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‘I know from experience that there is a capacity to change’

By April 19, 2020May 22nd, 2020No Comments


As part of her ANON series, Liadán Hynes speaks to an anonymous, north Dublin-based community youth worker about how the area where she grew up and now works has been affected by the limitations currently placed on the services she provides, about how she herself was reared by those same services, and her own journey to recovery after reaching rock bottom in her addiction.


*Trigger warning: This piece contains mentions of suicide and suicidal thoughts.


“We work with young people experiencing addiction. They could also be involved in high levels of crime, alcohol abuse, anti-social behaviour, early school leavers. Our main role is being a voice for them young people. Being a social educator and mentor, a positive adult.”


“We would probably operate until about 10.30 in the evening. It’s kind of when are young people most vulnerable; then and the weekend. We operate out of a community centre, but we tend not to always work in the centre. There are hard to reach young people; we try and make it our role to go out to them. Because sometimes they don’t have the capacity or the life skills or the social skills to be able to sit in an environment, or look you in the eye.”


“I’m living in this area all my life. It’s mad when you look at the reasons that you get into the work. I had my own struggles as a young person. And I suppose for me, my youth project at that time met a lot of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, in terms of the work that was done and the youth workers that were there. They provided that level of care, support, and advocacy. Because my own Ma couldn’t do that, she didn’t have the skills or the capacity.

“It wasn’t just that; I brought my own struggles too. I didn’t see it at the time, but I was hard to manage as well. It was just a combo of madness. But I do say I grew up in my youth project. I was almost reared there. And anything I gained in terms of my life skills, my social skills, and my experiences, I got in my involvement in a youth project. My growing up and my development was all centred around my youth project. My youth worker would have come along to counselling sessions, court cases, all that went with it. She was my moral support when there was a lack of parenting.

“In our community we haven’t got an actual family support project in operation. We don’t have that umbrella where you could link mothers in. I suppose the repercussions of what we see for the younger people are because of the lack of supports for parents, women and mothers in the area.”


“There are young people that will come from stable backgrounds, will have good parenting, will be in school, but they will still struggle as well. They can come in and they can take part in a group, fully engage. And then we’ve another extreme where they can’t sit easy for two seconds. This is the ripple effect, and how working-class communities are, in terms of being in recovery. How can we transmit something we haven’t got? If a young person comes in and they haven’t got the ability to tap into resilience, because they haven’t got it, they can’t tap into the social skills that are required. And then they come from a home where their parents haven’t got the skills to pass on either. That’s where we try and step in.”


“We do street work. We’re out and we’re visible. If we haven’t seen young people for quite some time we would knock and do house calls. Sometimes it’s very hard for them to come to the centre, because it’s our space, and it can create a barrier for young people. So we try to make it a little bit neutral for them. As in we’ll say to them ‘lets go for a cup of coffee, a bite to eat’. I have found you can have the open conversations and get a sense of young people when they don’t feel trapped or under pressure. They can express a little bit more. I’d be really aware of who’s in the community because I am local, and I am a professional in it.

“We work with them from when they’re ten. But we have young people who are seven or eight who we know we’ll be working with. Because they’re around, or you’ll see them when you’re out on street work. So you have a sense of who’s going to be at risk, or who is at risk. We try and put stuff in place, even though we can’t commit to working with them because we’re not actually funded or allowed. We kind of keep the link and build the relationship in whatever way we can. They could be coming from chaotic backgrounds, probably addiction.”


“When you look at addiction, there is a social acceptance and culture of it. Perceptions of addiction and recovery and being an addict are completely distorted. For me, I was kind of an alcoholic from sixteen. I was a daily drinker. I’d had suicide attempts, and at hospital visits they would have detoxed me. But I wouldn’t have identified myself as any kind of addict. I’ve uncles who have come through Coolmine who are heroin addicts, and they have come back out and drank. My idea of an addict was probably just heroin, and you had to be using all the time. When my uncles came out of Coolmine and started drinking again I didn’t really class them as addicts. So I didn’t see myself as an alcoholic or an addict.

