Tommy Tiernan's chat with James Leonard about addiction and recovery is genuinely life-changing
"As long as you're breathing, you have hope." A remarkable interview.
As is the norm, Tommy Tiernan welcomed three 'relative' strangers to the RTÉ studios for a chat on the latest episode of his beloved chat show.
While Glen Hansard and Molly Bloom might have more well known stories, it was the remarkable and inspirational story of James Leonard from Cork that drew the most attention.
For those that may not watched the show, James is a former drug addict that has frequently spent time in jail after committing crimes that were linked to his addition.
As he told Tiernan at the start of the chat, "I'm not doing too bad today and somebody thought it would be a bit of craic if I had a talk with you."
It certainly was.
While Mr Leonard stood before the nation and looked like a healthy, confident, and self-assured man, that wasn't always the case.
James' father was imprisoned when he was just a teenager, and this led James down got a bad road.
His anger and frustration led him to start experimenting with drugs as a teenager. As he said, a combination of anger, hurt, and low self-esteem turned him towards a life of drugs and anti-social behaviour in Knocknaheeny.
However, James was at pains to state that these were his own poor decisions because he had plenty of love and attention in his life. His parents always ensured that he never went hungry and always had clothes on his back.
James was open about the fact that his actions brought shame on him because he knew that it was hurting his family.
"I was brought up better than what I was doing. Getting arrested and being imprisoned for being in a stolen car, I know that's not the right thing to do. My mam is coming up to me and she's crying. My dad is trying to remonstrate with me and remind me not to go down this road. But, I kind of disregarded what they said, but I did feel the guilt," he said.
A young man making foolish choices. Everybody can relate to that but at this time, James' life was spiralling out of control.
"You could walk to UCC and it would take 15 minutes, but it might as well be a million miles. It was never on our radar," he eloquently said before adding that "when you're a teenager, there's no such thing as a consequence."
This period of anti-social behaviour would ultimately lead to periods in an out of prison for small sentences - being in a stolen car, drug use, anti-social behaviour etc.
As James said, he would often wake up in a Garda station, or in Cork Prison and have no idea how he ended up there.
While spending time in prison, he was introduced to heroin.
"Throughout the heroin use, the craic left me. There's no more bonding. It's very isolating. Theft was the type of crime (he was doing). Doing desperate things to try and get the money for drugs. What I was doing didn't sit with me and I tried recovery a few times - going to treatment centres - but I could never imagine myself without using a substance," he said.
At his lowest, James weighed about 9-10 stone, had sore arms, a gaunt face, and yellow skin. He was an addict for 10 years and during this period, he says that "every day is a a struggle, you look like shit and you're treated like shit."
However, he didn't want this for his life and with the help of some very good people, James dragged himself out of a very bad place.
In 2012, James was frequently using and overdosing, but one incident changed things around.
After injecting two bags of drugs while knowing that it could have been fatal, he passed out. Two guards just happened to walk past him and luckily stumbled upon his body, otherwise, James would have been dead.
That was the moment his life changed.
After contacting Merchants Quay Ireland to get into a detox programme in Carlow for 16 weeks of therapeutic work, James left with a new frame of mind and refocused his life goals - he now wanted a stable job, a car, a steady relationship, a home.
Quickly after this stint in rehab, he got a bed with the Simon Community and a job as a cleaner that he enjoyed because it provided structure, purpose, and self-respect.
Later on, his girlfriend encouraged him to go to college and he applied for a computing course at Cork College of Commerce.
After graduating, he then applied to UCC where he did a three years Bachelor degree in Community Work, then a Masters in Criminology. Next month, he's set to graduate with first-class honours.
The Simon Community helped change his life and James has now returned the favour because he spent a year and a half working in Cork's Simon Community.
Aside from this, he also works with Irish prison officers while also training, disciplining, and educating the most ostracised young people in Cork.
"It would make you think about all the young fellas and young ones that we see around the city. There's beauty in them as-well " said Tiernan after this wonderful chat.
"There are people out there suffering, Tommy. There are families suffering. I thought that this would be a good platform for me to maybe give them a bit of hope. As long as you're alive, you can always turn things around. As long as you're breathing, you have hope," said James.
James Leonard, fair play to you.
A remarkable chat that you can see in full here.
However, a small snippet of the discussion can also be found below.
Clip via RTÉ - IRELAND’S NATIONAL PUBLIC SERVICE MEDIA