Broken by their sons' drug addiction ... and saved by a local support group
Joe O'Shea meets three men who found salvation after their families were blighted by the scourge of heroin
The day Andrew first found his youngest son's heroin "works", he was overwhelmed by grief and blind rage.
When that son was later shot dead by drug dealers, the rage and grief sent him into a destructive spiral of violence that was destined to end either in prison or in the grave.
Peter coped with his realisation that his three children were being drawn deeper into addiction by retreating into a fog of drink, numbing the pain by night and hoping he would "wake up in the morning and it would all be all right again".
Charles just drew in on himself, unable to talk to anybody about his youngest son's descent into serious addiction.
Recently retired after decades of hard work, he couldn't understand why the youngest of his 10 children would choose addiction over a good job, a home and a happy, loving family.
All three men lived in a world of pain and isolation, unable to talk to their kids, their friends or even their partners about the monster in their homes.
They had grown up in Ballyfermot in Dublin, where, as in many other of our communities, men didn't talk about pain, love, grief and fear.
If they found it hard to put their arm around their sons and say they loved them when times were good, how could they reach out to them when they were ripping their family apart?
They isolated themselves as their children lied, cheated and robbed, as dealers made threats at their front door and those they loved destroyed their lives one deal at a time.
"You give up, shut down and hide the pain," says Peter.
"It was anger, shame, guilt; you thought you were the only family going through it and you just didn't talk about what was going on," says Andrew.
"You are the man, you are supposed to be the protector, so what are you when you can't even protect your kids?
"What good are you to anybody?"
Addiction causes terrible collateral damage and these three fathers were, as they say themselves, "broken men".
The fact that they are now able to sit around a table and talk freely and with great honesty and insight about what addiction has done to their families, is something of a small miracle.
Andrew, Peter and Charles are part of a small group of men who meet every Thursday night at the Ballyfermot STAR centre in the heart of the Dublin suburb.
The STAR's men's support group offers help, counselling and alternative therapies to those who are struggling to deal with serious drug addiction within their families.
As well as counselling and support, the group offers holistic therapies such as acupuncture, shiatsu massage and reiki, which is a form of energy healing.
Looking at Andrew, Peter and Charles, you might think it would be hard to find three less likely devotees of shiatsu massage therapy. But Peter, a bright-eyed and upbeat former soldier, is now a qualified shiatsu therapist after three years of study in a centre in Monkstown in Dublin and is planning to set up his own therapy business.
Andrew (62), who is disarmingly frank about his years spent relying on his fists to sort out problems, now swears by his regular acupuncture and reiki sessions.
"I love the reiki, I do. It really helps with the stress," he says.
However, for the men in the group it's not so much the holistic therapies that heal as the simple freedom of being able to talk.
Peter talks about the months he spent as a "broken man, separated, nobody to talk to, walking to every church in Dublin: Protestant, Catholic, born again ... I didn't care; just looking for somebody to help."
That journey eventually brought him to the door of the Ballyfermot STAR centre.
But it took him months to summon up the courage to walk in.
'I was walking up and down, looking at the door, chain-smoking fags and trying to work up the courage to ring the bell," he says.
When he did eventually work up the nerve to go in, sit down in front of a cup of tea and start to talk, he soon began to open up.
"It's very difficult for men, guys like us, where we're from, to find the nerve to sit down and really talk about what's wrong in your life," he says.
"And some guys, well, it might be three or four or more meetings before they can even start.
"You kind of need somebody to tell you that it's all right to cry, it's OK to be angry.
"You feel so vulnerable telling a group of men that you are sad or lonely and then in that moment, they tell you it's OK."
The group is open to all who need help but there are certain rules that apply.
"We're not here to judge anybody or repeat what one of us might say to the others," says Peter.
"You can't have any fear about talking about what you did or what your kids have done; we need to be able to share without thinking people are going to think less of you.
"We've sort of become like a family ourselves, because out there in the big, bad world you might have nobody to talk to.
"I remember when my family was going through nightmare times, and I would just go down the pub and have the same old conversations about the same old football matches until I thought my head was going to explode.
"I was trying to deal with somebody else's addiction and at the same time I've got all of this going on in my head, with no one to talk to and I just fell apart."
It was only after a major health scare caused by the stress brought about by his family situation and several months at the Ballyfermot STAR that Peter decided to totally change his life.
"I was in my local talking to my barman and I told him he wouldn't be seeing me again. I gave up drink, smoking and gambling all at the same time and I haven't been back there since."
For Andrew, the problems were not so much caused by alcohol (although he says his former drinking habits contributed) as by a different kind of addiction.
"I was addicted to anger and that's how I dealt with the world," he says. "I wouldn't talk to no one, certainly not to a woman; I just wanted to fight the world."
When Andrew first found his way to the men's group, he was not ready to share his innermost fears with a group of men.
"You're thinking, who are these guys?
"They might know my family and what are they going to be saying about me on the outside?" he remembers.
But the man who lost his son to drug-related violence in November 1995 says the support he has got from the Ballyfermot STAR centre saved him from a prison sentence or an early grave.
"People think I'm nuts now because I've changed so much from the man that I was; they think I'm crazy, but maybe in a good way," he says.
"I think we've all found that we have to cure ourselves first, and thank God we are doing that with the help and support we get here in the STAR."
Peter, Charles and Andrew say the door to their men's group is always open.
And with the blueprint now available from the Ballyfermot STAR, they are hoping that other men facing similar problems in other parts of the country will get the chance to discover that it's good to talk.