I came to McGarry House in 2013, having battled addiction and homelessness for a number of years. I had been in other hostels previously but had been asked to leave over non-payment of rent…all my money had been going to fund my addiction. I started taking heroin at the age of 18 and found that it allowed me an escape from the pressures and worries of life and soon fell into addiction, which followed me for 11 years. In that time, I have seen friends and family also fall into addiction as a way to escape their reality. Some of these friends are no longer with me today through suicide and overdose…the drug we started using to make life easier was in turn making everything much worse. The reality we were trying to escape had found us again and every day became a struggle to hide from life through more drug taking.
Having witnessed a friends’ overdose, and following an overdose myself, I knew this wasn’t the way I wanted to continue my life. But I was in so deep, I couldn’t see a way out. Seeing your friend overdose, literally watching them fighting for life and being unable to respond, waiting for emergency services to arrive is the most helpless situation anyone can be placed in. I didn’t like that feeling and I didn’t want to be the cause of that feeling for anybody else. It was soon after that event that the staff in McGarry House approached us with the idea of training residents with the skills to prevent and respond to overdose, the TOPPLE programme. I thought this was a great chance for me to help others, not realising how much this programme would help me.We were trained in how to prevent overdose by recognising signs of risky behaviour with drug taking, trained in how to respond to overdose with scene safety, CPR and naloxone administration and also how to communicate properly with emergency services to allow them carry out their job as efficiently as possible. They also taught us how to talk to somebody after they have had an overdose – not being judgemental, offering support and being a shoulder to lean on if needed, as well as pointing them in the direction of services that can help.
Having completed my training my response to overdoses is now a lot calmer as I know I have been given the skills I need.The helplessness I once felt has been replaced with confidence in my own ability to respond. I graduated as a peer overdose worker three years ago and now feel confident that when an overdose might occur that I can put my skills to use and do all I can to help save a life. The TOPPLE programme gave me back hope that I would beat my own addiction and someday help others in the position I found myself in. I’m now three years clean from heroin, something I could never have imagined before the TOPPLE programme.
I am reunited with my partner and children and I am also studying addiction, so I can put my life experience together with academic learning to help people fight their addiction and not fall deeper into it like I did. I had used drugs to run away from all my problems not realising I was creating those same problems for my own kids, what I was trying to escape I was creating. I believe had the staff in McGarry House saw in us, things we couldn’t see in ourselves. They believed we were ‘more than just addicts’. I wouldn’t have had the ability to climb out of the hole I had dug so deep, without their support, friendship and trust in me. Their belief in me made me believe in myself. For that I will always be grateful. They helped me get back my life so one day I can help somebody get back theirs.