A YOUNG woman paid tribute to the school principal who supported her when a spiral into cannabis addiction made it difficult to leave the house.
Amber Sheridan O’Callaghan credited the Life Centre in Sunday’s Well for removing her from a destructive path that began with a single cannabis joint. The 20-year-old said she was unlucky in the adverse reactions she suffered as a result of the drug, which included everything from paranoia to severe anxiety. Amber confessed that the situation was so out of control she had resigned herself to a life of cannabis addiction before discovering the Life Centre.
“Some people are fine with cannabis, but it had a terrible effect on me,” said Amber. “It got to the stage where I couldn’t go to bed without smoking it. At the time I had insisted that I wouldn’t go back to education. I had my whole future planned out but all that was in it was me smoking with others on the streets every day. It didn’t feel like there was any hope.”
The student of security studies at The College of Commerce was just 15 when she found herself dependent on the drug. “I was anxious and scared and experiencing thoughts that didn’t even make sense. After a while I was smoking in town every day,” she said.
“I was hanging out with a lot of toxic people that weren’t really my friends. It was like the cannabis had taken away my brain. I was no longer able to think straight. My family didn’t know I was using cannabis. A lot of it was bought with my pocket money. However, you could go for weeks without spending a penny. In those circles it gets passed around so it was easy to get it for free.”
The Knockraha woman had kept the behaviour a secret from her family. “I locked myself in my room but was always paranoid that my brother would smell the smoke and I’d be found out. It was really affecting the relationship I had with my family.
“Some days I didn’t have money for cannabis. In these situations, I would borrow from a friend even though I’m glad to say I always paid the money back. Other days I wouldn’t be able to leave the house because of the paranoia and had to get a friend to get some for me.”
Despite vowing never to return to education, Amber finally agreed to an interview for the Life Centre. “My mum basically had to drag me to the interview.”
She knew there was a long road ahead. “When I joined the Life Centre I was still in a bad, bad place,” she told The Echo.
“I still wasn’t showing up much, communicating or listening. I just locked myself away in a world of getting high and blinded by who I hung around with.”
An incident of physical abuse only deepened Amber’s feelings of isolation and finally urged her to seek help.
She described the initial stages of her recovery as tough. “Things changed dramatically. All I wanted was to be in town again, smoking with my so-called friends. I was 15 years old and had lost all my friends overnight. It’s hard to be friends with someone when you’re not into the same things.”
Amber found solace in rewriting the work of famous poets until the Life’s Centre’s principal, Don O’Leary, encouraged her to come up with her own poems. The result was a volume of poetry titled Hear Me Now which is on sale at the centre.
Amber is now hoping to pursue a degree in criminal justice studies in Waterford Institute of Technology. “I wouldn’t even have my leaving cert today if it hadn’t been for the Life Centre,” she said.
“I’ve reached a point where I am stronger than I was before. Walking into the centre I didn’t know who I was. Now, I have a whole seven-year plan mapped out. I was looking at the CV of a guy who had three years of psychology and a degree in neuroscience and I was thinking that’s what I’d like to do.
“When something bad happens to you it either makes you impenetrable or more broken than when you started. The Life Centre showed me how to make a bad event into something amazing so that’s what I did. Trauma is inspiration if you want it to be and it can mould you into the person you’ve always dreamed of being.”
Amber’s mother has also been a hugely positive influence. “One of my biggest worries is that I will let my mum down. I just want to do well for her. Life will always throw things at you but once you get through it, you learn to understand people and become a better person.”
Mr O’Leary, principal of the Life Centre, spoke of his pride at what Amber has achieved. “The poetry was the catalyst that helped Amber see herself in a new light again,” he said.
“It took a long time to get through that process. Sometimes people are knocked back by things in life you wouldn’t wish on anybody. Amber will always look for support and she’s such an intelligent young woman so I have no doubt she will do very well in life.”
The 20-year-old has benefited from counselling at the school. “I understand there will be good and bad days for Amber,” said Mr O’Leary.
“A quarter of students at the centre are availing of counselling. Sometimes it works straight away, other times it doesn’t but there are never any expectations that the student is going to stay. The Life Centre gave Amber space and support to deal with the situation which was very helpful to her. Her mum has been hugely supportive and incredibly strong. She backs all of Amber’s decisions and has always been there.”
He hopes Amber can be a beacon of hope for other young women overcoming trauma. “There are young women and girls who are struggling to name what has happened to them. Amber has been unbelievable and so strong.”
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