As witty and moving as his words were, it was his mere presence that afternoon that triggered her tears.
“I have never been so proud”: The bride and best man on her wedding day, November 1.
A year ago, she tracked down her homeless son on Sydney’s streets and asked him to pose for a photo with her because she thought it might be their last.
But Chris’ remarkable story will turn full circle next week when his “leaving ceremony” takes place at a Sydney-based drug rehabilitation program, where he has resided for the past three months.
“I’m clean but I know I still have a long way to go,” he said, adding: “I’m lucky just to be here.”
Having survived the journey herself, Rebecca is now calling on the Baird government to fix a regulatory framework that is “not equipped” to deal with the ice crisis.
“There are hundreds of kids and parents who have been, or are currently being, dealt a card nobody in this life deserves,” she said.
“Our leaders must realize that instead of helping those kids get better, the current system sets them up to continuously fail.”
Rebecca says Chris was the “perfect son”. However, two years ago, aged 15, he smoked ice at a mate’s house. He was “hooked straight away”.
“I started doing it once a week, then it became every few days. That led to me needing it every day.”
Rebecca witnessed an “almost overnight” change. “Ice desensitized him. There was a sudden detachment from family. It became his family. It was as though he had never known us.”
Chris recalled: “I stopped going home. I just bummed at friend’s houses or slept rough. I couldn’t see past the next hit – which was $50 for a point,” he said, adding, “I robbed, I broke into people’s houses, I stole cars … anything to get money. If I had a grand, I would blow it on ice … and I would use it all in two days.”
As Chris drowned in the depths of his addiction, he dragged his family down with him.
“His two doting siblings witnessed him at his worst – which was horrific,” Rebecca said.
“My Dad and I had to take it turns to pick him up from the police station,” she said. “He would turn up to my workplace, smashed, asking for money. My boss insisted I get rid of him. Hygiene had long gone out of the window. There was nothing left to him but skin and bone. He was, by definition, feral. But he was still my son, I couldn’t get rid of him and chose him over my job … a very common decision parents of drug addicts sadly have to make.”
Chris recalls of that time: “I knew in my head I had completely changed. I no longer ate. I had become scattered, I was aware of the pain I was causing … but I didn’t care.”
Chris was a regular fixture in court because of his crimes, but he was repeatedly delivered back onto the streets, to “run with the wolves”.
“It’s all very well for a court to impose home curfew as part of bail conditions but ask any parent living this hell and they will tell you, this is not a realistic scenario. It just creates a vicious circle.”
Latest figures from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre reveal that amphetamine-related hospital admissions are at a record high among 10- to 19-year-olds. Twice last year, Chris ended up in Sydney’s Prince of Wales.
Rebecca said her lowest point, as a mother, came when Chris was found homeless, curled up, sobbing in a stairwell. “He had taken ice, hadn’t slept for several days. I knew he had become tired of this awful routine and that the next step was him either dying or deciding, for himself, that he wanted to try and change.”
And then one day, not long after, he said the following words: “Mum, help me, I’ll do anything.” “At that point, I knew there was a chance,” she said.
Chris entered a three-month residential therapy program to relearn the basic life skills and values ice had stripped away. “He had to learn to shower and brush his teeth again, he had to be retaught the value of honesty. It was all gone.”
Rebecca says “more needs to be done” to ensure ice-addicted youngsters go to rehab when ordered to by the justice system. “Withdrawal is a terrifying proposition and kids with addictions cannot make clean decisions. So as adults, and as a society, we have to start doing that for them.”
She also advises policymakers that more programs and support need to be introduced, not just for the youngsters, but for their families too. “Life can become very lonely if there is not the right support. I know parents who gave up. They couldn’t handle it any longer and moved interstate to escape their own kids. But with appropriate help, that might not have happened.”
On Friday, Premier Mike Baird said: “Like anyone, I am horrified to hear of the terrible impact ice has, and we are determined to do more.
“The time for talk is over, it is time for action and we are currently considering a range of options. It is an important issue and one that we have to get right.”
Rebecca is reveling in having her son back. “Chris, to me, is a walking miracle. Seeing his personality start to shine through has been priceless. To others experiencing this torment, I would simply say, as agonizing and emotionally exhausting as it is, never lose hope. The fight is worth every bit of pain.”
* not their real names.