by Sue Davidson


This short piece of writing was written as response to Mosaic: An alternative resource for working with young people around drugs (Moss & Butterworth 1999) and Paul Butterworth’s article ‘Talking about self-care in relation to using drugs’ (2000).

‘… and I’ve lost friends to distance, they move beyond my reach into the drug culture, drug lifestyle’
(Moss & Butterworth 1999, p.2).

When I read this, I felt a stab of the old anxiety, fear and panic that I felt when my son, Toby, was using heroin and I couldn’t contact him by phone or he didn’t turn up at a set time when he promised he would. Or when he would turn away from me with his face closing down when I asked him questions about paying his rent, what he’d eaten or whether he was being careful with clean needles and sharing.

I wanted to let him know that I cared about his staying alive and his caring for himself and not have it add to the pressure, judgement, shame and guilt that he was experiencing. I wanted to tell him that I hated heroin and its influence but I loved him and that he was very precious to me. I wanted to tell him of my fear of heroin and what it could do to him and not push him away beyond my reach.

Revisiting the work of Penni Moss and Paul Butterworth has not only brought more vividly and closer the fear, panic, worry, guilt and despair I felt when Toby was using, it has also helped me to remember the loving conversations of connection and support that we had (and that I had with his father and some dear friends). These conversations were not blaming or despairing, they were filled with re-memberings and plans and hopes for the future. They were about our knowledges and practices of our loving relationship with each other, what kept it alive, what was important to us both, the history of this loving care and who else shared in it.

‘Connections’ played a large part in how we negotiated and navigated through those anxious years. Connections of care with Toby’s father, with my other two sons and with our extended families. We all kept in touch with Toby through phone calls, cards, visits, coffee at cafes and family gatherings.

My family has a history of ‘connections’ and in maintaining them against great odds. Toby has talked about this history and his part in keeping these skills alive. He also talks about how these connections helped him in his decisions about how he used heroin and in his decision to stop using.

The following questions have formed part of the many conversations that we have had about this:

  • What part did this history and knowledge of connections play in his being able to tell me about his using?
  • What part did it play in his being able to tell his dad, his brothers and, especially, his grandmothers?
  • What did he know of his experience of connections that supported his telling?
  • How did he know that he would be heard in ways that would keep the connections alive?

Reading the paper by Paul Butterworth (2000), ‘Talking about self-care in relation to using drugs’, reminded me of the ways that Toby did take care of himself. We have since spoken of these things and I’m regretful that they were not spoken about at the time. Perhaps, if we had, it might have provided opportunities for us both to make more visible and to acknowledge ‘the skills and knowledges about self-care’ (p.66) that Toby had. It might have also brought forth how his friends were very much part of this and not, as I thought, solely a ‘bad’ influence on him. I am now particularly interested to explore further the ideas of ‘connectedness’ and ‘self-care’ in my conversations with people who consult me.

  • What are the relationships that have meaning in their lives?
  • What is it about these relationships that is important?
  • What do they do to keep them alive?
  • Do these practices contribute to self-care?
  • Why is this important/not important?

I am also particularly keen to share these papers with my colleagues who work with young people. I am interested in the thinking and conversations that they might evoke.


Butterworth, P. 2000, ‘Talking about self-care in relation to using drugs’ In Gecko: A Journal of Deconstruction and Narrative Ideas in Therapeutic Practice, (3), 65-76. Moss, P. & Butterworth, P. 1999, Mosaic: An alternative resource for working with young people around drug use. Adelaide: Dulwich Centre Publications.

See more articles and books at our bookshop

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments