Friday, December 14, 2012

Stories of hope and courage

Telling their Story

One of the great pleasures in my work is that I get the opportunity to meet ordinary men and women, usually working in the community and voluntary sector, whose commitment to a cause or a project saves lives.
Last Thursday morning I was in the Civic Centre at Coolock in north Dublin. I had been invited to speak at the launch of a new website and CD – ‘Voices’ – by the Laneway Learning Centre Community Drugs Rehabilitation Programme (RASP) which are about raising awareness of drug addiction.

But what makes this project innovative and special is its use of drama and music as a means of encouraging recovering addicts to examine their lives and to look to the future with optimism.

Conal Kearney, whose grandfather Peadar Kearney  wrote  Amhrán na bhFiann, as well as Down by the Glenside (The Bold Fenian Men); The Tri-coloured Ribbon, and Down by the Liffey Side, uses drama therapy and it is evident from the enthusiasm of the ten methadone maintenance participants, that it works.

Conal Kearney, whose grandfather Peadar Kearney wrote Amhrán na bhFiann, as well as Down by the Glenside (The Bold Fenian Men); The Tri-coloured Ribbon, and Down by the Liffey Side, uses drama therapy and it is evident from the enthusiasm of the ten methadone maintenance participants, that it works.
The ten tell a story. They recall a happy childhood memory, their worst memory as a drug user and then their effort to lift themselves out of that dark place into a space where there is hope.

Four of the participants read extracts from the stories that are told.

John remembered a happy memory when he was 11 years old: “I got a red mountain bike for Christmas. See I knew that it was a bike because I saw my brother getting it out of the car and putting it upstairs in one of the bedrooms months before. They told me it was a snooker table, but I knew that it wasn’t because there were no cues. Me Ma locked the doors upstairs to make sure I didn’t get a look. She didn’t know that I had a key so when I had the gaff to myself I had a look at the lovely red mountain bike: ten speed as well. I put the axle on some books so I could test the gears, but it was no good. I put the beds on their sides and cycled it around upstairs just to use the gears. I got some scratches on the bike. I had to act all surprised on Christmas morning.”

Karen recalled a bleak violent point in her life: “One summers evening I went down to the Donnybrook to score my coke and gear. I lived in Rialto so it was only a ten minute drive, my dealer lived in a row of houses which had a lane in the back of them and that’s where I would meet him. I always got the taxi to wait at the end of the lane but this time I didn’t. It was starting to get dark, so I decided to cut through Herbert Park just thinking of getting my coke and gear into me. Suddenly I was grabbed from behind and dragged into a row of bushes. I hit, screamed, kicked, punched. I thought he was looking for my drugs but he wasn’t. He was trying to rape me. He pushed me to the ground, ripped off my top but all I was worried about was losing my drugs. He had me pinned to the ground saying repeatedly ‘stay still bitch’, ‘you will do as I say’. Luckily I got the chance to scream, my attacker hit me one last time as he fled.”

Their stories of hope were inspiring. Rachel described how her life “changed the day I left the hospital after nearly losing my leg. I realised that enough was enough and I want my life back. After a year being clean from street drugs I applied for a place in the educational programme here at RASP and was accepted. Before I started I had no confidence or belief in myself. After a while doing the courses I realised that I had intelligence and that I could make a life for myself …”
Mary recalled that the last time “I was in Beaumont hospital my survival was placed at fifty/fifty. I didn’t realise how bad I was but I was still craving drugs. The drugs that I had put into my body heroin, crack and crystal meth had taken their toll. I realised I was going nowhere and it was time to stop. I became clear headed and applied for a place in RASP. After three months of giving clean urine I was given a place. I am now on the programme nine months and am stable …everyday is a struggle but I am learning what to do and not to do to aid my recovery …”

All of them praised RASP and described their struggle to battle addiction and the help they received from RASP and their families.

They were surrounded by their family and friends at the event and were being applauded and cheered on to tell their stories. They were as brave and courageous a group of people as any I have met in many years.

Councillor Larry O'Toole; Councillor Micheál McDonncha and Denise Mitchell
Groups like RASP are vital. They provide the extra push, the education and information that can make all the difference to someone wanting to end their addiction.

The website and the CD are important additional tools for those trying to provide support.

Of course, the reality is that there are many homes in Ireland that are or have had to cope with the problem of drug and alcohol addiction.

These drugs may be legal or illegal, prescribed or non-prescribed. But in most cases the addiction is tackled and the families, with difficulty and help, continue to live a largely normal life. But in some cases the addiction becomes a crisis. This manifests itself most clearly in the bald statistics of drug related deaths.

This state has one of the highest rates for drug related deaths in Europe. According to recent statistics these are twice the European average of deaths. The U.N.s World Drug Report for this year revealed that while the use of heroin is levelling out elsewhere in Europe, only in Sweden and in this state are prevalence rates increasing.

Different drugs and the misuse of alcohol will have different effects on different people. Drug addiction can also have a very negative effect on the wider community. 

Drug addiction becomes a community drug problem when drug pushers increase their activity; when public areas become unsafe and are associated with drug related behaviour; when citizens suffer intimidation and threats of violence and violence are used.

This rarely happens in isolation of other contributing factors; high unemployment, poverty, dependency on social welfare, poor housing conditions, lack second and third level education, and inadequate drug awareness programmes, all contribute to creating a community drugs problem.

It is also important to note that drug misuse is not restricted to working class or disadvantaged areas. It cuts across all social classes.

A reduction in funding to education and drug awareness programmes; cutbacks to new build or renovation projects for housing and to education, health and social welfare programmes ; to youth training projects; and to public services, all contribute to making the situation worse.

Effectively tackling the drug addiction problem requires a holistic approach by all of the statutory bodies, including the Gardaí and local councils and government, and local communities, working to an agreed strategy.

It requires a partnership approach, especially on an all-Ireland basis. This is the only way we can make progress in ridding our communities of this scourge.

But seeking help and support is the first important step in tackling addiction.  Any of us could become an addict. Those brave souls, like our friends in Kilbarrack,  who find the ability to overcome their addiction are proof that it can be done. They are heroes.

RASP: Laneway Learning Centre can be contacted at Unit 1 Belcamp Business Park, Belcamp Lane, Dublin 17
Tel 01 8674060

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