I want to inspire people to become sober

Enda O’Doherty has released an autobiography. He talks to COLETTE SHERIDAN about his addiction, mental health, and his hope to help others
I want to inspire people to become sober

ECHO FEATURES Enda O'Doherty

ONE day, teacher, motivational speaker and endurance athlete, Enda O’Doherty, was in his garden with his wife, Maeve, moving a shed. They found numerous empty booze bottles under it.

It was a reminder of what the 52-year-old father-of-three had been like. His alcoholism involved much deception.

When Maeve used to ask Enda to go out to the shed to get a bottle of wine, he would gulp down a bottle of booze, bring the wine in, pour his wife a glass and pour a smaller one for himself, pretending to be civilised about drinking.

Now, Enda, who has just published an autobiographical book entitled I’m Fine! Thoughts on Life, Addiction, Love and Health says he has positively exploited his addictive personality by living in a super-healthy way and by promoting good mental health.

His book includes his own ‘survival toolkit’ on how to make tomorrow better than today.

Enda O'Doherty's new book, I'm Fine.
Enda O'Doherty's new book, I'm Fine.

Enda now makes the most of every day, being up with the lark and living in a way that is conscious of how short life is. He is vice-principal at De La Salle College in Newtown, Waterford, and also teaches geography.

His motivational speaking is inspired by the adventures he has had and lessons learned. He helps people as much as he can. He has learned to love himself.

You could say that fate dictated Enda would become an alcoholic. He remembers his first drink at the age of 18, standing beside dee jay (and now RTÉ presenter) Ray D’Arcy, who was spinning records in a disco in the Curragh called Nijinskys. Enda didn’t immediately fall in love with booze.

“It was a slow thing, like a fog coming in off the shore. My grandmother had died from alcoholism and my dad, as a result, was very fearful. He didn’t drink. I was going to prove them all wrong.”

Enda believes he succumbed to a major drink problem (four bottles of whisky a week, a pint glass of vodka, sometimes with cough syrup, on Friday nights and more in between) because he had the genes predisposing him to alcoholism.

Also, he says that Irish society’s insistence on celebrating everything from christenings to county finals with drink made it hard to avoid.

“We bring alcohol into everything. It was never frowned on. The funny thing is, when I stopped drinking and I was at say a staff party, people would be shocked, asking me if I was OK. 

"Or when I’d be at the gym seven days a week, people would wonder if that could be good for me. But the same people, if I drank 15 pints, would say I was great craic and a great man.”

Enda was very much a functioning alcoholic, first into work and last to leave.

“My tolerance for drink went up. It’s not a good thing to have a tolerance for alcohol. I would have been far better off if I was green and sick in the morning. But I worked very hard. I would have been seen as efficient, friendly, positive and happy.”

Enda O'Doherty said he was a functioning alcoholic.
Enda O'Doherty said he was a functioning alcoholic.

The book title, with the words ‘I’m Fine’ is a bit of a joke. “At my worst, I clearly wasn’t fine. I told people I was fine but I had sleep deprivation, panic attacks and suicidal thoughts.”

Twelve years ago, Enda gave up drink and hasn’t had a drop since. He didn’t go to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

“I’m that stupid. I should have gone. But I didn’t want to go to AA because — wait until you hear this — it’s full of drunks and losers. It took me a long time to realise that I was one of those drunks.

“But now, if I was getting sober, I’d get medication for alcohol dependency, I’d have gone on an anti-depressant, I’d have gone to counselling and AA. It would have made my life easier.”

Instead, Enda went cold turkey, suffered from insomnia for three or four months and felt very poorly. But he came through it and now channels the time he put into drinking into astonishing adventures and living life to the full, without the lies that are enmeshed in the life of an alcoholic.

He has undergone a physical and emotional re-awakening which has included carrying a washing machine from Belfast to Waterford in 2015 (covering nine marathon distances in eight days.). Incredibly, he hauled the appliance to within a few hours of the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in 2017.

Both trips were in aid of charity. He has also done the Ironman challenge, twice.

Enda O'Doherty with the washing machine he carried up Kilimanjaro.
Enda O'Doherty with the washing machine he carried up Kilimanjaro.

Recalling his Irish trip with the washing machine, Enda says he lost all his toe nails, the fat pads came off his feet, he had hallucinations and broke both feet.

“But I kept going. It’s a great metaphor for people who are struggling with alcoholism or depression. Sometimes, as hard as it seems, as heavy as the steps are, putting just one step forward at a time is all you need to get through.”

When he was in a group climbing Kilimanjaro, Enda developed severe altitude sickness.

“I was really ill. If I had kept pushing myself, if I had gone for another half hour, I think I would have died. One of the crew that was with me said a lovely thing. We were deciding whether I could go on or not. I was on oxygen and steroids. As strong and as fit as I was, when altitude sickness takes you, that’s it.

“One of the team members from the travel company said ‘I was doing so much good in Ireland that we couldn’t lose you. We need you to go home and keep doing what you’re doing.’ Our slogan was ‘share the load’.

“It was the wonderful Irish people who were with me that got to the top of Kilimanjaro. 

"I was left with an African guy, with me sitting there crying at four in the morning. This man was assigned to carry me back down and make sure I was safe. I asked him his name. He replied,’ Good Luck.’ That was his name! It’s such an uplifting mental health story.”

Enda says that sometimes, when people talk about mental health, it can be a very dark topic.

“People tend to tell stories that nearly turn others off. A lot of what happened to me was bloody funny, ridiculous and crazy. And I’m happy to share the story with people, of all times, now. People need a lift, a bit of sparkle in their lives. 

"I want my story to inspire people to become sober, to treasure their mental health and look after it. It’s a really valuable thing. I don’t think most people realise this until they lose their happiness. 

"Mental health is crucial to our very existence. Our sanity is the essence of who we are.”

That is not to say Enda doesn’t still struggle. Although he’s in a happy place now, he never takes his sobriety for granted. “Honest to God, it’s just about today. I am grateful to just be sober today.”

Enda is an all or nothing man. “I sing too much, I laugh too much. I cry too much. Everything I do is over the top. But the bit of me that was an addict is no longer the worst bit about me. It’s my best bit.

“The level of obsession, desire and passion that’s needed to climb Kilimanjaro comes very easily to me. I’ve channelled it into helping others through mental health charities. I’m happier now being me.”

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