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The story of Anna

God, how I hated my ringtone. The sound of it, the feel of its vibration in the pocket of my jeans, flooded my soul with black dread. Because I knew it was only a matter of time before it would be the police, telling me Anna was dead. My smart, funny, tortured girl.

She was 24 years old, but wrapped inside the drug-addled young woman was a baby so beautiful I could barely believe she was mine, a sweet and baffled child who could not understand why anything bad ever had to happen to any animal or person.

Her father and her sister and I begged her to see how much potential she had, how good her life could be. But we couldn't stop her going to the sex shop to spend her Centrelink payment on synthetic 'weed', a horrible chemical which ate away her intelligence and reason. When her money ran out, we had no right to stop her flouncing off in a tiny dress to the train, where she would pick up strange men who would give her attention, and drugs.

Sometimes she would give into our pleading and let us drive her to a hard-won stint at a detox facility. But we couldn't keep her from walking out a couple of days later, when the staff decided it was time to taper off the Valium.

Anna found a man on the train who introduced her to ice. Now the ghosts who had whispered to her since she was a child turned into howling demons. She was prescribed antipsychotics. How could we keep her from swallowing four at once, chased by a bottle of vodka? While she craved the oblivion of sleep, I was terrified she would stop breathing. I lay in bed beside her, held her close and only called the ambulance when her lips turned blue. They kept her in the ER until she sobered up, then told us to take her home.

Home degenerated into horror. We locked up the knives but Anna rampaged through the nights, finding ways to hurt herself. She became convinced that John and I were evil replicas of her real parents. She accused us of the most reprehensible abuse, she insisted on bringing ice users to the house, and she threatened us.

After a particularly harrowing weekend we did what I could not have imagined: we told our beloved daughter she could no longer live with us. A few months later we did get a call from the police. But it was not what we had dreaded. Our girl was alive, but she had killed an innocent man.

So many times I've asked myself in my pre-dawn soul-searching: were we wrong to make Anna leave? Probably. But we were heartbroken, exhausted and afraid. If we'd had the right kind of support, perhaps as a united family we could have dealt with Anna's addictions, and the unforgiving voices she tried to silence with drugs. 

We were unable to find the help that we needed, but days like today (International Family Drug Support Day) are about making it easier to access support services. One thing I know for sure is that no one, and no one family, can do it alone. 

Mary Pershall,