Our Growers' Recovery Stories

John’s Story

by John O’L

Dublin Grow Group

I was 12 when my dad died and have sketchy memories from that age until I was in my late 20’s – It was time for me to make my confirmation and I was treated to a day out and go to my aunts and uncles in Tipperary where I was treated to my outfit in my uncle’s shop – I used to love going to visit my relations as I would be spoilt rotten, given things that I would never normally get in my own house As my dad had died and it was time for me to make my confirmation, my eldest brother stood instead of my dad. I always remember my home being one of laughter and people coming and going and as a kid growing up I always loved Christmas because we use to have loads of people over for a sing-song and there would always be loverly food but us kids had to hold back. Mum used to say the nice food was for the visitors.

When I was in secondary school, which I hated I did not do as well as the rest of my siblings. I think now when I look back I rebelled as I had no father figure and my mum was holding two torches and I don’t think she could cope with me. I was bullied in school as I was different I was not into sports and hung around with the wrong kinda people and I would spend whatever money I had on sweets for my so-called friends but they were not really my friends they only wanted to hang around with me because I had money. I did not do well in my leaving and I think when I look back at that period in my life I missed having a father figure to help and support me with my studying and making sure my homework was done. My mother tried her best and I think I rebelled as I had no father figure to look out for me.

When I finished secondary school I moved to London where I worked as a kitchen porter in a top London hotel. They were prepared to send me to college to train as a chef as I was very keen and interested in cooking – but I was offered a job back in Dublin in the civil service and I took it up and that is when my life changed for the worse. I spent 10 years in the civil service battling with addiction which was alcoholism and this took its toll on my family life and personal life as well. When I look back at my life back then I feel and think I always suffered with my mental health but never did anything about it back then. For years as a kid growing up I blamed myself for my dad’s death as the last memory I had of him was the two of us having a row and then he was dead. I was not able to see him in the hospital when he died as I was too young. This is something I question and have asked my mother why I was the only one that was not there when my dad died. I never really got an honest answer, just told I had to mind my gran and could not see my dad. For a long time, especially when I was getting older I used to blame myself for my dad’s death and this caused me terrible anxiety.

When I was 21 years of age I came out as gay and that is when my life started to spiral out of control. When I look back at it now I don’t know whether I fully excepted the fact that I was gay and I took to the drink to deal with my emotions and feelings. It got worse as the years went on – I ended up becoming homeless lost my family lost my self-respect but above all, I lost myself in the bottle it took over my life and for ten years I battled alcoholism and my sexuality. I reached my ultimate rock bottom as I battled alcoholism and created a path of destruction as I went on in my life. I did not care whom I hurt or the damage I caused around me and the impact my drinking had on my family and those close to me. I resigned from the job I had in the civil service as it was enabling me to drink. When I look back at it now in hindsight it was the best thing I ever did. Had I stayed on in the civil service, I don’t know where I would be today.

I think I always suffered from some form of depression/ anxiety but it really only came to light in later years when I was growing up and went into my adulthood as I missed having a father figure in my life someone to watch over me and protect me when life got too much and times got tough. I remember not having many close friends but any friends I had only wanted to be friendly with me when I had money. I was bullied in school because I was different and this had a huge impact on me in later life. The first ever dark period of anxiety happened to me back 5 years ago when I was working in the homeless sector I wanted a change in the service I was working in and I put in for a transfer, thinking that it would be a good thing for me. I had been working with the same crew for a long time and felt I needed a change but when I went to work in the new service it was the worst thing that I could have done. I ended up sick with stress and anxiety and was out sick for a long while. I went to New York the same year a few months before I was due to change project. I don’t think it had fully sunk in I could not do anything about the change and had to take on board what I had done. I was very slow to tell people what was going on for me as I was celebrating my 50th birthday and was 20 years sober and my addiction and head were saying that I should not feel like this. Being 20 years sober I should know better. What got me through this time was fellowship and meetings and being able to connect with like-minded people. I was given the opportunity of an internship where I ended up in treatment all those years ago and this was a huge blessing.

In June 2020, I ended up in the Aisling Centre in Beaumont Hospital after having a breakdown as a result of Covid. I did not catch it but my mental health suffered as my routine changed from being a busy person to doing nothing. Everywhere was closed I could not go to meetings or meet friends. It was a scary time in my life and when I look back at it now I feel I am dreaming. Thankfully with the support and help of the medical team, my doctor and psychiatrist, and of course my family I managed to come through it and have been getting stronger all the time. It was nerve-racking and I was crippled with fear and anxiety – a fear that I was going to catch covid but thankfully I did not. As time went on I managed to get stronger and get back on track. I have to say in all honesty my time in the hospital was quite scary. Something I will never forget. The months flew by and went from months into years and slowly society began to open back up but It was a very slow process. I was able to get back to the face-to-face meetings but was very nervous about being at them and able to do normal things. Apart from the time I was out of work sick I was working and that kept me on top of things. I had great medical support which I am blessed with. I don’t think I would be where I am today without their help. In May 2021, after speaking to a friend of mine she mentioned to me about GROW, an organisation I had never heard of but I did reach out and sent them an email and within a few days possibly a week I was at my first meeting. It was there that I met like-minded people who knew what I was going through and my wonderful coordinator Louise who was so welcoming and made me feel at home. I remember being told at the end of the meeting my task for next week was to come back and that I did. About 9 months later I still attend GROW. I can not express in words how much the group GROW has helped me over the last 9 months and especially my co-ordinator, Louise. I would not be where I am today without the help and support of this wonderful organisation. I never missed a night and was able to host a meeting on two if not three occasions. I have met some wonderful people who, like me, have battled with anxiety and depression. I am looking forward to being able to start going to the in-person meetings and meeting the people who have been an important part of my journey over the last nine months.

The week of the 11th April 2022 was very challenging for me, especially hearing about the young gay guy who was assaulted in the city centre of Dublin. It brought back memories of when I was assaulted many years ago for being gay in the wrong place and being drunk did not help me. I noticed that I was getting very angry and that my mood on Wednesday was very all over the place. It took me until I was sitting in my counselors chair to realise what had triggered me and the way it left me. I am very grateful for the people I have in my life that I can call when things get tough. People who know what I am going through. The murders of the two guys in Sligo were tough as well and hopefully, it will bring the LGBTQIA community together so that violence of any kind will not be tolerated. When I am triggered or feel vulnerable I normally try to sit with my feelings but the old me would have acted out and found myself getting involved with the wrong kind of people.