Looking forward to Christmas after five years of hell on earth


David Clarke looks forward to Christmas since he gave up heroin two years ago. He can now afford to buy his three children things they want and, most importantly, wants to enjoy it with them. "Before I wouldn't even get out of the bed for Christmas morning," he says.

"It's great to see a smile on their faces because when I was on heroin, they weren't really getting anything for Christmas." The 33-year-old from Dublin's south inner city attends the Merchants Quay Project where he receives methadone to help him stay off heroin. His life has turned around since the five years of his addiction. His children and his partner are back with him, he has a home, he has regained his mother's trust, and he is learning new skills.

David has just completed a study of the history of Thomas Street where he interviewed older people living in the area.

He is also brushing up on his reading and writing skills and hopes to go to the Dublin Institute of Technology on Bolton Street to study addiction counselling next September.

A few family members are harder to convince he has given up drugs for good. "If I'm in my auntie's, if I go into the kitchen I get followed because they still haven't got that trust that I'm completely off everything."

David describes the five years he was on heroin. "You never have a happy life on heroin, never. It's hell. It's hell on earth."

It began at a party when he smoked some heroin he was offered. "I couldn't believe the buzz was so good. Everything I was feeling inside just went, was blocked out. That one line led to two and three, and then I was going to buy my own."

The death of his younger brother when he was a child and a rape attack just three months later caused David mental anguish over the years which made heroin a welcome escape route.

"I couldn't even tell my mother or father what was after happening with the man because my little brother was only after dying three months before . . . I was nine and he was three and he just let go of my hand and walked out on the street.

"That took lumps out of me and my mother and father. Their hearts just went out the window and my father wouldn't speak to me for years. Everything just built up and I couldn't handle it. That's when heroin came into it."

But the buzz was short-lived and David soon found he was addicted. He sold his possessions and would spend his entire salary on heroin. At one point he was taking five or six bags of heroin a day costing £120. He lost his job and began thieving. A few times he ended up in custody. He became homeless and turned to his mother, who gave him an ultimatum.

"She said you have a choice. You can stay here or go back out on to the streets and take your heroin. It was a horrible thing because I stayed out about three nights. It was freezing, it was in the winter and I said to myself `I can't handle this'.

"I went to see a doctor and he said `I'll give you the help you want.' Since then he's given me help and got me back on track."

David has been reducing his methadone intake since he began his first course two years ago. He hopes in six months to come off it completely.

He says it is still difficult to break the mental dependence on the dangerous drug. "The temptation is always there. I'm off it two years and I still get the taste of it on my throat. But I know if I do it again that I'm finished."

The series will run daily this week until Friday