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*Noel Considine. Photograph: Gerard O’Neill

Recovered alcoholic Noel Considine has stressed the difficulty of social isolation on recovering addicts throughout the pandemic.

The Clarecastle man suffered from alcoholism for 30 years. Affecting every area of his life, his addiction led to nine hospitalisations before the age of 21, all in the hope of “drying out.”

Seven years ago, he stood on a bridge in Limerick City on a cold Christmas Eve, with the intention of taking his own life. Saving himself from certain death, Noel decided to receive treatment from Bushy Park that Christmas, marking his sixth enrolment in a rehabilitation centre.

Sober ever since, his greatest joy in life is returning to Clarecastle to visit his mother, son and grand-daughter and seeing the smile on their faces and the joy he can finally bring to their lives. Now a car sales manager in Galway City, Noel admits that the isolation wrought by COVID-19 has presented many challenges for recovering addicts.

“I live on my own and like many others am facing massive isolation. For other recovering addicts Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), aftercare or contact with other addicts can be a lifeline. If you asked me a few years ago, what would be my biggest fear as a recovering addict, it would be isolation. Not having contact is everybody’s worst nightmare. Physical AA meetings have a maximum capacity of 15 people. Who’s to say who gets left out in a group of 30? There are Zoom meeting too that cater for bigger groups but I prefer the face-to-face connection, so they’re not for me. I’m lucky to be out working and meeting people but for others, it’s extremely difficult,” the former Wexford senior hurling goalkeeper coach stated.

Noel alludes to the inexpensive and accessible means of home drinking during the pandemic. As an alcoholic, Noel only ever drank in pubs and never outside. “Drink does change us all,” he stated. He believes that will power is not the catalyst for change but want power. “If will power were involved, I would have stopped drinking at 20. We have to want to change. When we decide to stop drinking for good, we must accept that we are an alcoholic. That is where I fell down. I always admitted but never accepted,” he added.

The twelve steps programme practiced by recovering addicts’ centres around lifestyle change. Only the first step mentions alcohol. COVID has increased the possibility of relapsing. Noel has attributed this to a loss in faith or the inability to contact a sponsor. Drawing on experience, his relapses began six months before picking up his first drink. Falling prey to previous attitudes, behaviours and thinking is where the seed is sown. Now Noel’s faith keeps him strong and he admits to being a different person. “I don’t ever want to go back to that life ever again.”

Now he lives his life on the principles of HOW. Honest, open-minded and willingness. This is the key for getting help, whether for current or recovering addicts. Noel takes one day at a time. “Two years ago, my life was marked by a tragic event. This would have been an excuse to pick up a drink, but I didn’t. For the first time ever, I have learned to love myself. I always hated myself. Any person, place or thing that interferes with my sobriety, has to go. Seven years ago, when I stood on that bridge with €3 to my name and wanted to kill myself, I had absolutely nothing or nobody. My problems today are all first world problems. I have a great life now. I will never let what sobriety gave to me, take away my sobriety.”

Since leaving his Wexford role, the three-time Clare SHC winner with Clarecastle is looking forward to linking in with five different teams for the coming season. His time will be divided between Sixmilebridge, Brendan Bugler’s Birr in Offaly, two sessions with Wexford hurling club St. James, Tynagh-Abbey/Duniry in Galway, and Rahoon/Newcastle GAA in Galway. “I don’t know where I’m going to fit in an AA meeting,” he jokes.

Noel urges any recovering addicts struggling during the pandemic, to reach out to somebody. Help won’t just appear. Anybody will be willing to help. “If anybody wants to talk to me, get in contact through The Clare Echo. Nobody ever turned their back on me,” he added.

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