Being in recovery allows you to find out who you truly are - Clare Shine

Republic of Ireland international details addiction struggle in new book

Clare Shine recalls lying in bed at night in a psychiatric ward in Glasgow’s Stobhill Hospital, any hope of sleep derailed by the alarm going off repeatedly as fellow patients attempted to escape the building.

In the mornings she would lie there plotting her own escape, angry that she had ever been taken to this institution.

“If I ran they would never catch me,” she told herself. By then, though, her body was so damaged, her stomach having had to be pumped out when she was admitted, while she drifted in and out of consciousness, she’d barely have made it to the door of her ward.

The police had brought her to Stobhill after finding her sitting by a lake, sharing a bag of chips with the birds and swigging from a bottle of wine.

It ended a high profile 10 hour search after she had gone missing from a house party near Edinburgh, Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, amongst those who publicly pleaded for help in finding her. Those closest to Shine, who knew of her mental health and addiction struggles, were left fearing the very worst.

“The police were on the lookout for a Glasgow City footballer, aged 25,” she writes in her book Scoring Goals in the Dark’ “but what they should have been looking for was a down-and-out drunk who looked like a tramp.”

She had walked aimlessly for miles, through a wooded area, on to a farm, along the way stopping to write her “goodbye message” on the Notes app on her phone.

It was the second time in her young life that she had attempted suicide, the first coming back in her home place of Cork after she was thrown out of a nightclub having drunk so much, earlier snorting cocaine in the toilets of a pub.

The bouncers dumped her on the path outside “as if I was a bag of rubbish”, and at that moment she decided she could take no more. She picked herself up, stepped out on to the road, closed her eyes, hoping the oncoming car would squash her “like a bug”. She was hit, but survived, crying all the the way to hospital, but only because she was still alive.

Two years later she found herself in Stobhill after her second attempt to end her life. This time was especially shocking for her loved ones because she had been doing well.

Five months before, she had written a searingly honest piece for The Sports Chronicle about her struggles, the first time she had truly opened up about them, and followed it up with a round of media interviews. She had cut out alcohol and drugs, including a cannabis dependency she developed to help her sleep at night. She was back in the Irish squad, Vera Pauw giving her a first competitive senior start that January. She was, she says, in a good place.

But she wasn’t ready for that spotlight and the resulting expectation that she had all the answers simply because she had shared her problems. If anything, the experience left her feeling more vulnerable. To add to that fragility, Covid and lockdown hit.

“It threw my world in to a frenzy,” she writes. “I was trapped inside an apartment and suddenly felt more lonely than ever before in my life.” She started drinking again. And come June, she found herself in that psychiatric ward in Stobhill.

She spent 30 days there, the youngest patient, by far on her ward. She struck up friendships with those who had battled their demons for decades, one of them an elderly ex-soldier, traumatised by his experience of war, who she watched sitting on the same bench every morning, “smoking a cigarette from tip to butt without even a flicker of ash falling away”, “constantly yelling about ‘taking cover’”.

“How did I end up here?” she asked herself.

It’s a harrowing story, powerfully and beautifully written with Gareth Maher, Shine’s struggles first triggered, she believes, by the death in an accident of a close friend when they were both just 15. The ensuing bottled up rage about the senselessness of that loss sent her on a self-destructive spiral that, by the day, took her deeper into the abyss.

This was the girl who, it seemed, had it all. A multi-talented sportswoman, excelling in soccer, Gaelic football and camogie from her earliest days growing up on the Broadale estate in Douglas.

At 17, she played in a senior camogie All-Ireland final for Cork, but by then she was already an established underage Republic of Ireland international, progressing effortlessly through the ranks from when she was first called up at 13, playing in underage European and World Cup tournaments and being named the FAI’s under-19 International Player of the Year.

She earned a professional contract with Glasgow City, completing her first season with the club by scoring a hat-trick in the 2015 Scottish cup final, winning her first senior Irish cap a couple of weeks later.

From the outside, then, life was perfect. From the inside, there was nothing but turmoil, an interminable battle that Shine was losing.

Initially, she had shared a flat in Glasgow with fellow Cork woman Denise O’Sullivan who, she says, was a brilliant influence, teaching her how to cook, eat well, and live like a professional. But then O’Sullivan moved to Houston Dash and Shine had the flat to herself. The club told her that it now had the reputation of being the “party flat” and warned her to cut down on the ‘socialising’.

Still, come the end of 2016, they offered her an extension to her contract, but by then all she wanted was “to drink whenever I wanted”, so she turned down the offer and went home, playing intermittently for Cork City.

