Tiglin Celebrates a Decade of Fighting Substance Abuse
By Victoria Mitchell
(From the January - March 2019 issue of VOX)
On a crisp day in October, a beautiful scene is unfolding in the heart of the Wicklow countryside. Hanging baskets of flowers colourfully decorate stone buildings in an open courtyard and sunflowers stand tall beside converted stable yards. A glittering pond lies beyond a green vegetable tunnel and chickens stare nosily from their hen runs. Lush hillsides of rich forestry paint the backdrop of this tranquil image, autumn’s red and gold hues imbued by the mellow sun.
Within this idyllic scene, parents and grandparents can be seen leisurely strolling through the courtyard while children are entertained by face-painting and an abundance of toys. Everyone indulges in some free ice cream and desserts. Even Peppa the golden retriever enjoys her share of the delicacies, accepting ice-cream from generous guests.
Tiglin - 10 years on
The celebration service held to commemorate Tiglin’s 10th Year Anniversary in October 2018 may sound like a fairy tale but there is nothing magical about the issues it addressed. Addiction, crime and homelessness are just some of the harsh realities that Tiglin has been tackling during the past decade as it strives to transform the lives of those battling substance abuse. Thankfully, most of its residents have achieved a happy ending following their journey to recovery.
At the commemoration event, food, face painting and free ice cream were just some of the treats on offer for guests. However, the true highlight of the day was a service held in the afternoon during which several poignant testimonies were recounted by past and current students. (Speakers were put at ease by the relaxed setting of the service - a converted barn decorated with fairy lights and situated in the open air.
Mark Henderson, the first male student to successfully complete the programme, openly related his story of transformation.
“I had done a Teen Challenge programme before in Scotland but still hadn’t dealt with several issues by its conclusion. Trauma occurred during my childhood and at one point I was about to kill myself. For four years, I isolated myself from God and Christian friends until in August 2008 I came to Ireland to pay a short visit to my sister. Upon stepping off the boat in Larne, I had a real sense of elation and knew that God had me in the right place at the right time. My sister brought me over to Tiglin where I spoke to Phil and decided to embark upon the programme. It was a scary prospect because I realised that I would have to give up everything and start a new life but throughout it all God was speaking to me.”
“Being on heroin for ten years leaves you feeling like an outcast who is disconnected from society. All I wanted was what I had missed out on having - a wife, a family, a job, all the things that give a man dignity. I realised that my second time of doing the programme was a second chance from God and that my misery did not stem from drugs but from being apart from Him. I needed to give my life to Jesus to be truly satisfied and ever since doing that I have never been tempted to take drugs again. I’ve had really bad days but I have never been truly tempted to resume my old lifestyle. Ten years later, I have a family, two children, a beautiful wife and a rewarding job working with adults with disabilities. My life has been transformed.”
Mark’s testimony draws attention to the Christian principle at the core of Tiglin’s work. Its Mission Statement says: “Tiglin, operating under a Christian ethos, endeavours to help people become mentally sound, emotionally balanced, socially adjusted, physically well, and spiritually alive”. It strives to help those dealing with substance abuse and life-affecting addiction problems.
Former resident Paul McDonnell testified to the central role that faith played in his journey and how an HSE counsellor encouraged him to go to Tiglin for recovery. A previous heroin addict, his life has dramatically changed thanks to the programme and he is currently studying for a Social Science Degree. Speaking at the event, he said: “Upon coming to the centre in February 2016, I was met with love by a Christ-centred group. It was beautiful to see what they had and it put me in a position where I chose to seek God and have a deep relationship with Him.”
Around 240 people were present at the anniversary event with former graduates, support workers and family members all attending to give their backing to Tiglin’s endeavours. It was a particularly special day for joint founders, Phil Thompson and Aubrey McCarthy, who ten years ago commenced their mission of creating a professionally equipped and staffed rehabilitation centre under a Christian ethos.
Aubrey commented: “We did a survey of our work and found we have a 72% success rate of students who completed the programme. It was wonderful to note that all of the graduates who addressed the anniversary event are now in full-time employment and recently purchased their own homes. It’s heartening, and it proves there is life beyond addiction!”
