The bedroom door swung open to reveal a female figure huddled over a wooden chest of drawers. Try as she might to hide the evidence, the tell-tale trail of white powder and tightly rolled £20 note had already been spotted. ‘I’ve only done it a couple of times,’ she stammered. ‘It’s under control. Please don’t tell Dad.’ It’s the sort of excuse and pleading that many a shocked mother has heard from a rebellious child caught dabbling in drugs.
But Sandra Salmons wasn’t a troubled teen, she was a 46-year-old middle-class mother of one who had — unbeknown to her family — been addicted to cocaine for four years. And that afternoon she had just been discovered taking the drug by her daughter, Lauren, 21.
What took place over the ensuing years is both a shocking tale of one affluent mother’s descent into addiction, and testimony to a daughter’s unstinting love in the face of repeated betrayals. ‘Looking back, I will always be sorry for what I put Lauren through,’ says Sandra, now 55. ‘If it hadn’t been for her, I wouldn’t be here today. Lauren saved my life.’
This is no exaggeration. At the height of her addiction, Sandra spent a staggering £1,000 a week on cocaine. Ultimately, it would cost her almost everything she held dear — a loving husband, a lavish five-bedroom home in Essex and every last penny she’d earned.
When she hit rock bottom, there was only one person left willing to assist her — Lauren, who footed the £28,000 bill for a rehab programme that would eventually rid her mother of her addiction. It was in 1997 that Sandra’s life began to unravel. In quick succession, her husband had a debilitating heart attack and her father died, then Lauren left home to attend Exeter University . Lonely and depressed, Sandra took refuge in alcohol more frequently.
Then came the turning point. Out on a night with the girls in a London club, she was offered cocaine. She was 42. ‘I knew that a few of my friends had tried it, and thought: “Why not?” ‘ she says.
‘Unfortunately for me, I absolutely loved it straight away. I couldn’t believe how confident and attractive it made me feel. I could drink more, I didn’t get hangovers and I could talk to anyone. I started using it every weekend.’
Within two months, Sandra was using the drug on weekdays, too, and got a dealer of her own. Like many addicts, she kidded herself that her habit wasn’t a problem. And in one sense, she was right. With her husband’s business — where she now worked in administration — thriving, finding the money to pay for the cocaine wasn’t an issue, even when she soon found she needed more and more of the drug to experience the same sensation.
But beneath the surface her personal life was falling apart. Her husband became increasingly intolerant of her wild mood swings, though he did not suspect the true cause.
Even when Sandra moved out of the marital bed so she could get up and take cocaine unnoticed during the night, she told him it was because he was snoring too much. ‘He seemed shocked and hurt, but he let me go. Some nights I would watch him quietly go up to his room and it made me feel so sad. I could see how lonely he was. But I couldn’t give up, so I pulled away from him completely.
‘He thought I had lost my marbles. I’d recently had a hysterectomy, and I think he thought that might be to blame. He was always quite private about how he was feeling. He buried his head in the sand, hoping it was just a phase I was going through.’ It was only when her daughter Lauren returned home to live with them after university that she was finally caught taking the drug red-handed.
Lauren was shocked, but after much pleading, agreed not to tell her father. ‘From then on, Lauren watched me like a hawk,’ recalls Sandra. ‘I found it so frustrating. She followed me everywhere, even into the toilets, and used to search me for drugs when we went out. But I just hid the cocaine in my bra.’
Eventually the constant deception and disparity in lifestyle took its toll on Sandra’s marriage. In 2004, the couple went their separate ways — with her husband still none the wiser about her drug use. Sandra moved into her own flat and at first her hefty divorce settlement (which included proceeds of the house sale) funded her £1,000-a-week habit. By then, she was snorting a staggering five grams of cocaine a day — that’s a line every ten minutes — at a cost of £40 to £50.
Over the next few years, Sandra descended into the abyss — selling her car, jewellery and furniture to fuel her habit. Facing repossession of her flat, she emotionally blackmailed Lauren into giving her £10,000. ‘I was so desperate that I’d taken out a £20,000 loan to pay for a place in a UK rehabilitation centre,’ says Lauren. ‘Thankfully, when I showed up at her home with a former addict in tow, something seemed to click with Mum.’
Sandra agreed to check into rehab. But over the next 28 days, surrounded by other middle-class addicts, she became abusive and unpleasant to the staff. Before she left, she was advised to seek further treatment — which required a further £8,000 from Lauren (scraped together from savings, her boyfriend’s bonus and selling jewellery) for a more intensive three-month programme in South Africa (why didn’t they send her there first?).
It was only there — as the drugs and alcohol eventually left her system — that Sandra finally began to face her demons. In the meantime, Sandra cut off all ties to her old life. She has now been clean of drugs and alcohol for two years, seven months and 22 days. Even now, every day is a struggle.
‘It’s still a constant battle to stay away,’ she admits. ‘Just the smell of champagne brings back my craving for cocaine. But I have to stay strong, for Lauren as well as myself.
‘She sacrificed so much for me, including thousands of pounds that she spent on my treatment. She never gave up on me. That’s something I will never forget.’ As for the reversal of the mother/ child relationship, she says simply: ‘I have had to put my guilt behind me. If I dwell on it, I will never be able to recover.’
For her part, Lauren says her devotion to her mother is unwavering. ‘I’ll never regret the money I spent on helping my mum,’ she says. ‘If your mother was dying of cancer, would you think twice about spending anything you could on her treatment? Most of us would do anything to save a person we love.’ 31.3.11