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Two Cape Bretoners found the cure to turning their lives around – love.
Melanie Denny, 35, of Glace Bay and Richard Carrigan, 38, of New Waterford, fell in love 15 years ago. However, their meeting was anything but conventional — it was in the Mental Health and Addiction Services unit at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital, a second try at help for both for opioid addictions.
“It was just something, I can’t explain it,” said Carrigan when he first saw Denny in the detox facility. “The kind eyes I guess, I don’t know. It was hard to explain.”
Denny had been suffering from a serious opioid addiction for six or seven years but was also dealing with mental illness.
“A lot of things were array in my life and the opioid addiction came from wanting to numb the pain,” she said.
After going on sick leave from her job at the time at the Stream call centre, she entered detox in December 2005.
“I wanted to get the opioid addiction out of the way,” she said.
“Making that first phone call is really hard because it’s not just giving up the drugs themselves but also a whole lifestyle change.”
Denny was only in detox for a few days when she was kicked out, caught with cigarettes a friend brought into her. There was a waiting period to get readmitted.
“It’s like the circumstances just lined up as if I didn’t get back in for the second try I wouldn’t have met Richard.”
Love at first sight
While going through the admission process with a nurse, Denny didn’t know Carrigan had spotted her through the door and was waiting nearby to meet her.
“He said he kept walking around the hallway waiting for me to come out of the room,” she said.
Carrigan said he didn’t know what it was, but he had to meet Denny and continued to do laps in the hallway.
Denny was shown her room and it was only minutes later Carrigan approached her and shook her hand.
“We just started talking from there,” Denny said.
The wing is designed in a way people can walk around it in a circle. Denny and Carrigan began walking the circle constantly, talking and getting to know each other. They’d also spend time in a kitchen area where people could sit and make toast.
Denny said within a couple days she knew he was the one.
“We’d spend hours and hours talking about everything we’d been through and our addictions,” she said. “We both wanted opioids out of our lives and were both pretty determined to do that.”
At night when in their own rooms, they began writing notes they’d swap in the morning.
“Of course neither of us could hardly sleep at all,” she said. “We couldn’t wait to get up in the morning and go see each other.”
Richard Carrigan's addiction
Carrigan had battled an opioid addiction for four years prior to meeting Denny. It began with a prescription for an abscessed tooth. He learned that by abusing the medication you could get high, which lead to other things. Wanting to get help, he couldn’t figure out how to do it without his family and friends knowing. Everything eventually came to light.
“It’s was a godsend as then they were there in support,” he said.
Carrigan was in detox in October 2005 but then relapsed and tried to get back in. A worker told him to wait a week and if he hadn’t been readmitted by the time he was back on shift, he’d help.
“He came back on shift, got me in and two days later I met Mel.”
Carrigan said the first thing they tell you at detox is not to date anyone in there as you’d be on a ‘slippery slope’ to relapsing. They tried to be discreet.
“There was nothing to do in there, so we just walked and talked for 12-14 hours a day,” he said.
Carrigan had the feeling she was ‘the one’ and said once they got out of detox and into a public environment, knew his feelings were real.
“It was pretty much instantaneous,” he added.
Life after detox
Once out of detox, sobriety stuck for Denny and Carrigan, and so did their interest in each other. Denny said one of the big barriers to recovery for an addict is leaving detox and going back to the same lifestyle and same friends who are using. A lot of people relapse that way. The fact they were from different towns and spending all their time together, helped break that cycle, Denny said.
The couple said they enjoyed doing regular things neither had done in years because it wasn’t part of the lifestyle they had been living. They’d go to McDonald’s, to movies and for drives.
“We’d do all the things we never had a chance to do and we did them together,” Denny said.
Denny took a course at the YMCA of Cape Breton and spent nine years in school ending up with a human services disability support services diploma at Marconi Campus, a Bachelor of Arts in Community Studies at Cape Breton University and a degree in social work from Dalhousie University.
In the meantime, Carrigan worked— from call centres to security — supporting them.
Both are now employed with the Ally Centre of Cape Breton in Sydney, Denny as a peer navigator and Carrigan as coordinator on the mobile unit and peer worker.
Winning the war
Through the years both are being treated by Dr. Thomas Crawford in Glace Bay, put on methadone programs almost at the same time. Today, both are successfully continuing to come down off methadone through mutual support. Denny said she’s proud, at one point she was on 105 mg and Carrigan on 110 mg and now they are both at 9 mg each.
The battle is a lifetime challenge, but they are winning the war,” she said. “We felt we were right for each other and here we are almost 15 years later, on the front line of battling the opioid epidemic,” she said.
“I don’t think it would have happened nearly as quickly — or maybe not at all — if I hadn’t of met him.”
Carrigan agrees, adding it was their support for each other and help from Dr. Crawford.
“As much as we did it ourselves, he was part of it too.”
A fairy-tale ending
And Carrigan has ‘put a ring on it.’
During a get-together at Denny’s home New Year’s Eve 2013, at midnight as Auld Lang Syne played, he got down on one knee and proposed.
When they will marry they don’t know yet but Carrigan said the day will come for sure.
“She is the one,” he confirmed. “There’s no doubt in my mind.”
Is Carrigan still the one?
“Absolutely,” Denny said, commenting Valentine’s Day will be an evening together with movies and snacks. “I couldn’t picture my life without him.”
And when the big day comes, there will be a special guest.
Carrigan said the detox worker who believed in him 15 years ago and got him admitted fast that second time where he met Denny, will be on the invitation list.
“I still keep in touch with him today.”