Our problem with addiction- and how Michael taught me a lesson I’ve never forgotten

ADDICTION: We don’t seem to be doing much to solve the problem

Ryan Tubridy was talking about addicts this week.

I have, like many, people, known addicts. Some eventually and with help managed to beat the addiction.

Others died.

I worked on Baggot Street in the late 90s. 

The Sunday Tribune offices were over what is now a Tesco supermarket, in what was once Zhivago nightclub!
Every morning, on my way in, I would buy a coffee in the shop opposite our offices.

And as I emerged I would habitually put a few bob into the cup in front of the young man, sitting there, begging.

One day I got into the office with my coffee when a colleague, Neil Dunphy came up to me.

He said he noticed me giving money to the guy begging.

And I have to confess that, what I thought was coming next was the old cliché telling me “he’ll only spend it on drugs.”

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Neil, it turns out, did voluntary work with the homeless.

And he suggested to me that, as well as giving this guy money, I should talk to him.

So I began to do so.

Every day, I’d get down on my hunkers and talk to the guy whose name, he told me, was Michael.

We chatted almost every day after that.

Then one day in late November, I bent down to talk to Michael when he asked me a question.

“What aftershave do you use Paddy?”

I smiled in what was probably a very condescending way.

“Why? Do you like it Michael?” I asked him.

“No,” he said. “I want to get you a bottle for Christmas.”

I smiled.

And I walked away.

And I walked away because I didn’t want Michael to see me crying.

Because I was crying.

Right up to that moment, I could think of Michael as a beggar, an addict and – I word I hate – a junkie.

But he showed me that he was actually a person, a caring, ordinary person. Yes, almost every thought was probably about his next fix. But he had taken time to think of me, kindly, for giving him a few coins and stopping to chat with him.

God, I wish addicts had a political lobby, I wish people marched in huge numbers demanding help for addicts.

But nobody does. We give out about them. We blame them for what they’ve become though no child ever stood up in class and told their teacher they wanted to be an addict when they grew up.

I never got the aftershave of course. I didn’t need to. I got the thought of it.

Michael died.

And more and more will die between now and this Christmas.

Homelessness is our shame. Inequality is our shame.

And so is the way we ignore the problem of addiction.

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