We spoke to Nigel who works in the men’s centre in the Wicklow mountains. The work he does has helped a lot of people coming from addiction to get on the right track and leave addiction in the rear-view mirror. We asked him a few questions about his journey and what is necessary to achieve recovery in the long term. This is what he had to say:

(Nigel today - 2022)

I'm 47 now and I've been in addiction, I first started using drugs when I was a really young boy. 11, or 12 years of age. My parents were really against drugs, they probably didn't know even what drugs were. But, because Irish drinking culture was acceptable back then, I suppose at the age of 16, I started drinking. It was only on weekends, but I would have been allowed at 16/17 years of age to do that. I started using drugs at a very young age and learned how to hide that at a very young age from my parents, I became very good at that. I've always hid my addiction from my family all throughout the entire process or my active fusing life. I think it is the same for everyone. Anyone that knows addiction, you don't want other people to see what you're doing because you know, what you're doing is wrong. I had that sense that what I was doing was wrong.

Learning how to hide, I became very good at hiding what I was doing. I'm surprised that my family didn't suspect drug use way earlier. I didn’t start using heroin until I was 31 years of age. For an addict that's really late. I that heroin is the beginning of the end for addicts. I know that today because the majority of the ones I knew are dead and they started when they were 16 or 17.

I come from a kind of a broken home, my mom and dad worked hard. My dad drank hard, that was the culture of the time. I was experiencing lots of arguments, lots of runaways from my father. I wanted to be away from it and when drugs came along and that was the escape. I know my family loved me but nobody knew what I was going through. Because I didn't voice it. I couldn't voice it.

I worked from a young age, I left school at the age of 15 and the work fuelled the addiction, I worked for my drug abuse. I worked Monday to Friday, and I wouldn't be seen, I would stay at home very rarely. I’d leave work, go to friends’ houses, smoke, we would be doing speed or ecstasy or whatever.  So although that was my family home, I was very rarely there.

I had many circles of friends because some liked certain drugs, and some didn't. Some just smoked and others were interested in speed and ecstasy. At one stage, I was even a skateboarder, I wasn't into that sort of stuff. I lived that kind of a lifestyle for some time but it was really about the drugs. Because those people were using and listening to heavy metal. It was the progression to harder drugs that changed my circle of friends over time.

I like the place where I grew up, I played football with my peers and I’ve spent a lot of time outdoors. Up until I started using drugs and drinking frequently. They were really good friends now, thankfully, some of them are still around today. And I see them every now and again. The closeness of community was valued, everyone knew everyone. But I didn't think anyone knew my business. I didn't think anyone knew what was going on in my house, at that time.

Today, after experiencing the freedom I have, I'm okay. I've been to seven treatments. Coming home after treatments was very difficult. I always felt like I was like a heroin addict, a person other people would have looked down on. Inside, I felt like the person who walked out on his family because he wanted his heroin more than his family.

I never really talked to my family about my lifestyle until I got into serious debt. I got into a lot of debt for cocaine and I had no money to pay. When I told them about my abuse issues they were shocked. They couldn't believe they didn't know that this was going on with me. They had no idea whatsoever that I was doing what I was doing.

Physically it took a toll on me also. I went down to seven and a half stone which for me in comparison I'm about 16 stone today. So that's less than half of the size that I am now and my family had to see me like that. That hurts me still. Your family are the people that love you most in this world, those friends that we talked about earlier, they're not, and they don't have the same unconditional love.

So what would I say to people out there battling personal demons? If you're entering into this lifestyle, or you're already in it, and you're that far gone, no matter how bad you think you are, your family still love you more than you'll ever know. So talk to them, be open with them, and reach out to them. Reach out to people.

I was an introvert and the drugs made me an extrovert. It's okay to be an introvert, it's okay to be that person who is a little bit shyer than everyone else. I wanted to be like that, I wanted to be the centre of whatever group I was hanging around with. I took a lot of drugs, or put a lot of stuff into my system to be the centre of attention. All you need is your family and a few good friends.

Now I don't want to speak for anyone else but I suppose the only thing you to say is just to be yourself. I am really happy being Nigel. I have a beautiful wife who loves me and my son gives me a hug when I come home. I'm not trying to be anyone other than who I am today. I love who I am today. I love the freedom I've been given.

Tiglin Column 

Tiglin Column: 2nd of April 2022