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‘I had been addicted for eight years and didn’t realise the depth of it until one day I couldn’t stop shaking’

Jane Reilly didn’t realise the depth of her addiction at first. Then she got help. After six years clean, she’s helping others find a way through drug problems

Jane Reilly always loved to party. But, over time, she also began experimenting with drugs, before becoming addicted to valium, cocaine, cannabis and even over-the-counter painkillers.

The Dubliner was also drinking heavily and, as at the time she had two children, she soon found she couldn’t cope. When her eldest two (now aged 12 and 11) were just toddlers, they found themselves without a home and living in sheltered accommodation.

“When I was younger, I really liked to party on the weekends and over time began experimenting with drugs,” she says. “I had my first child at 20, while I was living outside of Dublin, and I moved back to the city just before my second child arrived when I was 21. But while I had my own home in Dublin, I never felt settled in it, so I moved in with my mum and sister, who kindly offered me lots of help. But this was counterproductive as with two live-in babysitters, I pretty much had free rein to do whatever I wanted to do, whenever I wanted to it, while they took care of my two kids. That is when things began to get out of hand. And unfortunately, when my children were aged two and three, we became homeless.

“Before this I had been taking Valium, but when we moved into alternative accommodation in a hotel, my drug habit escalated and it wasn’t long before, in addition to the Valium, I was drinking heavily, taking cocaine, smoking lots of weed, and consuming about eight Solpadine tablets a day before moving on to Benzos [Benzodiazepines].

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“We were homeless for about seven months before we got an apartment, but even then, although we had somewhere to live, nothing changed and, in fact, my addiction escalated and spiralled out of control.”

The 33-year-old says that when she was “in the throes of addiction”, her children were being cared for by family, so she didn’t feel like she had a problem as she was able to function. It took almost a decade for her to realise that things were out of control and for the sake of her own health and that of her children, she finally decided that she needed to get help, fast.

“I had been addicted for about eight years and really didn’t realise the depth of it until one day I literally couldn’t stop shaking,” she says. “The shaking only stopped when my friend gave me five Valium and it was at this point that I knew I had a problem and needed help.

“But I didn’t even know where to start — so I went to the doctor who referred me to Frontline Make Change, a local organisation who provide drug, alcohol and substance use support for people in addiction, as I wanted to get help with the addiction and also with detoxing. This was a really big move and was the first step towards the rest of my life.

“I was assigned a key worker at the outset and at first, I was so overwhelmed by everything because I knew that I had a lot of work to do. But I was also in the depths of addiction and understood that I really needed help. I felt I could stop the alcohol and cocaine easily as I didn’t feel quite so dependent on them, but it was the benzos which was the bigger issue.

“But over time, I built a great relationship with my key worker and regularly attended both group and one-to-one support sessions. I utilised the counselling services and also their community services, popping in for a cup of tea and a chat with other service users — as it was comforting to know that there were others in a similar situation to me.”

The mother-of-four (aged 12, 11, 5 and 4), who is taking Level 7 addiction studies, started on a path towards recovery and before she became pregnant with her third child, managed to come off all of the substances she had been addicted to. Since then, her life has been utterly transformed and, while she still avails of the services provided, is living a happy and healthy life free of drugs. “I never thought I had a problem until it all came to a head — and when I got clean, I never relapsed,” she says. “I stopped the benzos completely when I was pregnant, and really felt that gave me the head start to keep going.

“I am now six years clean. I’ve completed Level 5 healthcare support and Level 5 addiction studies and I’m currently studying Level 7 addiction studies with the dream of becoming a key worker and helping others to find their way through addiction. But I still attend counselling services today, as I think it’s important for me to continue to work on myself, to appreciate how far I have come and to remind myself of my journey.”

The Dublin woman says that she hopes her story will inspire others to seek help. And she is particularly conscious of women who have slipped into addiction during the Covid lockdown. She would encourage anyone who is experiencing a dependency on any kind of substance, particularly if it is affecting their day-to-day lives, to seek advice sooner rather than later.

”Acknowledging that you have a problem is often the biggest step” and asking for help will make a huge difference to future prospects,” she says. Overcoming addiction “is a journey, and there is no on or off switch which will take you out the other side of it ... When I look back at my time, particularly during those early years with the young kids and the turbulent life we were living, I really didn’t think it was possible to become clean. So I think that the first thing anyone who wants to change needs to do is to reach out to services such as Frontline. They are trained to help in a supportive, non-judgmental environment and have the supports in place to deal with the complex journey and the various stages of addiction.

“I really believe that I wouldn’t be where I am today without the help and support they gave me when I needed it most.”

For more information and advice visit frontlinemakechange.com, drugsandalcohol.ie or hse.ie

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