Matthew Heneghan is working his way out of a nightmare.
Moment by moment, the 36-year-old Salmon Arm Secondary grad is dealing with his demons and reclaiming his life.
Heneghan, who has been sober for 15 months, has documented his trauma-filled life and alcohol addiction in a powerful new memoir, A Medic’s Mind.
Heneghan’s trauma began in early childhood.
His mother suffered from undiagnosed mental-health issues and after leaving her abusive husband, fought cancer three times before dying by suicide in 2017.
“We relied on the social welfare system and the kindness of friends and community,” he said, noting most of his siblings had left the family home but his brother Jon returned to help both physically and financially.
Heneghan became familiar with hospitals and was impressed by the kind and compassionate treatment his mom received from both doctors and nurses.
As he got older, Heneghan he remembers watching a CNN program about Bosnia and saw the Canadian paramedic emblem on a uniform.
He did some research and realized joining the military as a medic would provide both a way to give back to society, get an education, earn money and mature.
He enlisted in June 2001 at the age of 18 and graduated near the top of his class.
But life began to unravel as people he knew were returned home from deployment to Afghanistan in body bags.
Adding to his anxiety were increasing fights with his girlfriend.
“I started having nightmares nightly and drinking everyday because if I got drunk enough, I’d pass out and get no REM (restorative) sleep because my body was fighting the effects of alcohol,” he said, noting that despite growing anxiety, he downplayed his feelings and was reluctant to share them.
Selected to join a combat unit in Afghanistan in 2008, Heneghan suffered another personal blow when a good friend was killed there.
“I made the decision to leave the army and my commander supported me, so instead of deploying I was released on July 1, 2008,” he recalled, pointing out that one of his best Army friends was killed five days later, launching Heneghan into another bender.
Despite his affair with alcohol, Heneghan worked as a paramedic both in Alberta and Ontario over the next six years, often showing up hungover to deal with a variety of trauma calls.
In 2017, he was charged with driving under the influence in Toronto and, following his mom’s death, “dove into the bottle.”
Now graduated from a six-week intensive therapy program at a trauma and addiction centre in Toronto, Heneghan said he realizes alcohol was no longer an escape, it was a shackle that was preventing him from living the life he wanted.
“Writing came about because I needed an outlet; I felt I needed to scream but had no outlet” he said.
“Not only did I have friends reach out, they said I should have a blog.”
His book was born when a publisher advised him he had enough material for a book.
“She sent me a package a day every day I was in rehab to remind me I was being thought about and on the last day, I opened an envelope to find a writing contract.”
A Medic’s Mind took almost two years to write and only four hours to sell out 30 copies at a Mississauga bookstore last weekend.
You can meet Heneghan, and get a signed copy of his book, at the Bookingham Palace bookstore between 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 9.