Irish Daniel’s Story
With 30 years clean this September, ‘Irish Dan’ began his recovery journey at PROMIS Kent. After 15 years of active addiction, Dan recalls how he transcended from a Peckham squat to an established family man. Wishing to carry his message and inspiration to the wider PROMIS community, he tells us how the door to recovery opened for him and where it led.
I came into recovery totally Ignorant, and just as well. I had this vision that I would come to a country club and that I would be detoxed and that I would get some good food – I was seriously undernourished. I met Robert Lefever and he put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘Listen, it’ll be ok.’ I always promised myself that I would recognise if I was ever going to change, after having been using something for at least 15 years, every day, and I got this rush. I arrived in PROMIS five days late! Robert had given me a one-way ticket and I had arrived. I got off the train straight into the local pub. The taxi driver came into the pub where I had a pint of Guinness, and I had no realisation that this was my last drink.
The taxi driver took me to the PROMIS treatment centre. I woke up the next morning and I went into the community completely green. When I did wake up, what worked for me was that everyone in the counselling team was in recovery, so everyone could identify. Everyone who worked within the structure of the place, whether it was the kitchen staff, or the cleaners, they were all very knowledgeable about why we were here. It was a very loving structure. That’s what caught me. This made me think, hang on, there’s something here. I had never met anyone who had cleaned up their act, I had never met anyone in recovery, there wasn’t that much talk about it back then. It was that vision, that eye opener of how ignorant could I have been about the whole process.
I was a using addict, out on the streets, I’ve always worked, so it was controlling it all, a wife and two kids squatting in Peckham, a big group of people around me. I was on my knees at this stage. In the march of ’88, there was a Daily Mail article to do with this doctor, Lefever, who had turned his family home, in Kensington, into a halfway house. I read that article and I thought, my god, this looks like me, there’s something here. I remember pulling the page out, folding it up, and keeping it. I had in my head that I would arrive down in South Kensington, I was going to knock on the door, I’m a builder, I could do the maintenance for a while. This is in my head. I never got there. But, flash forward to October ’88, I’m sitting in the PROMIS office with my counsellor, Clive, and behind Clive there was a picture frame with something on it, and I got up and went over, and it was the article, someone had put it in a frame and put it on the wall. To me it was unbelievable.
I had two epiphanies, turning points, in my recovery. One was the woman who introduced me to Robert Lefever. I had stopped lying a year before I stopped using, the big snowball story lies. I was straight as I could be. I had to work for the money, I knew the rules. I was good at what I did and I was a slave to the work. I was using gear not to be sick so that I could go out and work, trying to keep it together. I met this woman, Judy, I was up in her house working in Chelsea. I’d been very straight with a lot of people, Judy being the last person I worked with before I came into treatment and I was like I need a sub, upfront in the morning, arrive at nine, get ten or 20 pounds, go and score, come back, work until 6 or 7, do the job, then get another sub in the evening. Five days a week. On the Friday night I’d still have a bit of money left in my kitty, to bring home for food.
Judy was a non-judgemental woman, she knew the deal before I went to her. I’d met her a month earlier and she’d said if you’re ever looking for work please come up Chelsea to me, I always have something going on. She asked me one day, ‘how do you use it?’, and I had one ‘yet’, or two ‘yets’ left before I went into treatment. One of them was that I hadn’t used a needle, ‘yet’. And something else, maybe not robbed an old lady in her sleep or something. So I said, ‘well I burn it,’ And she said ‘oh goodness, did you ever think about stopping?’ And, just to give her lip service, I said I don’t know. And she said, ‘I know a doctor that might be able to help’. I thought – doctor? I had never been scripted because I didn’t want to get the social welfare people involved. So, the nodding donkey, I said, oh yeah Judy that’d be great. So she gave me the number, and about two or three days later she said to me, ‘did you ring that number?’ I said ‘oh yeah but I couldn’t get through’. No intention of meeting any doctor. And she said, ‘well I’ll ring the number for you’, and I thought oh god, so she rang the number and she said to me you have a meeting. Friday evening, 5.30. Ok Judy, no problem.
This would have been a Wednesday, I was thinking about today and the hit in the morning, I’m not thinking about Friday evening. I’ve given her lip service, nodding donkey. Then Friday evening came, and she said to me, ‘are you going up there?’ I said yes. She said she’d give me a lift down, to South Kensington, and in we went, to the office, to see Robert Lefever. I went in, she stayed in reception, he said, ‘can I help you? What’s the story?’ I said, ‘well, I think I’m here for a script’, and he said, ‘I don’t do scripts’. I thought, well what am I doing here? And he said, ‘well I run a treatment centre in Kent’.
