“The Drink”: a story of the struggle

“The Drink”: a story of the struggle

by Sr. Jo Anne Kelly MMM                           Ireland                           04.09.2023     

Many years ago, I was doing a course in Dublin. Included in the course was one month of “Field Work”. My field work was in a Facility which helped people suffering from addictions especially alcohol and drugs, or both. I was assigned to a male ward. The men were otherwise strong and healthy and could look after themselves, so my time was mostly taken up with listening – all day listening to sad, difficult stories. As part of the programme for recovery there was a strong emphasis on the need to have a belief in a Power greater than themselves, a belief in a loving, merciful God who was willing and able to strengthen and heal.

Two fine young men, in late 20s, were determined to free themselves from their addiction to drink. I got to know them quite well. I will call them Mike and Sean, both from Dublin. They were a joy to work with, very positive about the future and were close to the end of their stay there.

Back in Dublin, I sometimes wondered if I’d ever meet them again. I rarely went into the city but one evening, months later, I needed to buy some things and after classes I took the bus to town. As I was walking down a crowded Middle Abbey Street, I saw a man staggering along, looking very disheveled and carrying a rolled up sleeping bag. As I was about to pass him, he fell. He just curled up and lay there. I did not know what to do but I knew I could not just walk past. I asked if I could help him, he just lay there and grunted something. I tried again, he kind of turned his face and then said, “Oh God, Sister, is it you?” It was Sean, and he was a sorry sight. He had a wound on his head and his hair was matted with blood. He wouldn’t even try to get up. I sat on a window sill to talk to him, told him about the places he could go for help. He said he was barred from them all because of stealing money from others. He had nothing left and was going to the River Liffey.

I was totally at a loss about what to do. Like a miracle one of our lecturers came along, I will call him Fr. Dan. He had a free evening and was going to the Adelphi cinema to watch a movie. He had heard the last part of the conversation and he asked Sean if he would go back to the facility where I met him. I tried to encourage him. He thought for a while and said, “I have no way of getting there”. Dan said he’d buy his bus ticket.

We got him up and set off for the Bus Station. We kept Sean between us so he wouldn’t fall again, up Middle Abbey Street, all the way across O’Connell Street. Halfway down Lower Abbey Street Sean stopped and said to me, “Let him go on”. I was dressed in full MMM grey, including a veil, but Dan was not in clerical dress. He moved on and Sean said “Is he a cop (policeman)? I said, “No, he is a priest”. He just stood and roared laughing. Everybody in the street was looking at this unlikely trio!

We arrived and learnt we had nearly two hours to wait for a bus to Sean’s destination. Dan suggested tea but Sean felt it would make him sick. We sat and chatted. I asked him about Mike. He had seen him recently but said he had become very rough looking. As he got a bit sober, he changed his mind about the tea and we trooped up the stairs, me first, then Sean and then Dan. Over tea Sean shared his whole sad story, and how bit by bit he had lost everything, including the people he loved. I began to see again the lovely young man I had first met. He became aware of how he looked and thought nobody would want to sit beside him on the bus. Dan went to buy the bus ticket. I took Sean to the top of the stairs to go down and clean himself up a bit. Halfway down he stopped and called to me “Will you be there when I come up?”  I assured him I would.  We went over to the bus.  Dan gave the ticket to the driver as Sean got in and went to the very back seat.  My heart ached for him, and I asked God to help him.  That night I phoned the facility, but Sean had not arrived.  Next day there was still no sign of him.  He arrived in the afternoon of the third day.  I thanked God and prayed that he would make it this time. I hope he did.  I would like to think it was not by chance that both Dan and I were in Abbey Street that day.