THEY will proudly wear their graduation rings as a reminder of all they have achieved along the road to recovery from addiction.
But for Pat McFarlane, the silver ring engraved with the simple symbol of a handshake is a poignant reminder not of her own achievement, but that of her late son Michael Rogers.
Mrs McFarlane was a guest of honour at the Ley Community Graduation ceremony, an annual event which sees reformed drug addicts ‘graduate’ from their old lives to the new, by showing they have been clean for at least a year.
She joined nine other graduates at the event at the residential rehabilitation centre near Kidlington.
A former crack addict, Mr Rogers became an ambassador for the centre before going to work at the News Cafe in the centre of Oxford, and had been due to graduate back in 2010.
But after an unprovoked attack in a Kidlington pub that damaged his brain and shattered his life, the 31-year-old spent 14 months in hospital in a coma.
His heartbroken parents took the devastating decision to switch their son’s life support machine off last August when it was clear there was nothing more that could be done for him.
Mrs McFarlane bravely took to the ‘stage’ – a table in the middle of the room where addicts talk about all they have achieved in their recovery – to honour her son’s huge journey. She was watched by Mr Rogers’ father Grahame Rogers, and his stepfather William McFarlane, while being cheered on by residents and other graduates.
She said: “When Mike first came here, the way he talked about the place, you’d think he’d joined a cult. “He was such a happy lad, always smiling and laughing.
“We lost him for a number of years and we never saw that side of him.
“But when he came here, it all came back.
“I got my son back.”
During Mr Rogers’ time in the Community, friends say the smile never left his face.
The keen Nottingham Forest fan had been off drugs for two years when he agreed to meet friends at the Red Lion in Kidlington in June 2010.
Amateur kickboxer Logan Usher, who falsely claimed his victim was aggressively drunk, was jailed for 30 months after admitting causing grievous bodily harm in the attack on Mr Rogers.
Mrs McFarlane moved from Nottingham to Oxford during the week to be with her son while he fought for his life.
She went to the Community during this time and saw an ‘amazing’ poem called ‘It’s going to be okay – just hang in there’ on the kitchen wall, which she said gave her strength.
She said she was moved to tears when she realised it had been written by her own son.
She said: “I am glad to be back here to collect the ring for him.
“He would have loved to stand up there in front of his friends and be able to collect the ring. It will never leave my finger.”
- Among the other ‘graduates’ at the Ley Community’s ceremony was Mike Croke, who has been sober for nine years.
Mr Croke – a former heroin and crack user – first turned to the Community in 1998. After a long road, which has included a couple of relapses, the 44-year-old is celebrating almost a decade of abstinence.
He said his rock bottom point was injecting a syringe filled with the heroin-laced blood of another user.
He said: “I learned a lot about myself here. I learned how to accept life on life’s terms.”
Wendy Dawson, chief executive of the Community, said: “The graduation is one of the most empowering, emotional and uplifting events of our year.
“It is truly inspirational and demonstrable evidence that recovery can be a reality, given the right support and guidance.”