I knew nothing about treatment centres. I read a brochure in the hall that said ‘Good living, clean mind’, nice country walks, maybe a bit of tennis, that’s what I had a vision of, a country club. Not any therapy or anything. And he said to me, go there.He had asked me about my using, and I gave him a fairly honest breakdown, and he stood in front of me and said ‘listen, it’ll be ok’. So one moment of realisation, and I always promised myself I would recognise it if I was gonna change, in that minute, it was enough to know that I had accepted a long time before this that I would die a using addict. I would control it as long as I could, with a few little ‘yets’, so I walked out of the office, out to the car, he gave me a one-way ticket to Nonington. Out to the car, I sat in the car, Judy went to start the car and I said ‘oh no Judy hang on, give us a minute’, and I balled for 15 minutes, for the first time in my life probably, with the relief. Years of pent-up emotion. I was then a few days late going there, but that’s how I got there.
I promised myself I would recognise if the door opened, if the door ever opens for me, I’d be going through it. That opened the door. The only thing I was sure of, from that point on, was that I wasn’t going back to the squat I had in Peckham. I went down to the flat, it took me four or five days to sell everything, use everything that I could, and I walked out and left the door open, swinging open for the next man, because that’s the only thing that I knew. I didn’t have a clue where I was going, Kent meant nothing to me, I just thought, I have a one-way ticket, and this is where I’m going. It’s not even that it’s going to be better than where I am, it’s just going to be different. I remember walking out of that door, the best day of my life, other than my children’s births, the best day of my life so far. The realisation I wasn’t coming back here. And off I went, down to Kent.
The second epiphany for me was I had kind of floated into group one day, high on this thought of ‘you’re going to do it man’, the obsession had lifted very quickly off me. I went in on the 21st and I was going to be put on a two week detox. I lasted three days and then I thought, no I won’t have any more of it, i’ll just going to go cold turkey here if I can. So the 25th was my first day absolutely clean. About a month in a question was put to me – ‘do you want to stay here? Do you want to continue?’ And I thought where did that question come from? They gave me time to think about it. I remember going up to bed that night and my head was going, I was getting seriously feared up about what the consequences might be, and how little I knew about myself. It was the first time I really prayed, got down on those knees, because the obsessions had started coming back, there was a weight on me that hadn’t been there, the honeymoon they talk about? I’d had a lovely honeymoon! I was praying and thinking, I can’t go back out, please don’t do this to me. I have no hesitation in telling you that I had this great weight lifted off me, there and then, now I mean there and then. I thought I was going mad, I thought take this away, I can’t not sleep again, I had broken that sleep, I had managed to start to get to sleep again, and I just had that lifted. I thought, ok, strange things are happening here, in my mind, my soul, my body, and obviously I got up and said, ‘yes I’m staying! If you’ll have me!’
But, I was only halfway through, I finished it, spent the time, if I have a regret, it is that I didn’t know enough about myself to do more work on myself while I was in there. More onion peels away, they used to say ‘come on now, where are the tears?’ and I would say ‘I don’t know!’ They did a lot of role play. Some of the people I was with couldn’t take it, they’d break down and all I could see was fulfilment. At the end of the therapy they’d say ‘well how do you feel?’ and my thing after one of those therapies was, if I was to die now, I am totally ready. Totally at one with the world, with the self, with everything, I just feel whole.
One of the therapies involved other members of the group putting you in a statuesque pose to demonstrate how you’re engaging with treatment. Some people were made to hold books in front of their face as they were seen to be blocking people out, others were looking out the window as they always had their head out of treatment, I was walking around scratching my head! When I looked around, at the other people, I could recognise, yes, that person is hiding in the book, and I could accept mine, I was pondering everything, it was all coming in. There was one young woman, down from London at the time, there was quite a heavy scene going on in london, and she was put in there by some person, and they had her on the window, lying across the window with her two fingers up to the group, and it really was her! Talk about learning! I just thought that this was so deep, and so informative about myself. It’s a deeper level of understanding life.
