Séamus' story

Seamus cambridge landscape

"On January 26, 2011, I took my last drink. It was a can of Guinness Extra Stout. In the preceding years, I must have drunk thousands of them but that was my last one and I have drunk nothing alcoholic since that date. Alcohol nearly killed me, and did kill people close to me. I think I am extremely fortunate that I have been able to stop and I am lucky to be alive.

In October 2015, I moved from Northern Ireland to London to leave my chemical demons behind and to find work. After a few months I became homeless due to financial reasons. I didn't have enough money to pay the extortionate rent in North London, so I spent a couple of weeks at a friend’s house near Colchester before finding homelessness charity Emmaus at just the right time. I had been sober for over four years by that point and I was ready to embrace normality. This is a feeling that I had never known, either in a mental or emotional sense. I feel like I always had an edge, and that there was always disharmony in my life meaning that I could never settle.

Sobriety has taught me so much, and it is not an exaggeration to say that I would be dead had I not stopped drinking but I have found that there is more to it now. The longer I have remained sober the more I have learned about myself, about the world, and about people. 

As individuals we are isolated and although we may well have partners and families and friends and people around us who give us varying degrees of support, in our minds we are truly alone. This isolation is magnified and multiplied in addiction. Because addicts behave badly they are shunned by others so they end up alone in a physical and emotional sense. That level of loneliness is something you would never understand unless you felt it. When I was trying to figure addiction out, I kept thinking I was alone - I kept thinking that I was the only person who was having a difficult time and that alcoholism was something that nobody else understood. 

Through recovery, I eventually started to meet other alcoholics and it was then that I began to understand that alcoholism was not about me, it was about millions of people rather than isolated individuals. If something is effecting hundreds of thousands or millions of people then it is no longer an individual issue. This realisation was the very thing I needed to get sober because it took the pressure off me - it wasn't about me anymore and that made getting sober much easier. Addiction is not driven by choice like many would believe, but a myriad of factors and stopping it is not a matter of clicking your fingers, it is more complicated than that.

Being sober for a long time brought the kind of peace that I needed, and that peace has only grown since being at Emmaus.

I had never heard of Emmaus before, as there are no communities in Ireland. I stayed at the Colchester community for nine months and during that time I really did take to the ethos of Emmaus. Emmaus doesn't just give people somewhere to stay, it motivates them. Having regular work, more than enough food and a place to live offers people like me the means to live comfortably while they make themselves ready to go back out into independent living. They offer the chance for people to undertake courses, and thanks to Emmaus Colchester, I was able to renew my passport and use my travel allowance and holiday to fly back to see my family in Ireland.

In September 2016, while still at Emmaus Colchester, I attended the 25th Anniversary of Emmaus in the UK at the Cambridge community. Straight away, I knew that I wanted to live, work and be part of the Cambridge community, and in November 2016, I moved from Colchester and I have been in Cambridge ever since.

Since then, I have gone on to develop a need to give something back to those that have supported me. This feeling started in my early sobriety, but has escalated recently and I believe the ethos of Emmaus has gotten into my bones. At Emmaus, I met so many people who had experienced varying degrees of homelessness and I started to see the parallels between addiction and homelessness. Homelessness cannot be treated solely as the fault of the person, but there are socio-economic, emotional, mental, financial and numerous other factors often driving the person to that position, and making it virtually impossible to get out of. While someone may be able to bring one or two factors under control often the others remain and thus the problem remains. Seeing the parallels between addiction and homelessness was what lead me to write my book “No Homeless Problem and Other Poems” with the help of Emmaus Cambridge.

To write the book, I travelled to six Emmaus communities in Lambeth, Mossley, Hull, Norfolk and Waveney, Bristol and Gloucestershire throughout 2017. In these communities, and in Cambridge, I sat and listened to the stories of people, known as companions within Emmaus, who had experienced homelessness. I went on to use the stories they gave me to form short prose poems.

I wrote this book to try and illustrate the unseen gulf between the individual and the collective.  I need people to see that even if we solve many of the perceived problems of homelessness, it will remain because of the way our world is and because of the way people are. The full on realisation that I am not alone and that I can help myself as a result has now lead me to realise that I can be a valued member of a community and that I can achieve the normality that I never thought possible.

I am very grateful for what I have now, because there are many people who have nothing. I went through a period of emotional uncertainty so I know what it is like to be without and to struggle.  All over England and beyond, hundreds, if not thousands, of people are safe and warm and have relatively comfortable lives that would not be possible without Emmaus."