Niall Blee: 'Drugs would have killed me by age of 25, but Northlands saved me'
At 14 years of age, Niall Blee was a church choirboy in Strabane and part of a loving, stable family.
But before the end of his teenage years, he was in the Northlands addiction centre where he was told there was every chance he would be dead before he reached the age of 25.
That was exactly 20 years ago, but Niall now has the life he never imagined could be his when he was in the grip of drink and drugs abuse.
He gives full credit for his recovery to the Londonderry centre that is currently under threat of closure if a funding gap cannot be resolved.
Niall says he and thousands like him who have been through the doors of Northands over the past 40 years are evidence that it is saving lives.
"I initially had a feeling of disbelief that Northlands might not exist, but the reality is there - a centre that has saved people's lives could close just because of funding.
"A lot of it has come down to a lack of understanding of addiction and not understanding how important the work being done in Northlands is, not just for people with addictions but also for their families.
"Northlands first opened the year before I was born so for my entire lifetime it has helped countless people like me who all have a different story.
"But for me Northlands gave me a life that as a teenage boy I could not imagine I could have.
"Northlands gives people the opportunity to live again which for me was the most vital part of it. Removing the actual substance is one element but teaching people that they are not dependent on it was more important for me.
"Like any teenager I started to experiment with alcohol and drugs young enough, I was around 14 at the time. I didn't know then that it was something I was looking for, the feeling that drugs and alcohol gave me I thought was the solution to a lot of problems about how I was feeling about myself growing up.
"From that experimental stage it quite rapidly got a grip on me and a grip on my thoughts, my life and plans.
"By the time I was 16, if I was not using I was thinking about using and from then until I was 19 it was constant use of drugs like ecstasy, cannabis and LSD.
"It caused lots of problems, I lost jobs.
"Looking back now I was quite down. I didn't feel good about myself and the more I didn't feel good about myself the more I felt that using substances would make me feel good, and on it went and the worse it got.
"I never, ever, ever thought that I would stop drinking. I never thought that I would stop using drugs either - I thought that this was my life and I had accepted it, I had accepted that this was the kind of person I was but it had gotten me into all sorts of trouble."
After an aunt intervened, Niall underwent residential treatment in Northlands outreach centre.
Niall explained: "I wasn't sure if the six weeks (treatment) was for me but before I agreed I had gone out and binged for two weeks so maybe I was in desperation, so I agreed.
"Even then I thought I shouldn't be here, I was thinking surely there is another 10 years of partying in me but slowly I began to understand what I had been doing and how I had been living.
"There were a number of turning points for me during this time and one of them was when a counsellor told me that if I continued by the time I was 25 I would either be dead or on the street. That was a big shock but I trusted the man who said it.
Niall's life was transformed thanks to Northlands and he eventually returned to education and qualified as a community youth worker.
He did get the job, the wife and the family he had hoped for, and fulfilled the goals he set himself. He even began singing again, and now has a sense of peace he never imagined possible.