My younger children have never seen me take a drink, they have never seen that aspect of me. My older ones were five and seven when I cleaned up. They say don’t go digging, I didn’t have to go digging, I’ve accepted that there’s been alcoholism in my family. When I look around, a lot of dysfunction is in a lot of families, I’m no one special. I just had this thing that the book would stop with me. When I realised, when my eyes were opened, I thought well the book has to stop with me. I can’t give this on to the next generation. They will have other things, but they certainly won’t inherit it from me, or that part of it, they won’t see me do it and that’s gone a long way in helping me to stay clean as well. I’m trying to find a balance. They have to learn for themselves, who they are, and where they are. They have to do certain things, life is for living and you’re only young once, it’s finding that balance. All I can do is walk the walk, talk the talk. I’ve seen a lot of people talk the talk, but when it comes down to it, the walk is a different thing. Hopefully, by example, they’ll learn. Because they do learn by example, if they see daddy and mummy drinking every day. I do accept that addiction is a disease as well, I know my father binge drank, I know my grandfather probably died an alcoholic, but I’ve never really gone looking for it.
I did have a fear that my children would follow me, who wants this life? My god, you don’t want this life boy! I remember saying that to my older children, I’ve tried it, I’ve done it, I’ve been there – there’s nothing there. Do something else, if you can. I guarantee to you son, there is nothing there. I’ve tried it all – it’s not there! Touch wood, I’ve been very lucky, there’s been none of them that I’ve had to pull out of the swamp, I hope it’s not a yet, but I’m ready if it is.
I have met incredible people, who accept me for who I am, and more. I reckon I must be an interesting guy. I’ve been a lot of places and I’ve met a lot of people, I say to them, I’m sorry, I don’t drink, or I don’t use, and I don’t take bullshit if I can avoid it! Simple stuff.
Just live in the day – what a message! I lived in the day most of my life, chasing the drugs, knowing what I had to do to get them. Even now, people push me, I can plan, and that’s ok, but I know that I’m only going to have the day. One of the best messages I ever got was from one of the therapists in PROMIS – ‘Dan, the only thing you’re sure of is, the sun is going to rise in the morning. That’s the only surety for you in life’. It’s a great message, if you’re ready to take it in, because for all of us, we have the same message, we start again at sunrise, everyday. All we can guarantee is that the sun is going to come up. You might not be around to enjoy it, but the sun will come up. You can plan, but don’t expect it to come out as planned.
Those things always made me comfortable because I have a very deep spirituality, that I must have been born with, I always knew I was doing wrong to my personal, spiritual self. That’s why I could never do a needle. It was so intrusive to my spirit.
My recovery was gained by working the programme. It was presented as a bridge to normal living and this is what it’s helped me achieve. I work it, to the best of my ability, everyday. The most important person in the room is the newcomer but also, in my experience, the person who has relapsed and come back holds the key to staying clean. They have a lot to offer and a lot of experience to bring back.
I was exposed to grief very early on in life. I’m the middle child, first son for a good few generations but my father died when I was 12. I think of that as an atomic bomb, like an atomic bomb going off it sparks something, and it has a timeframe, and that timeframe can be generations, or that timeframe can be a lifetime, or less. When I was 9 or 10, my father’s brother was dying, and as he lay dying, he asked to speak to my father, but my father couldn’t do it, and the visions and the energy and the pain, and then seeing how people deal with that pain. It is usually straight away pour whiskey on it, quickly, just to get through the day. Two years later my father died, so that was another atomic bomb going off and it’s a horrible place to be left when you are 12, it’s a very vulnerable time. It took me until I was a 40-year-old man to admit that I was even angry about the situation. And that was after a lot of therapy, and I wasn’t doing specifically grief therapy, but it was always stored. How do you be angry with a loved one? The core of it was the acceptance that yes, I was fucking angry. And, once it’s expressed, it dissipates.
I had a sister killed in a car accident when I was 19 or 20 and that was horrific. She was a twin sister, she was 23 maybe with a six-month-old child, and that was just *bomb*. I remember my mother coming up to me, because I wasn’t working so I was at home, as the news came through I woke to screaming, her nails drawing blood in grief, I just thought this was another atomic bomb going off. I just remember pouring spirit, Bacardi, by the bottle, straight onto the emotion. I’d been aware that this is what you had to do, you can’t express this, you have to keep it together. Getting through that, with an escalation over the next 12 years of using. Her sixth-month-old son (when she died), died at the same age as her of drug addiction. My nephew. He came to me for help, he worked with me for a while, the deal was, as long as you’re not using, if I have a job you’ll have it. He managed to do it for about a year and a half and it was great, really great, then for whatever reason, I think he had an emptiness, because of his mum, a real emptiness, that he could never fill. And he went back and because he had been clean maybe he went back and just took too much, but he died in the same hospital, at the same age, as his mother.
So another atomic bomb, but I was clean.
