Tonight I attended a meeting organised by a community based drug initiative in the city about the challenges of heroin use. The meeting was primarily about raising awareness and the auditorium at Waterford Institute of Technology was packed to the rafters.
The main speaker was Rachael Keogh. Rachael’s story made national news when in 2006 she escaped Garda custody after being arrested in connection with shoplifting and in a desperate plea for help allowed horrific photos of her arms to be published. This was the start of a remarkable journey and her story is one of bravery, courage and inspiration.
We watched a TV documentary of her long road to recovery. As she spoke elegantly and honestly about her own personal battle, what struck me most was her change in language as she shifted from one stage of her recovery to another. As she desperately posed for photographers and faced amputation of both arms she spoke of her fears, of not wanting to do drugs, of her morals going out the window and of being better off dead. She had reached rock bottom.
When she started on her road to recovery her language became more positive. She talked about taking one day at a time, of needing to keep herself safe, of choosing life or death and of not being able to do it on her own. Her first step was to be weaned off heroin through methadone. She received on-going treatment and counselling services. At the end she spoke about how looking back at the past was like looking at a different person. She now believes she can do anything she puts her mind to. And I have no doubt that she can.
The other interesting aspect of her story was how it all started. She began by smoking hash. At the start she saw it as a laugh and some harmless fun. She enjoyed it and she felt great. She progressed from hash, to acid to E’s to cocaine and eventually heroin. It is then she became secretive and began to beg, borrow and steal to fund her habit. Her friends told her she would end up a wasted junkie but she ignored their concerns. She felt in control but also driven by the drug. In the end she was crippled with anger and hated everyone. She was trapped and firmly in the grip of a deadly and destructive drug.
Her story is an inspiration. It is harrowing, emotive, challenging but at all times honest and truthful. It is also a wake up call. We need to learn from the experience of people like Rachael. The heroin battle is a complex one that requires multiples responses. It presents a whole new set of challenges to the user, their families and agencies. It also presents challenges to communities. One of the lessons we need to learn from Rachael’s experience is that the community also have a role to play. Communities need to be positive, constructive and open to ensuring services are available and accessible to users and that we are there to help. Rachael is a living example of this