“I’m in recovery now, but up until 2017 I still had my job and I had all the external and material things. In terms of young people that I work with, a lot of their using; there’s a dependency on it. They’re using every day. It’s bringing consequences. In their view they’re not crack addicts, and they’re not smack heads, so they don’t connect addiction to their weed using. They say the alcoholic life becomes normal. In our communities, everyone is doing it, so what’s not normal about it?”


“There’s a lot of antisocial stuff going on at the minute, a lot of fear and intimidation. It probably seems that it’s worse at the moment because everything’s so quiet, it’s a little bit more evident. There’d be certain types of young people that are in the area at the minute that have brought about violence and intimidation. At the minute my community is rampant with drugs. You get periods where it will come in and out. Because sometimes our young people are locked up, it quietens.

“And then they come out, which is the case kind of in the last month or so, a few of them have got out of prison or out of juvenile detention centres and they’re back out there. And I suppose, with the weather, a lot of them are sitting in gardens drinking a lot more. They’re saying ‘what else is there to do?’ With our work it’s like you’re caught between a rock and a hard place. Because people see who’s causing what in the community. And then they see us supporting them. And they’re like ‘why would you bother?’ I’ll just say it the way it’s seen, it’s like ‘why would you work with them scumbags?’

“Because if you’re on the receiving end, or you’re feeling and fearing what’s happening in your community, that’s what you’re going to see. The community experience the level of crime, the intimidation, because these people are gathering in groups at the shop. They’re holding the power, they’ve the authority. The community experience all that, and then when they see us working with them, they’re like ‘why would you even bother’.

“There are some really strong relationships, because some of them are 18 and we have worked with them from the age of 10. In the profession we’re in, as with anything, we can see a different perspective. It’s not to say it’s justifiable, but there are contributing factors as to how young people’s lives turn out. By no means am I saying that it’s okay in terms of what they do, but I know from my own experience and journey in life as a young person and the damage and stuff that I have caused, that there is a capacity to change if you’re fortunate enough to have the right people put in your path to enable that.

“Then there’s the other side, especially with young men, where they’re just out there, and they don’t want to change. The money, the status, everything that goes with it, it’s too attractive, because they see no future where they can obtain those things in any other way than through crime. They’re getting the money in, and they’re strolling around in the Canada Goose jackets. Who wants to compromise they life they have for what could be, you know?”


“Isolation is a problem now. Obviously we’re not advised to do the normal house calls. We were delivering hampers this morning to a few vulnerable families. That’s kind of an outlet to see how things are a snapshot level. Or else it’s by phone. But it’s hard to gauge where a young person is at through conversation on the phone. There is one girl we are dealing with, she’s a teenager. She’s very reserved anyway. She came into our women’s group recently. The night before, her front windows were after being put through. She came into the group as if nothing was wrong.”

“She wouldn’t be able to engage in any shape or form in an in-depth conversation around what’s going on for her anyway. But it’s like it was so normal, she didn’t even tell us what had happened, instead it was that blank canvas and blank expression that she normally comes in with. You know with some people you can pick up energy, or facial expressions? She’s that shut down and shut off. That kind of thing, with kids, is where your concern would be, because they just don’t show anything. They don’t know how to. Even affection. If you were to see them smile or laugh, it would be a major outcome. They just don’t know how to experience it, how to receive like, a compliment.

“This girl would struggle in school, in terms of just going in, and it’s mad because we’d link in with the teachers, and they say if she was to put the work in or be in school when she’s supposed to, she would absolutely excel. Things at home would be really difficult there. The only way she can protect herself is by shutting down. She just has a blanket around her. A coat of armour. Her home would be quite violent. Verbally, probably, rather than physically, towards her. But it would be quite a damaging, unhealthy, toxic home environment that she’s living in.

“And I suppose at the minute that would be heightened. Because some families would have different services involved. They’d have the wrap around approach. Social workers would be involved, the school, they’d have us. But because of the lack of communication between services, at the moment we only know what we’re doing. We don’t know what anyone else is doing. That link or that chain, where we would all come together, in terms of how families are getting on, is not there. At the moment we’re just doing what we can to tap in, check are people okay. In terms of all the other collaborative pieces, I don’t know what’s happening with the families on any other level.”


