The Light House – overcoming tragedy on the road to recovery

'Addiction does not discriminate. It hits all classes and ages'

by Rose Barrett
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Many service users at The Light House café go into Tiglin rehabilitation, and are steered towards further education/training, and often end up in employment or volunteering within the services

Among the workers I met last week in The Light House were David Norton and Robbie Byrne, both of whom grew up in Dublin in the ‘70s, when the city was in a vice grip of the new phenomenon – drugs.

In Coolock, in a family of 10, David was reared by great parents and wanted for nothing. “Da was a painter and decorator, Mam a care worker. From an early age, drugs were around me. I left school at 14 and went from drink to drugs. It was a fast road to destruction, and I was soon robbing shops and bringing the guards to our door.”

Despite having a steady relationship, and a daughter, he moved onto cocaine. “When I lost my little brother Mark to drugs, that sent me over the edge. I left my family, went back on the streets, and then over to England, leaving debt everywhere before I returned in 2015.”  

“I know what I left my ex with, the total responsibility of rearing my two children. That’s a sadness I carry with me. Thankfully, I’ve been reconciled with them, and they’re great kids.”

David is now in a stable relationship, with a 16-month-old son. In common with many addicts, he had failed to complete rehabilitation courses before. When he started linking in with the Light House and the Tiglin crew again, changes happened. “I had great support, and stayed clean. I did a Community Employment Scheme and then, a Level 7 in Addictions Studies at Maynooth, among shorter courses completed. O’Brien Landscaping were good to me, gave me part time employment and I will be sad to leave them.”

One of the services the Light House provides is fresh produce which can be taken home

Now he commences a Level 8 Certificate in Challenge & Behavior Studies. “I’m hugely proud to be appointed the Weekend Team Leader at the Light House, plus I will help with housing support on a Monday” (as co- founder of North Dub Bay Housing Crisis, David has invaluable experience working with families in emergency accommodation hubs).

“I’ve a stable relationship with all my children, but Tiglin and The Light House is what finally saved me. The support from Robbie and the team here, Jessica and Aubrey (who gave me work with AMC Removals). After 10 years on and off the streets, life is good,” said David.

For Robbie who grew up in the inner city, tragedy befell the family when his sister (15) died in a house fire. There were six children and the family had moved from city flats out to Tallaght before the tragic fire. “It was all very traumatic for me when I was aged 11-12 years old; we moved back into the city home, where I now live with my father and brother.

“In the 80s, drugs were all around us, I started smoking weed, but I soon progressed to tablets, and at 21, got hooked on heroine.” Like David, Robbie began stealing, breaking into cars or trucks,  in and out of prison. He was on a methadone programme at the Thompson Centre, in Mountjoy St for several years. He was ‘stabilised’ on methadone, in a relationship, with two boys, and managed to complete a course. 

Volunteer Anna sorts donated clothing

But when his mother passed died after years of dementia,  grief took hold of Robbie who went back on drugs – ten times worse than before.  After going to The Lantern in Garristown for rehab treatment, and then to Hyde Park, along with attending recovery meetings, Robbie’s life was back on track but sadly his relationship was severed. 

Having previously been involved with soup kitchens, Robbie began volunteering at The Light House. “I’m now Floor Team Leader and work five days a week, Monday to Friday.”

Robbie’s biggest regret is the pain he caused to his family, going missing, bringing trouble to their door, plaguing them for money or somewhere to stay. He acknowledges the support of the Thompson Centre and The Light House. Where once the latter fed him,  The Light House staff planted the seed that there could be a better life for him, a more permanent future in good health and better relationships with his family.

Like David, education has helped Robbie in his recovery,  with Addiction Studies in the Community and Managing Conflict (Level 5) completed.

“For the team at the Light House to hand me a set of keys, to trust me with the code and access –  to validate their faith in me… it’s a whole new life for me, I never thought I was worthy of anything.  Now my family tell me how proud they are of me – and often ask my advice!

“I can now chat with service users, and tell them of my journey, from where I’ve come with no hope – I just wanted to go to sleep and never wake up – to a good life. Now I love my life which I owe to so many along my journey, but especially to all at The Light House and Tiglin, and David who is a great support. I’m in a stable relationship, and I see my children and grandchildren. 

The Light House, No 28 Pearse St, Dublin a daily living space, morning and evening for those who need it most.

Pictures Alison O’Hanlon

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