Justin Campbell – coaching life and hurling from a wealth of experience
I was brought up in east Galway in a small village called Kiltormer. I had the misfortune to lose both of my parents to cancer by the age of 14. This was a very difficult time for me as a teenager as I hadn’t the tools to deal with the harsh realities of life. I had a number of supports that kept me going at this time, One was my hurling and my friends, also my brother Joseph and my four sisters. I soon found alcohol as a young teen which gave me an amazing feeling, taking away all of the pain that I was carrying, even if it was just for a few hours. It would play a huge part in my life for the next 12 years.
I still managed to play for Galway in all codes at this time, the highlights winning an U21 All Ireland hurling title with my county and an All Ireland club title with Kiltormer. I was lucky enough to play in the 1993 All Ireland final against Kilkenny, but lost out narrowly in the last five minutes (nothing new there). It was a great time with plenty of celebrations (which obviously suited me). I still knew deep down that something was still not right. I found it difficult to connect with people in a normal way. I was shy, lonely, and full of sadness, and alcohol stepped in to make me feel normal.
Pain is a great catalyst for change. I eventually put my hand up and asked for help. I found it very difficult to admit there was something wrong. Little did I know that that’s where you become really powerful. It was the best decision of my life. I changed direction in my life and after a few years I qualified from Trinity College as an addiction counsellor.
Today I work in private practice as an addiction counsellor/life coach covering East Galway and the Midlands areas. I feel very privileged in helping people who are finding life difficult, whatever the reason. There is no greater reward in assisting someone to turn their life around. I have worked with the GPA Counselling services, and also spent five years in the Aislinn Adolescent Treatment centre in Kilkenny. I also work with families who have to deal with active addiction in the home.
Fortunately I still have one more healthy addiction, its hurling, can’t seem to get away from it. I managed Roscommon recently to win the Nicky Rackard Cup; ironically Nicky struggled with alcohol as well. There is no better ‘high’ in life than being involved with a team in Croke Park for a final. We will now play in the Christy Ring cup for next year. I continually remind the panel about looking out for each other and to contact the GPA counselling service if needs be. Health and wellbeing is everyone’s business not just health professionals.
My advice to anyone in our GAA family, whether you are a player, a manager, or a supporter, is to seek help. I believe suffering is a choice, why continue to suffer when there is a solution? No matter what your issues are, tell someone you’re finding it difficult to deal with life or a specific issue – that’s the start of resolving your problem. Secrecy and denial will keep the problem intact for you. I use the analogy of the stone in your shoe: it will become uncomfortable to walk with at first, if you don’t do something about it, it will certainly get worse. If you continue to walk around with it, the pain will get unbearable until some day you could lose your leg and it becomes life threatening.
Addiction is similar, it’s progressive with many consequences. I have yet to meet a person, young or old, who was dependent on alcohol, drugs or gambling and was happy and content. It’s a very painful ordeal for someone who’s addicted, but also for the family involved. There is no shame in having problems with alcohol, drugs or gambling or whatever addiction you may have, but there is a real shame not to do something about it.
Justin Campbell is a member of the GAA’s National Health & Wellbeing Committee and also sits on the Galway County Health & Wellbeing Committee. He is an accredited counsellor and qualified life coach currently in private practise. If you have been affected by any of the issues brought up in this article feel free to email Justin at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website www.justincampbell.ie to find out more. You can also visit www.gee.ie/community to discover what the GAA is doing in this space to support its clubs and members.