“I know of families where some might be pub drinkers, they wouldn’t drink at home, but that has become a thing now. I suppose what some families are experiencing is the fear is being brought into the homes even more. Where usually the situation might be that a person is out, they work, they go for their pints, they come home and go to bed. But they’re not getting that little setting, they’re coming home and they might be experiencing agitation, or irritation, and drinking. And the children, spouses and families experience the backlash of that.”


“The big one for us over the last while is weed, it’s huge. Young people smoking it and selling it from the age of fourteen. We do say to young people, ‘it’s not our job to tell you to stop, but it’s our job to educate you around the choices you’re making’. When they move on from weed, tablets have been a big thing for our young people. Not as much heroin at the minute. It’s being sold, and there are some of our young people who experience it. Just before we shut up our workplace, we’d one or two people knocking on the door looking to avail of counselling, just at a loss.

“I had a message to my own personal phone because he knows I’m in recovery, just saying ‘when all this shuts down, and we’re back to normal, can we meet up for a coffee? I just want to sit with people who understand’. So if they walk by and they see all the shutters are down, they think everything is gone, closed. So how do we become visible during this time to make sure that the services are still in operation? Not everyone is connected to social media. There’s a lot of people that aren’t on it. Some of them are just so caught up in their own madness and chaos that it doesn’t even enter their world that Facebook, social media, is out there. There’s so much going on in their own little world.”


“We all seek the human connection. A lot of people will speak about ‘I was disconnected for so long, until I came into recovery’. And then we do our piece of work in the rooms, and we get connected again. For me, I did get a little bit wobbly when this isolation all started. I normally travel a lot. Go down the country. With all that being gone, the sun’s out, everyone’s sitting in their gardens having a drink. I started thinking ‘oh will I not go to the Zoom meeting’. That little demon in my head. I have to just be really careful. My disease nearly was grabbing me by the head and dropping me in places that weren’t healthy for my recovery.

“But I just want to be around people, I want the connection, but with all my therapeutic spaces being pulled, where do you get that? I help a few other girls who are going through the steps, and I’m on the phone a lot, so I don’t get time to sit around and think about it. I knew on Monday that my little soul and spirit was getting dampened, and it was on me. And I if go to those places, where people are drinking, I’m going to pick up. But I find it hard sitting at home. But what’s healthier? Being home, or being in places that are unhealthy and toxic. And that will cause damage.”


“What was the turning point for me? I was blessed with one friend. She was working in addiction services. She had kind of linked me in a few times. She had tried a lot of things to remove me from certain situations, certain people. But if you’ve crossed the line, and you’re an alcoholic or addict it doesn’t matter; the geography, the job, that doesn’t matter; because you’re going to drink no matter what. I knew my using and my drinking wasn’t normal. Like to get up, reach for the empty can, and whatever was left in it from the night before, and drink it at eight in the morning, wasn’t normal. But nothing was registering with me. And I wouldn’t have been familiar with the recovery that I know now back then. I struggled on.


“I came into recovery on the back of a suicide attempt. It was a Friday. I was up training. The madness like. Doing exercise training; this is what I’ll do, I’ll train, because I was so bloated and putting on weight, and I’ll drink gin because that’s what they advise in Slimming World. All the delusion. And you know what, I’d be putting out on Facebook about how well I was doing, and how wonderful the world and life was, and inside, they say it, me insides just weren’t matching my outsides. My friend asked me ‘seriously what is happening? You’re going to bleeding die’.

“A friend came and she was trying to get me out, because I was sitting in my room depressed and crying, all that. I was after calling into work sick three times that week. I was drinking at lunch time. All the madness was still happening but I couldn’t make sense of what was going on. There was just a turning point in that, going ‘d’you know what, you’re a useless piece of shit. You can’t even get work right, you can’t get anything right’. There was just something different in this time of just not wanting to be here. I’d nothing else to give in me. Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

“My head, the way it works, is that when I experience them levels, and it doesn’t help being influenced by alcohol and tablets, that my outlet in them times is just… ‘kill yourself’‘. And that’s what I tried to do.”


“I ended up in hospital for a week. Two friends of mine sat with me and said ‘please, will you just try something different’. In my head I was saying ‘things will be different, things will be different’. But for years me history and me career has shown me that nothing has ever been different. They had rang around treatment centres, and I wasn’t willing. It was the fear of letting go; I didn’t know how I was going to live with it anymore, and I didn’t know how I was going to live without it. And the fear of living without it was far greater than living with it.

