Cork heroin addict rebuilds her life

Posted on: 13th November, 2017

Category: Features

Contributor: Mary O'Brien

Viewers will have this week been gripped watching the final episode of the three-part documentary series The Rehab, which aired on TV3. Filmed over a year, with unprecedented access to staff and residents of Coolmine Therapeutic Community, The Rehab is a powerful account of addiction and the fight to get free. One of the residents, Sharon Duffy from Cork, speaks to Mary O’Brien about her addiction.

Sharon Duffy was given a second chance after completing treatment at Coolmine Therapeutic Community, when she was handed a seven-year suspended sentence for possession of a large amount of heroin.

The former heroin addict reveals how Coolmine helped her get her life back. Sharon, 31, is now working part-time as a receptionist and expecting her first child. She has also been accepted on to a Social Studies course.

Sharon detoxed while living in a squat in Dublin, getting herself clean before being accepted into Ashleigh House, the residential lodge where women are treated at Coolmine.

“I’ve failed treatment before when my head wasn’t in it one hundred per cent and I was doing it for others rather than myself,” she admits.

This time was different. “I had lived that life for ten years and I reached a point where I just couldn’t do it anymore,” she says. “I was drained and exhausted, in and out of courts and around people who talked the same shit all the time.

“The Stabilisation Day Programme at Coolmine helped me to get clean from drugs while I was squatting. There was a shower and a washing machine at the day centre, which was an incentive for me to go there every day. I probably wouldn’t have gone otherwise…being able to wash my clothes meant that I could keep up my appearance on the outside while really I was crumbling on the inside.

“You could even say the washing machine got me clean,” she says, able to laugh about it now.

Sharon first started drinking alcohol and taking drugs when she was still in primary school. “I smoked hash, then started taking E’s, after that it was cocaine and then when I was about 20 I started smoking heroin.” Sharon went from smoking to injecting heroin after moving to Dublin.

“I can’t even put into words how it feels. You’re constantly drugging yourself up to escape from your life. It’s pure misery, a miserable existence.

“You wake up in the morning and have to get high. Then you’re bagging up the drugs and selling them. You feel desperate, totally alone. You feel like this is never going to end and there’s no way out. Your body is constantly aching for heroin.

“If I didn’t go through all that though, I don’t think I’d be where I am today,” she says. “I think I fought harder because life was harder for me than if I’d gone home to Cork, where I’d have had a bed and friends and family around me.

“Everything that you think you would never do, you end up doing.

“I just feel so grateful that my mother, even though I shamed her and my family, saw the goodness in me and wanted me to get better. If I didn’t have her, I don’t know that I could have actually gotten clean. She was always there for me even after I pushed her away.

“Coolmine is very structured so it is very hard, especially at the start, when you have to be on time for things and have people telling you what to do all the time. But you learn to assert yourself there and work on your emotional wellbeing. I think the hardest part of rehab for me, other than the detoxing, was opening up in a group and also listening to other people’s stories and feeling their pain,” says Sharon.

Sharon left Ashleigh House last January, progressing to a day programme that helped her adapt to life outside the rehab centre. She graduated from Coolmine this September and is now looking forward to having her first child.

“I’m excited about the baby, more happy than nervous I think,” she says.

“I’d like someone to get some bit of hope from my story. If I can do this, anyone can…swallow your pride and ask for help and keep on trying.”

Coolmine is Ireland’s longest running rehab centre and the only addiction Therapeutic Community in Ireland. It provides specialist rehab services to the most marginalised people in Ireland. It has the only rehab centre in Ireland for pregnant women and mothers with young children, supporting high-risk families to stay together. It is the only rehab centre that works with significant numbers of prisoners and probation clients due to their unique behaviour modification approach.


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