This site uses cookies to improve your experience and to provide services and advertising. By continuing to browse, you agree to the use of cookies described in our Cookies Policy. You may change your settings at any time but this may impact on the functionality of the site. To learn more see our Cookies Policy.
OK
Dublin: 7 °C Saturday 15 December, 2018
Advertisement

'I went downhill very fast... but the thought of a drink has barely crossed my mind now for 37 years'

As the Rutland Centre turns 40, some of the first patients through its doors shared their experiences with TheJournal.ie.

Inside of my being, I knew I wouldn’t be alive unless I sorted myself out.

RÓISÍN SHERIDAN FIRST entered the Rutland Centre in 1981. 

She’d already been drinking quite some time and had tried to give up on numerous occasions before she went there for treatment.

“I started drinking in my 2nd year in UCD,” the 70-year-old told TheJournal.ie. “For me, it was self-medication. I learned very early that if I had three drinks, I felt better.”

Róisín is one of those telling her story as the Rutland Centre celebrates its 40th anniversary.

She is one of a number of people who’ve passed through its doors detailing their experiences for a designated Recovery Month which aims to encourage others in similar situations to seek help.

As Rutland CEO Maebh Leahy told TheJournal.ie: “It’s easy for us to say recovery works and recovery happens. Hearing it from somebody who’s walked the walk and lived that life gives more inspiration.”

‘I was so beaten’

Roisin Sheridan sign Róisín wanted to participate in Recovery Month Source: Robbie Reynolds

Róisín met her future husband while at university, and going out socially with friends became a regular occurrence. As did drinking a lot of alcohol.

“Everyone went to the pub, but I didn’t really like the taste of alcohol at all,” she said. “But I’d drink pints.

I had very little tolerance for alcohol. I’d be the type you saw crying in a corner. I went downhill very fast. 

After college, she got married and their work took them around the country. 

“I must have started drinking at home,” she recalled. “It was mostly at home but when I did go out, I’d be likely to make a show of myself.”

Her husband died young and it wasn’t until after his death that Róisín attempted to get help for her drinking, which had progressed from pints to gin and other spirits. 

Some years before going into the Rutland Centre, she went to Alcoholics Anonymous. By her late 20s, she said she knew herself that she had a problem because she felt “miserable”. 

She said: “There’s a certain shame you feel when you’re going at the beginning. You get over that. A lot of people are quite shy. Even when they’re roaring when they’re drunk.

It wasn’t enough. I kept slipping and sliding. I was so disappointed in myself that I couldn’t seem to do it. 

When it was suggested to her to visit the Rutland Centre, Róisín had no hesitation. “I was so beaten at that stage,” she said. 

It was challenging to try to give up alcohol, especially given that she did not have family members around her during the treatment. 

“I would say now that it’s lovely for people to have that family support,” she said. “If they can manage to pull that last bit of love out to try to support them.

I knew I wouldn’t be alive unless I sorted myself out. I gave myself a commitment to go to AA every night for a year. It’s a saying, if you go every night for a year, you won’t drink.

And she managed it. Róisín hasn’t had a drink since 1981. She resumed working, got jobs abroad and got to see other parts of the world.

For the first few years, the allure of the pub remained strong, however.

Maebh Mullany and Roisin Sheridan Maebh Leahy with Róisín Sheridan Source: Robbie Reynolds

“You do miss the pub,” she said. “It wasn’t the actual alcohol. It’s that Irish sense of belonging. There’s no way around that.”

Now a retired pensioner who loves to tend her garden, travel, repaint her house over and over and watch Celebrity Big Brother, Róisín was keen to share her experience in the hope it would lead to others seeking the help that’s out there.

She said: “I got on with life as best as I could after the Rutland. It struck me very strongly as I didn’t imagine that a lot of people were prepared to come forward and be proud of their achievements. 

It struck me because I was 70 this year. It’s a lifetime really, I would have expected more change and shifts in acceptance of people recovering from addiction. I wanted to help change that. And this message is important: Reaching out for help is so important, it doesn’t how.

‘Hope came into my life like I never had’ 

Thomas* was in the Rutland Centre in the 1970s. For him, it wasn’t alcohol but drugs he was addicted to.

After a stint in the US as a university student in the late 1960s, he became addicted to cannabis.

“I was fortunate I never got seriously involved in heroin,” he told TheJournal.ie. “But I knew I had to give it up. To help get me off that, I was prescribed valium and I then became phenomenally addicted to valium.”

To try help with that, he was then prescribed the addictive benzodiazepine medication Atavan, and it was then that he “totally disintegrated”. He said: “I was living in filth and squalor.”

When it was suggested to him to go to the Rutland Centre, he agreed to go but not necessarily out of a desire to get better.

“I wasn’t coming in for any reason other than a place to hide,” he said. 

