’s a bit worrying because I’m by myself and I have to do everything.  Cooking, cleaning and it gets too much sometimes and I start worrying about it.  I have to revise as well.  Even getting up in the mornings.  I have to get myself up and if I am late then I have to face the consequences.  I have missed some important lessons.

A lot of young people go to bed late and rely on parents to get them up.  What is it like when you are in charge of everything?

It’s confusing because I have to make sure I do it or I will be in trouble for my actions.  I have to go to bed on time.  I haven’t got anyone to rely on to wake me up.

It sounds like you have had to grow up faster than most young people.  What’s managing your money like?  I’m guessing that, previously, cash in your hand meant a trip to the dealer.  What happens now?

Now I don’t spend much on drugs because I have to buy food every night.  I have to wash my clothes in a laundrette and sometimes buy stuff for school.

What are the laundrette trips like?

It’s not fun - I have to carry my clothes a long way to the laundrette and wait for it all to wash then carry it back.  I have to do it at the weekend.

What’s it like budgeting for food?

Not easy as I have no cooking facilities.  I have a kettle and that’s it.

So what are you supposed to do for tea?

Takeaways - but they are really expensive.  Most of my money goes on food.

That sounds tough, what’s happening for you longer term?

Hopefully moving to a supported family where I can live with a family.  I get some support from social workers but they are not in my face which is what I want.

Thanks for sharing your story with us and good luck for the future.