John's Story‘Alcohol is a drug…make no excuses about that. It is a drug and it is a mind-altering drug. And that’s proven’

As heard on The Ray D'Arcy Show

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John Higgins lost his son, David, to suicide 6 years ago. John joined Ray on The Ray D’Arcy Show to talk about David and discuss the connection between cheaply-priced alcohol and suicide.

As John put it to Ray, “All parents should remember the day their children are born. You should never have to remember the day they die.” Unfortunately, that day came for John in 2011. David, who was 19, died following a night out with friends.

John started off by telling Ray about his son. David “hated school with a vengeance”, John said. He told Ray that David’s dread of school was so great he used to find him hiding or locked in a room when it was time to leave for school.

“We had incidents of him hiding under the bedlocking the bathroom door. I had to take the lock off the door to get him out and then he’d ask me did I want a hand to fix it.”

David had “a few bumps along the way” in his teens. John described how he was waiting for better circumstances.

“He just lost his way…he did make mistakes but not life-threatening or anything like that…He was a good lad. He had a good heart…He was working in a printer’s…He was waiting then for something else to come along. I suppose, you know, he never got that chance.”

David was about 18 when he started drinking, according to John.  A relatively “late start”, Ray noted.  At first, John and his wife Anne hoped that one or two incidences of David coming home very inebriated would be rare occurrences and not the start of a trend. At the back of his mind, though, John was worried.

“[David] went out one night, you know, and I was sitting in the sitting room and I heard a car pull up outside. I went out and there he was, lying in the garden…not able to get up…You’re hoping this is a once-off…but it wasn’t a once-off and it happened time and time again…I just had that gut feeling that this is not going to end well.

Part of the problem, he explained, was trying to get through to a young man and being unsure how to do it.

“I suppose, looking back on it now, maybe I should have looked for help. But it’s very, very hard to talk to a young fella that age, you know, and engage with them. I just hoped he’d stop…but he didn’t.”

The night David died is a sadly recognisable picture. John took Ray through the sequence of events as he remembers them. An excited young man getting ready for a night out. Later, a series of worrying phone calls. Finally, meeting a Garda who confirmed their fears – David was in the river. The family’s ordeal was compounded by a harrowing two-week search and the tragic death of a family friend who drowned while searching for David.

“It was like being in a washing machine, you didn’t know where you were. You were up, you were down, you didn’t know what you were…I was kind of confident he’d be found sooner rather than later but…that’s not the way things worked out.”

The major problem at hand, John claims, is ready access to cheap alcohol. He firmly believes that had David not been drinking on the night of his death, he would be alive today.

Alcohol is a drug…make no excuses about that. It is a drug and it is a mind-altering drug. And that’s proven…I think he [David] would have turned into a nice lad.” 

John knows he faces an uphill battle when it comes to changes in legislation. The political situation frustrates him.

Some of these politicians…they agree in their hearts and yet, when it comes to the vote they’ll look and say ‘If I don’t do this now, there’s only one John Higgins and there’s a lot of shops around’…They need to forget that…I’ll bring them on a tour of the graveyard someday if they want.”

Many listeners messaged the show in support. It bolstered John’s conviction on this issue.

“It’s public health we’re talking about…it’s time people started to kick back.”

Listen back to the full interview with John Higgins on The Ray D’Arcy Show here.

If you feel you need to talk to someone, you can call the Samaritans on 116 123 

HSE Drug & Alcohol helpline: 1800 459 459

© The Listener 2017

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