The Rutland, however, was not his turning point. It was a trip to a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous that was.

He said: “I had a drug problem and not an alcohol problem… But at the meeting I heard someone speak. And suddenly I began to realise he was talking about what was going on in my heart, and that I’d never heard a human being talk like this before.

The degradation of alcoholism. The sense of loneliness, and isolation. Betraying your family, being a hopeless case. Whatever way I heard at the level I heard that there was a way out of this, and this was Alcoholics Anonymous. I couldn’t verbalise it at all. Hope came into my life that I never had before. Meeting like-minded people was the strength of the Rutland for me.

He said he had tried to detox himself over the years, but nothing had worked like these meetings had, where people spoke very frankly about how they were feeling. 

And it was these meetings that sustained him as he gave up drugs in the late-1970s. 

“One Sunday, I was that desperate I went to three meetings. I was that fragile,” he said. “You feel safe in the meeting.”

And while he managed to give up doing drugs, it took a number of years to get his life back on track. 

He said: “There’s a slow process of reintegrating back into society. I was able to get a job, got married, had a child. Life is never easy, but at least now it was life on life’s terms.”

Thomas sees the day he gave up drugs as a defining period in his life. “It’s like you can remember your first day in school,” he said.

It was by far the biggest change I’ve ever made. It utterly changed my life. Because I was so damaged, I didn’t know what friendship was. I’m lucky enough now that I have several very close friends. I’m lucky.

‘When I was drinking it was a compulsion. It was in my head all the time’

Patrick* started drinking when he was 11 years old. Over a decade later, he walked through the doors of the Rutland Centre.

Despite that, he would drink for another 13 years before finally quitting alcohol at the age of 34.

“When I was 11 years old, a Christian brother in school told me I’d never amount to anything,” Patrick told TheJournal.ie. “It wasn’t long after that I started drinking.”

At the beginning it was drinking cider with some friends, and getting into trouble with the law but, by the age of 16, Patrick was drinking regularly in pubs. 

He said: “From the age of 16 to 21, that was the beginning of the end, really. I was totally addicted at that stage. I had a job, but I couldn’t get up for work in the morning. 

I felt different from my siblings. I’d describe it like, if a team was playing football I wasn’t part of it. I was the fella at the fence looking on. I was kind of a loner, I suppose. I didn’t react well to people socially. When I drank that changed all that. It made me do things I could never do.

His relationship with his parents steadily worsened as his drink intake increased. In pubs, he would drink six pints before usually blacking out.

He would come home at the weekend to find the house locked up, and he’d often smash a window or beat the door down to get in. Eventually, he was convinced by his mother to attend the Rutland Centre, which she’d heard about from a friend.

Did Patrick think he was an alcoholic at this stage?

“No,” he said. “I thought I had a mental problem. But alcoholism is a mental, physical and spiritual disease. It was only at the end of my drinking that I realised I was an alcoholic. That I am an alcoholic.

At that stage, in the Rutland, I was telling them I was a borderline drinker. I told them I would drink six drinks. And they thought that was a lot. But I was minimising it you see. I can remember drinking six, but after that I couldn’t remember. 

While his experience sowed a seed in his mind that he did indeed have a problem, things spiralled for Patrick once he left the Rutland Centre in 1978.

He became homeless in the 1980s, was in and out of hospital, and in and out of prison.

“It was terrible,” he said. “When I left home I couldn’t cope really with getting a flat or doing the normal things. When I had money, I just drank. I was staying in hostels, sleeping in cars, buses, trains, anywhere.”

It was when he was in prison at the beginning of the 1990s that he joined AA and started following its 12-steps programme.

Patrick said: “I suppose it was a spiritual awakening… I was told AA was my only chance, and I’ve done it from 1991 on until today. [But] it was very difficult to get back on track.

When I was drinking, my self-esteem was so low. If you had said boo to me, I would have cried. I started from scratch. I was reborn, in a way really. 

But he managed it. With regular AA meetings, and slowly easing back into life with getting a flat, and then a job, starting his own business and meeting a “woman who really put me on my feet”, Patrick managed to turn his life around.

“I have to say I’m proud of myself, I’ve come so far,” he said. “The freedom of it all. I was able to drive here today. That’s the great freedom I have. I couldn’t cross the road when I was drinking. I had to have a drink to do everything. I couldn’t face people.”

He also managed to reconcile with his parents, and recalled this anecdote of when his father was ill in hospital a number of years ago.

A fella sat beside my dad. He was a top doctor. He said to my father ‘I sat beside your son in school. We were both told we’d never be any good.’ And this guy is a doctor. That really drove something home.

*Some names have been changed at the individuals’ request

  • Share on Facebook
  • Email this article
  •  

About the author:

Sean Murray

Read next:

COMMENTS (24)

This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
write a comment

    Leave a commentcancel