In hindsight, hitting rock bottom in his battle against addiction became one of the best things that ever happened to Mark O Byrne, manager, JOHNSTONE’S™ Decorating Center, Carlow, Ireland. That experience set him on a journey to help others facing mental health issues, culminating with Mark earning a bachelor’s degree in counseling and psychotherapy and establishing a part-time private practice.
The Roots of His Addiction
Mark’s path to addiction likely began in childhood, where his dyslexia put a major dent in his self-esteem.
“I never thought I’d be good enough. The fear of even filling out an application form or going to college prevented me from achieving many things.”
As he got older, Mark struggled with managing both stress and a simmering resentment toward anyone in a superior position. To cope, he turned primarily to alcohol.
“Anyone above me was my enemy. That was my headspace at the time, and it led to bad coping mechanisms.”
Pulling up from Rock Bottom
Those poor coping mechanisms were firmly in place when Mark joined our company in 2006 with the opening of the Carlow decorating center. The new store achieved great success, including breaking a company profit record in its first year, but Mark was struggling. Stress and dealing with management resulted in a downward spiral.
I remember the day that I hit rock bottom. It was a Friday in June 2012, and I was meeting my manager Gavin at another store. I drank prior to the meeting because I thought it was going to be postponed. He had to drive me home that evening.
Mark decided to seek treatment the next week. He entered a 28-day inpatient program for alcohol addiction that was covered by his company-provided medical insurance. He also received paid time off.
“I now see all this as a great employee benefit, but I remember sitting in the treatment center hoping that the cost wouldn’t be covered by my insurance.”
Once he completed the inpatient program, Mark began two years of outpatient aftercare that focused on managing stress, people and substance abuse.
“Gavin and another manager Liam supported me throughout my recovery. I will always remember that, as well as the trust they showed me when I returned to work after my inpatient treatment.”
A Purpose Fulfilled as Mental Health Counselor
While going through aftercare, Mark saw an advertisement for Samaritans, which is an organization that provides phone support for people struggling with suicidal thoughts and other mental health issue.
During my struggles, I didn’t know where support was. I made myself a promise that I would save at least one person’s life. That became my purpose in life.
Mark underwent six weeks of training and staffed the phones for two years as a Samaritan volunteer. That led to becoming a group facilitator for people in aftercare and then obtaining a certificate in counseling and psychotherapy.
“I asked my manager Liam about going back to college to get my degree in counseling and psychotherapy, and he supported that decision once I explained how it would help me better manage people. PPG paid for part of my schooling, which I completed part time over four years.”
After college, Mark opened his private practice on a part-time basis while maintaining his full-time position with the company.
“I’m busier than I’ve ever been, and my life should be stressful, but it’s not. I’ve learned to pack up work mentally when I leave for the day. I say that I work at PPG for self-care – it’s a soothing and easy routine that I don’t plan on leaving.”
You Are Not Alone – Reach out for Help
Pulling upon his own experiences and those of his patients, Mark encourages people to address their mental health issues.
“If you are struggling or using bad coping mechanisms – alcohol, drugs, self-harming, eating disorders and so many more – do not be ashamed or afraid to ask someone you trust for help. Do not keep it to yourself. You’re not alone, and you’re not the only person going through this. There is plenty of free support available.”
He also strongly encourages everyone to not just listen to others but learn how to truly listen.
Truly listening is using not only your ears but all of your senses. Hear the words that aren’t being said.