There were so many low-points along the way, she’s lost count, but one that burnt was when, in November 2017, a year after she’d left Glasgow, she travelled to the Netherlands with friends to support the Republic of Ireland in their World Cup qualifying game against the Dutch.

She had started drinking early that day and smuggled a bottle of wine in to the game in her bag. By full-time, Ireland having drawn 0-0 with the reigning European champions, she was inebriated.

She went down to the side of the pitch to cheer the celebrating Irish players, most of them former team-mates, including Katie McCabe who she had played with all through the underage ranks with Ireland and for a spell at Raheny United.

McCabe spotted her and came over. “I was so proud of her,” writes Shine. “I reached out to hug her. Katie took a step back and said, ‘Jeez, you stink of drink’.”

Then Shine tried to avoid being spotted by manager Colin Bell because she feared she’d never play for Ireland again if he saw the state she was in. “I was two stone overweight, I looked so bloated, my face was swollen from the amount of drink I was consuming.”

He saw her, though, but he just waved, he didn’t approach her. She thought she saw sympathy in his eyes, which left her feeling even more broken.

It will be two years next month since Shine ended up on that psychiatric ward in Stobhill, but as she talked this week about her book, she had just signed a new contract with Glasgow City, where she returned in 2019, while preparing for Sunday’s Scottish Cup final against Celtic, in which - fitness permitting - she will make her 100th appearance for the club.

She’s back in the Irish senior squad, and outside football she’s visiting schools and talking to kids about her own story, encouraging them to reach out and seek help if they are struggling. She’s responding to the countless people who have contacted her to say she has helped them pull back from the brink.

She’s eager to stress that her battle is far from over, it will, she concedes, never end. “So, don’t get me wrong, I do have slip-ups, I do have bad days, things don’t just get better overnight. The real wins in my life now are going through a day without picking up a drink, being happy, going for a coffee, simple things. Everything outside that is a bonus.”

“But being in recovery is an amazing experience because it allows you to find out who you truly are. It breaks you down in to a million pieces in order to build you back up in a completely different way.”

She fell out of love with football several times through this journey, especially during the time in her life when she was trying to play camogie and Gaelic football too, attempting to please everyone, but ending up being “dragged left, right and centre”.

“It’s so important for anyone in management to look after the person just as much as the player,” she says. “I had a spell around 19 when I was burnt out, but I didn’t want to say no because I’m terrible at saying no, I never wanted to let people down. You have to learn that it’s okay to be selfish.”

Her passion for football, though, has been rekindled. One of the moments she savours the most was when then Glasgow City manager Scott Booth summoned her from the bench with 10 minutes to go in a game against Hibs to make her first appearance for the club since her spell in Stobhill.

“It felt like I was a kid again doing the thing that I love,” she says. “Scott just looked at me and said, “you deserve this”.”

Nor will she forget her club and international team-mates who travelled to Stobhill just to show their support. Like Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Grace Moloney who flew up from London to Glasgow, not allowed further than the door of the hospital because of lockdown restrictions, but just wanting to look Shine in the eye and tell her she was loved.

Or McCabe who wrote the foreword for Scoring Goals in the Dark. “This book is only the beginning of Clare’s story,” she said, describing the strength shown by the girl she has known since they were 13 as “phenomenal”.

“I’ve won cups, I’ve won leagues, I’ve played in the Champions League, I’ve represented my country, but the most important thing is that football has given me my life back in times when I felt like I had nothing,” says Shine.

“It’s given me more opportunities than I could ever have imagined, like this opportunity to write about the times I was in a dark place, to use that power to help others, to teach people that there is definitely a way out and you can use your dark times to appreciate the good times when they come.”

“I put my family and friends through seriously traumatic experiences, and there’s enormous guilt with that. Addiction can turn you in to a monster, but that wasn’t me as a person, it was the power of the illness I went through.”

“But I know my Mam is so proud of me now, all my family too, because there was definitely a period when they thought it was over for me. To be able to show them now that I’m trying, that I’m doing everything in my power to be the best person I can be, means everything.”

“With the book and the other things I’m doing at the moment, for them to message me, “congratulations, we’re so proud of you”, is emotional for me to read because there were times I never thought I would give them good memories any more. I just thought it would be dark for the rest of my life. But I’m giving them back as much as I possibly can. I’m coming out the other side and giving them good memories.”

* Scoring Goals in the Dark by Clare Shine, with Gareth Maher, is published on June 6 (Pitch Publishing, €28).

If you are affected by any issue in this article, helplines are open at:

Samaritans, (01) 116 123, jo@samaritans.org

Aware, 1800 80 48 48, supportmail@aware.ie

Pieta House, 1800 247 247