Tiglin’s story is almost as inspirational as the testimonies of its residents. In 2008 Phil and Aubrey purchased a dilapidated building in the Wicklow countryside which required all the money they had set aside for the project. Refurbishment was needed but financial resources were not in place for the renovation. They put out an appeal for tradesmen to provide their services and 80 volunteers responded by offering their skills free of charge.
This cycle of generosity continued when both a Kildare businessman and a leading home interiors business chose to donate furniture to the centre. More recently, the Tiglin site has been expanded with the acquisition of a courtyard which once housed An Oige Youth Hostel and a number of additional buildings. It was once again restored thanks to volunteers, donations and a plentiful supply of goodwill.
Tiglin was born from hospitality, making its success truly heart-warming as it represents a triumph for human kindness. Its community spirit can immediately be felt upon entering the grounds and talking to its residents.
Karen Parrow was one of the first women to graduate Tiglin’s programme. Her life had spiralled out of control, and when her children were taken into care, she sought professional help. Speaking at the event, she reflected upon the sense of community that permeates Tiglin.
“In my experience, the defining aspect of the Tiglin programme is the acceptance that accompanies practical advice. Everyone is accepted for who they are and nobody is made to feel worthless. I was completely broken and at a stage of desperation when I entered the programme but in Tiglin I found a constant source of family, community and support.”
Karen is now married and lives in Sandyford where she works as a councillor for Tiglin. She reiterates the message that transformation is possible.
“Having been a resident and a councillor, I have been on both sides of the fence and can see the incredible work that goes on at Tiglin. My life has been completely transformed thanks to my decision to take the programme. I would recommend it to anyone struggling with addiction.”
Another woman, also called Karen came into contact with Tiglin’s day programme in Arklow. She recounted her story:
“Growing up in south inner-city Dublin where addiction was everywhere, I was involved in drugs from the age of 15 to 21. As a result, my family pulled away from me and I was homeless on the streets of Dublin with no hope left. I ended up in prison where I did a drugs detox, only to later relapse; the demons, the darkness and poor mental health all came back. I felt lonely and desperate and needed support. I started coming to Tiglin Day Service and four-and-a-half years later, I’m a supervisor there. I love my job because I identify with chaos and brokenness. For me, God came into that brokenness and now I have good family and friends who support me.”
Many similarly moving stories were told during the event, which testify to Tiglin’s success. Currently there are support accommodation facilities provided for 12 women and 30 men as well as re-entry facilities for 30 men in Carraig Eden, Greystones. Tiglin also caters for 21 people in a day programme in Arklow, with a 4-bed accommodation centre. The No Buck’s Café goes out to Dublin four nights a week: Monday, Wednesday and Thursday in the city centre and Tuesday in Ballymun.
On a recent visit to Tiglin Ryan Tubridy said: “I’ve come to Tiglin and experienced that there is actually “life beyond addiction” and have met extraordinary people who have had extraordinary lives and came through the other side and are inspirational.”
Although Tiglin can reflect upon the successes that have occurred during the past ten years, its founders continue to look towards future improvements. “We would love to tackle the men’s accommodation which hasn’t been upgraded in 10 years. The lads deserve better sleeping quarters”, says Aubrey.
Such a statement is indicative of Tiglin’s ethos which is based upon helping each person as an individual, not just addressing their problems. The Tiglin approach is to teach a whole new way of living by not only tackling substance abuse but teaching a variety of life skills to allow residents reach their full potential.
Tiglin’s CEO Phil Thompson added, “Today’s world looks for evidence and facts and that’s exactly what we saw [at the anniversary celebration]. The evidence is that I once was lost, lost in my addiction and brokenness and now I am found. I look back at the many people who have been restored at Tiglin over the years and realise that without the support of those around us none of this would have come together. Everyone who has given, whether it was time, money or prayer, has made a vital contribution and one that has impacted many people and saved many families from continued heartache.”
Tiglin’s Tenth Year Anniversary celebration beautifully depicted the life that can belong to all its residents. Rather than dwell upon suffering, it instead painted a picture of an ideal and achievable future. The family-orientated day, with its face painting, toys room and ice cream, proves beyond doubt that there truly is life beyond addiction.
Victoria Mitchell is from Co. Down and is studying English at Trinity College. She loves children and is really enjoying getting to know Dublin!