“But something had happened within that. The surrender moment. It was just like, ‘just do it. Just try’. And I had that little moment and I went into treatment. It was my rock bottom. I had had them over and over, all throughout my years from the age of 15. Suicide attempts were part of my journey. The majority of times were fuelled by alcohol and drugs. But I just didn’t know what I suffered with. And I didn’t know what I was up against. It’s a foreign language to people in a lot of communities that we work in. Hearing that and taking that in. And you have to be open and ready, in a position to hear it. It can be frightening and it can turn people off. And a lot of people they stay in that cycle, because of it.”


“I was fortunate in terms of what and who I had around me, friends wise. I still had my job waiting for me to come out to. I had one or two friends that were in recovery that brought me to meetings at the fellowship. I didn’t need stabilisation, and I didn’t need detox at the level some do – as in heroin users – having that added battle and struggle. That can be really difficult for people if they haven’t done it before and they know nothing about it. In terms of my recovery journey it would be quite different. If I was to say to people ‘this is what I done, take my AA book, do the steps’, they’d look at me and go ‘get the fuck!’. They would.”


“At the minute, there are people who have to do home detoxes. And we can’t link in to say ‘let’s walk to the park for a cup of coffee’ and break their day. They can’t avail of the services. One woman, she was to go into detox treatment, and that’s on hold because they can’t put anyone in from the outside. They can only work with who they have at the minute. In day programmes they’ve done the same. So people’s routine and the little bit of structure they’ve built up if they’re only new, have all just come crashing around them. People who are just starting out, they’re really vulnerable. And they’re really at risk of relapse.”


“When work closed, I was sitting around, spending hours in my room in my pyjamas. Thank God I have that little bit of knowledge and awareness of myself. A lot of people don’t. So what might seem really simple to me, is really fucking hard and difficult for others. I was like ‘make sure you’re up and out by ten, dressed and walking’. By the time I knew it I was on the phone, ringing people, checking in, and when I got back home it was quarter to twelve, I might make a little sandwich for myself. Hour by hour. And I don’t mean in just this situation at the moment. People’s lives are like this anyway. It’s just a little bit more difficult given the restrictions and limitations now of the people and the services that are normally able to call into them.

“Someone’s day might revolve round the social worker calling into them for the hour and having that little connection. And if that’s gone, what does that mean for them? Sometimes you don’t have the energy or power within you. but it’s just like I know now that it doesn’t serve me just sitting in. The minute I put my feet outside the door, and this was even before this, I know that I’m okay.

“You can feel like you’re choking. But the minute I step foot and I move out the door, I’m like ‘phew’. It’s one thing for me being in my recovery, in my profession, I have all of this this awareness. But when we think of the people, the most vulnerable, and the ones who can’t access services that they normally would have. What does life look like for them right now? I can’t imagine.”

(xviii) OUT OF REACH

“The whole idea right now is to reduce contact, but when the work requires contact, how do we manage that? Because it’s about keeping everyone safe, including us in the profession. On one hand, you can understand why they can’t let people in in large numbers, but how do we support them? Other than the phone? You’re not going to stay on the phone to someone for five hours in a day. Or a week even.

“And then some of them the situation they’re in they are not going to be able to answer. Their way of getting out might be that call, or that knock on the door, and if that’s gone, they’re living in terror and fear. It’s hard to know how the government are going to operate. Because I know in the last recession, the community and volunteer and public sector got a hammering. What will that look like now, if some of them aren’t seen as essential?

“When you’re picking up the recovery pieces of this, you need to look at the aftermath as being as severe as the virus itself. People healing. The trauma that will come. My fear is will they look at the work we’re doing as not essential. Will that funding be pulled into other areas to try and build the economy? We were saying the other day, our work is going to really kick off when all this dies down.”

If you have been affected by any of the issues mentioned above, the Samaritan’s helpline is available around the clock, and can be contacted by phone and email.

Freephone: 116 123

Pieta House: 1800 247 247 or text HELP to 51444
To find your local CAMHS office, call 1850 241 850 or
Childline freephone: 1800 66 66 66 or text 50101

Photo by James Sutton on Unsplash


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