When I cleaned up I had two children, five and seven, I stopped on the 21st September ‘88, and their birthdays are 12th and 13th of October. I came back to Dublin at Christmas, I was allowed, they were a bit afraid that I was going to relapse, I was quite raw, but I said I have to go back, just for a week. I arrived in Dublin, and essentially I was babysitting, at the home where my wife at the time lived with my children. I went down to look after them, must have been Christmas eve, she had gone out to see some people, which was fine, and I sat with the kids. I was sitting low down, and they started questioning me. They were sitting low down as well, and they said, ‘Dad, you’ve changed’. And I’m thinking, what the hell? I mean I knew I got my hair cut, but that wasn’t it you see, ‘you’ve changed Dad, something’s changed, what is it?’ These were the questions. And my young little girl, who was only just six, I remember her touching my face and saying wow you have changed. You’re more awake. It has always stuck to me because I got the shock of my life. This went on for quite a while, and I was playing with it, seeing where it would lead, and I said yes I had, I thought the only thing I can say to you is that I have changed. But they were talking about energy with real emotional awareness. That was the way I saw it. Whatever the look was had changed, the energy had changed. I got emotional. You think your hiding it and you’re trying to keep it normal, but you’re not.
I can’t signpost the moment that it worked, but it worked. I was done, I was finished, my last thoughts in London were, I passed by a skip one day on the side of the road, and if I’d had the strength I would have climbed into it and died. It would have been a relief. What had happened for me was, the drugs had stopped working, and I hadn’t witnessed this before, and what it meant for me was that I needed more, I needed a needle, and these were ‘yets’ that I’d set or I was going to start robbing banks or something and it frightened me.
It was Crack that brought me to my knees, it had just arrived on the scene, I got paranoid, I went extremely crazy, I could see how people could lose themselves completely, but I still had a little core line – this can’t happen. I remember one instance with some Irish guy that worked for me, my apprentice, he was bad at it, he knew the situation, I owed some money, maybe £50/£100, I told him about this dude that I owed the money to, who was completely psychotic, off his head, gone, and I told him what colour of car he drove. And the guy walked over to the window one day and he looks down and he says ‘Dan does he drive a red sports car?’ My heart stopped. I thought this guy has come for me. I opened the door, went down to the bathroom, and I was trying to get behind a bath panel. I thought – this is new to me, I have never done this. It was a terrible place to be. I thought I was losing it.
When I left PROMIS I couldn’t expect anyone to respect my situation, they may be using, but they respected that I didn’t use – it was amazing. The last message I got from Clive in treatment, when I was doing my step five with he and Titus, one of the bulbs burst from the ceiling, seriously spiritual stuff. I thought it was a setup, I thought that they did sparks for everyone. We went off for lunch, and when we came back, another bulb blew, and I swear Titus almost ran out of the room. It was dramatic, almost like an exorcism. I had taken in chemicals and I had been building up a negative spirit, you’ve got to exorcise it, you’ve got to change it, get it out. And then something else comes in. When the bulbs blew, I thought, I’m getting there, this is real energy. The bulbs didn’t just blow, they burst, fell out of the ceiling. At the end of the day I came up the stairs, exhausted, on a cloud, I was lifted up, I thought I had wings!
I was born a Catholic, and there is a confessional thing, and someone said to me, ‘This man’s a priest but he’s been defrocked.’ And I thought, wow, I understand that. My last meeting with Clive, he told me you’re not going to relapse because of the big stuff, if someone dies, what you’ve got to looks out for, is that you’ll wake up one morning and you’re going to break your shoelaces, that’s what I want you to be aware of, that’s what I want you to look for.
I don’t know what the higher power is, I just know I’m not it. Whatever it is, it’s worked. Sometimes when I see people suffering, all it takes it that touch, the hope, a lot of people have come in on the message I received in PROMIS, I’m a message carrier, it’s all I can do.
Within every group, in every circle, there’s one person, my circle used to say, ‘if I get as bad as Danny, I’ll sort myself out’, which meant they didn’t have to look at themselves. I was the first one in the circle to walk away – they expected me back in a week. I went and I never came back. The whole circle was then dissolved. So many people had started to look at themselves. We’re all moving in a different space and time, and if you’re waiting for someone, which is a very sad place to be, it’s very hard because the door only opens at certain times for certain people. Their opening might not be for ten years. They might be ten years behind you or a year in front of you, but very few people get it at the same time. So the circle broke.
Dan came back to PROMIS to share his story in the hope that it might inspire others to make the change, or to continue their journey with a renewed vigour.