Brian Pennie was a keen footballer when he was a teenager. He told Oliver Callan – sitting in for Ryan – that he lived for football. And although his friends were trying smoking at about 14, Brian wasn’t interested because he didn’t want his football to suffer. It was only when he got injured and couldn’t play football that he was tempted to try the things that a lot of his contemporaries had been offering him. He started on cigarettes, then moved to hash, methadone and heroin. Like so many others that have succumbed to it, heroin was the drug that really got its claws into Brian and it took him 15 years to prise those claws loose.
“I remember describing it as Nirvana on earth when I [did] it – and I’m obviously not promoting it, it will bring you to hell – but it was just like, compared to me previously anxious self, it just made everything still, it made everything ok… It was like heroin spoke to me that night. I’ll never forget that night.”
Although he was in many ways instantly mentally addicted to heroin, Brian believes he it took a few years for him to become physically addicted because he was self-delusional.
“So I was never going to become a real addict, I was like, too good to be a real addict.”
By the time he was 20, Brian was a full-blown addict and he had to go on a methadone programme. The remarkable thing was that he got and maintained a full-time job. He describes himself at the time as being a high-functioning addict, but, he told Oliver, that he was unaware of the damage he was doing to himself.
“I was a black belt in self-deception… My internal narrative was, ‘I struggle with anxiety, I cannot cope and I need heroin to survive’. And that was me sense of self, me sense of identity and I would do anything to keep that story going. So, there was no awareness there that I could do anything else.”
Brian now believes that “awareness is the opposite of addiction”. When he went to a treatment centre, a priest there called it an awareness centre.
“Once you become aware, that’s where the change happens.”
It took many years and many lows for Brian to get to a place where he could start to haul himself out of the depths he was drowning in. He caused his family a lot of pain, he eventually lost his job, everything fell apart. And the story of how he pulled his life together is an extraordinary one.
You can hear Brian’s full conversation with Oliver here.
Bonus Time by Brian Pennie is published by Gill Books. For more information, visit brianpennie.com.
If you have any concerns relating to the issues raised in this story, please visit RTÉ’s Helplines page here.
Niall Ó Sioradáin
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