HEARING of their mother’s suicide while serving a prison sentence together led two brothers to overcome addiction as a family.
Recovering drug addicts Timmy and Tommy Long turned their backs on crime a number of years ago after a dramatic spiral into addiction. Now they are determined to help others suffering from mental health issues through various community projects. These include Timmy’s successful The Two Norries podcast and Tommy’s addiction meetings in association with Cork Penny Dinners.
Timmy, who runs the podcast with fellow recovering addict James Leonard, has been clean from drugs for nine years. For his brother Tommy, the path to a drug-free life has taken significantly longer. Nonetheless, the Knocknaheeny man now proudly tells The Echo that he has been clean for two years.
Timmy said it is a huge relief to no longer have to worry about his brother.
“It puts a real freeze on family life,” Timmy said of addictions and mental health issues. “You are waiting for that phone call telling you that your loved one is critical or dead. I can’t imagine what that must be like for a parent.”
He said that this was similar to the dread he felt before mental health issues took their mother’s life. He recalled that tragic day in 2012 like it was yesterday.
“She had been dead from the night before and a class officer and priest came to inform us,” said Timmy. “They were as compassionate as they could be within the confines of their professional integrity.
“Mum did the best she could for us when we were kids but struggled with her mental health a lot which made life very difficult.”
Tommy remembered how the tragic news brought them together.
“I was brought to Timmy’s cell and saw him crying,” said Tommy. “I knew straight away what they were going to tell me.”
The brothers were serving sentences for assaults and were unable to attend their mother’s funeral.
“We were brought down in a van to see her coffin at the funeral home,” said Timmy. “The officers were very kind to us that day.”
The pair now want to show people that there is a way back from grief and addiction.
“We’re glad that we reached our rock bottom,” said Timmy. “For many of our friends that died, their rock bottom was a box. We live for them and want to show others that there is a way back.”
Timmy urged people never to give up, no matter what the situation.
“I thought I’d be dead by 30 but I’m now living a healthy life. There are steps you can take to live a nice, normal life. Prison was very beneficial and helped my integration back into society. I learned the months of the year and the alphabet. At the age of around 32 or 33, I was doing my Junior Cert. I kept going so I could get as many certs as I could.”
Tommy said that he and his brother experienced a lot of hardship during their childhoods which led to petty crime.
“Poverty was a huge thing around the city,” Tommy said of growing up in the 1980s. “Our stealing started off to put food on the plate. We had to be proud to survive and often, as children, we would sneak back into the classroom to steal extra milk and buns that were given out at school. We couldn’t learn in school. All we were doing was trying to survive.”
He spoke of the escapism drugs offered the brothers as teenagers.
“I was taking prescribed drugs and using ecstasy. Drugs gave us a feeling of freedom we have never experienced before. Then we had to pay for the drugs so went out stealing. We were robbing shops, cars — joyriding was massive back then and all we wanted was to fit in.”
Timmy said that taking drugs at the time helped them do just that.
“From a young age we were stealing Tippex from poundshops to block out what was happening,” said Timmy. “You do what you have to do not to lose face. For someone who is trying to survive, this keeps them safe. You can very easily become the victim. Looking back, if I hadn’t had the substances I’m not sure I would be here today. Drugs saved me until they eventually tried to kill me.”
He said that much of the pain he experienced came during his recovery process.
“I have thought about suicide in recovery, more so than when I was using. There is always that film playing in my head. I have to catch myself playing it and put a stop to it. When you’re not drinking or drugging all your past comes back and you are more aware of it. It’s like experiencing karma. You begin suffering knowing the damage you have put people through both physically and emotionally. There is an awful lot of shame and guilt. I hurt people in different ways. I’m not sure how I can apologise. I will always be so sorry for everything that I’ve done.”
Timmy described his wife Nicole as his rock.
“If I didn’t have my wife I would have nothing. We’ve been together 17 years and she’s stuck by my side through all the madness. She came to visit me every week in prison and brought our two babies with her. It gave me something to fight for.
“I honestly believe that she was the person I was always meant to be with. Nobody else would have put up with me the way she has.”
Timmy said that even people in recovery experience begrudgery.
“When you get your life back on track, there are certain people who assume that you have ‘gone to God’.
“I’m not religious. All I’m trying to do is the right thing.”
Tommy said that he remained addicted to drugs for a long time after prison but was inspired by his older brother to get clean.
“I didn’t get the butterflies that you would normally get when leaving prison and experiencing freedom,” said Tommy. “Instead, I went straight back into addiction. I was in heroin’s grasp.”
Cork Penny Dinners, with whom he volunteers by running addiction meetings for service users, has also helped Tommy grow as a person.
“I was where they were,” he said. “Penny Dinners has done as much for me as I am doing for them.”
Timmy is also striving to improve and has an honours degree in construction. He hopes to study psychology so he can one day start a construction company that employs workers with troubled backgrounds and criminal records.
“One of the things I’d like to do is learn more about childhood trauma to help me understand myself.
“There are times where I still ask myself what the point of everything is. You are always going to be trying to make sense of why you feel the way you do.”