'I was homeless, I had nowhere to go, I knew rehab was where I needed to be' - Young father-of-two shares fight for sobriety after decade of drug addiction
Aaron Waddington grew up in a home where illegal drugs were readily available and his parents and would-be role models were addicts.
At the age of 12, his father had died and his mother had been sent to jail for heroin related offences.
Sent to live with his older sister in a nearby home in the south Dublin suburb of Shankill, "this was when things spiralled out of control" for Aaron.
In an interview with independent.ie, the now 26-year-old shares his path to addiction and successful road to recovery in a frank and honest way.
His approach in addressing what inevitably led him to living homeless on the streets, injecting heroin, aims to raise awareness among others experiencing similar feelings of helplessness.
"I felt alone, abandoned, rejected, not loved; all these things you would feel as a child – scared, in fear. It's different having a sister to having a mother and father.
"First of all I stopped going to school, then I started robbing and hanging around with older lads."
Before long Aaron was staying out drinking "from Thursday to Sunday" and his family "had no control over me".
"My sister had no control over me as she wasn’t my mother. Her husband had no control over as he wasn’t my father so I was basically running riot."
Soon moving on to cannabis as he "didn't really like drinking", Aaron reveals that this was his first drug of choice.
"When I start smoking hash it gave me a different feeling, nothing mattered, things didn’t matter anymore. But it quickly progressed to ecstasy and cocaine. I wouldn’t have said that I was trying to get rid of these feelings of loss or abandonment at the time, but now – seeing what these drugs have done to me – it did take those feelings away."
"I enjoyed taking them, I enjoyed being on drugs as they gave me a sense of belonging to something. I belonged to the little gang of guys I hung around with. They made me feel like a different person, like I wasn’t on my own."
As a "hyper teenager", Aaron said he mainly took ecstasy and cocaine at the weekend but moved on to prescription "calmers" as "they tended to chill me out a bit more".
"When I was 18 I start taking Valium, Zimovane. I loved Valium, I loved taking prescription tablets – they are very easy to get on the streets. It keeps you really relaxed. Especially after being on cocaine for a weekend, when it comes to Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, you want to take Valium to relax – and be smoking weed.
"My sister tried her best for me – she still does. She’s a great person and I didn’t help it at all. It caused a lot of problems in her home too as she took me in. It affected her family. Her husband would be arguing with her over me, the way I went on, the things I was doing, the hours I would come in at. I was even taking things out of the house, I caused a lot of trouble in the house.
By the time Aaron reached his mid teens, he was well known to the gardai - "I was jailed for possession of drugs, for robbing cars, fights, all things like that".
"When I got out of jail I was about 20 and I started smoking heroin in prison. I didn’t have a heroin habit but I very quickly developed a habit.
"I always knew that drugs weren’t for me – I knew when I start smoking heroin that things were going to go bad. Soon I was injecting and before I knew it I was homeless. I didn’t have anywhere to go."
Aaron soon became well acquainted with the volunteers running the Tiglin outreach bus in Dun Laoghaire, "going on to it to get a cup of coffee and a chat with them".
"I knew at that stage that that was where I needed to be. I said ‘I can’t do this anymore’ running from hostel to hostel. I think it was easier for me to come to that decision as I didn’t want to be the way I was. I got to a really low place, living in hostels and not talking to my family. I wanted a new life – I think it really helped me there.
"No one wants to know you when you are on heroin. Nobody wants to hang around with a heroin addict."
Arriving at Tiglin, Aaron wasn't planning on staying for the duration of the program.
"I said to myself that I’d go down there for a couple of weeks and get clean and get my stuff together. But when I got down there it just all fell into place. People wanted to be back in my life. I have my daughter back in my life, I have my son back in my life. It just all fell into place."
The Wicklow-based rehab facility caters for both men and women in separate centres. Approximately 30 people can reside in each centre at any given time. Aaron explains what his day would be like at Tiglin.
"You get up in the morning at 7 o’clock you go upstairs and have a bit of quiet time. Then you clean the house and then you go to your classes. One of your classes is about love and acceptance, another one would be personal relationship with others. Then, in the afternoon, you’d have a work program - you're learning things that are necessary tonmoving on with your life.
"The biggest changes for me came from counselling. You get counselled once a week on a one-to one or a group basis. There’s therapy and there’s behavioural counselling – all different kinds that are tailored to your needs.
"Sometimes you don’t realise the problems that you have until you get there. You think they’re outside problems but they’re actually internal."
But the first course Aaron attended wasn't a success - he relapsed when he entered "phase four" of his programme.
"After 10 months you live back in society and you get a job and you things. But I wasn’t happy – I didn’t deal with a lot of stuff that I should have. I didn’t deal with a lot of my problems that I went there for. Things started coming up and I couldn’t handle it – I ended up going out one day and I started using. I made the decision to use, I made the choice to use drugs. I used straight heroin and they asked me to leave.
"Then after a few weeks the manager rang me and asked me did I want to come back. I knew that I had to go back and finish what I started. I just knew I had to do it. Before I just wanted to get out. This time I worked hard and I did what I had to do. I was there for 22 months. I was a very angry person for my hurts. I learned to get to know people and get on with people."
Aaron graduated from Tiglin almost four months ago and is currently doing an addiction studies course and working part-time. He volunteers at the centre and plans to do a social studies course next year. His relationship with his family and friends has improved significantly and he beginning to establish relationships with his four-year-old daughter and son (3).