‘Life on drink and drugs was hell for me’

Charlie O'Neill. (1603AQ01)
Charlie O'Neill. (1603AQ01)

Charlie O’Neill has been clean of drugs and alcohol for over a year.

Charlie, 46, said that up until a year ago his life was ruled by alcohol and drug addiction.

“I’ve done every drug except heroin and I drank anything I could get my hands on. Life on drink and drugs was hell for me,” said Charlie.

Charlie’s father died when he was four years-old. He was raised by his mother but developed a lasting, almost father-son-like relationship, with his father’s brother, Patrick.

“Patrick was like a daddy to me. We got on like a house on fire and he really understood me.”

Patrick died at the age of 81 on March 3 last year. Just before he passed away he asked Charlie to make him a promise that he would seek help and deal with his alcohol and drug addictions.

“His last words to me were ‘please give up the drink and drugs for me Charlie’.”.

“After he died I went on a bit of a bender but as soon as I sobered up I decided that I was going to fulfil my promise to him and here I am today, over a year later, and I haven’t touched a drop of alcohol and I am completely clean of any drugs.”

Charlie said that he first started drinking when he was 12 years-old and by the time he was 18 he was a “full blown alcoholic”.

“I remember my first drink was a can of Colt 45 beer when I was 12. When I was 15 I was taking prescribed medicine, magic mushrooms and I sniffed glue once.

“I’ve been tormented for the last 45 years but the last 12 months have been great.”

He added: “Although Patrick died I still think he’s with me every single day - he gives me the strength to carry on.

“Patrick was a real character. He loved boxing and handball. If anyone ever needed help he could never say no to them.

“Patrick always looked after me and no matter what part of Ireland or England I was living or working in at the time he would always come and visit me.

“We had a great relationship and he’s the reason why I am still here today.”

As part of his rehabilitation Charlie enrolled in a foundation degree at the University of Ulster and currently gives talks on the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse to various community groups around the city.

“I was always intelligent but because of mixture of things I never got the chance to shine at school. I am dyslexic and that definitely affected me when I was younger but I am determined to make a go of it now.

“I have another year to go of my foundation course and then I’d really like to do a degree in addiction counselling. I think I could offer those who have gone down or are thinking of going down the same path as I did a lot of help and support.”

He added: “I’ve been doing some work in the Gasyard Centre and I have to say that I find it very rewarding.

“If I can help just one person to think twice about drugs and alcohol then I’ll now that I have done something right.”

Read Charlie O’Neill’s full story in this weekend’s Sunday Journal.