Senator Frances Black opens up about addiction, growing up in the inner city, music success and life as a Senator
Frances Black has achieved huge success as a singer, conquered addiction and depression, become an addiction counsellor, Founder and CEO of the Rise Foundation, and over a year ago she surprised many by winning an independent seat in the Seanad where she is a tireless voice for social justice issues and a champion for reform of Ireland’s alcohol laws.
In an honest and revealing interview with Ruairí McKiernan on his Love and Courage Podcast Frances shares her story of her upbringing in inner city Dublin, and the motivations that led her to running for the Seanad.
Listen to the whole interview here:
Read Extracts from the interview below:
On looking at the photo of her mother on her desk in Leinster House, reflecting on growing up in inner city Dublin to being elected to Leinster House:
“I suppose when I got in here, when I got elected into Leinster House, into the Seanad, I would have… I just kept thinking of my parents. And they came from inner-city Dublin, from the tenement houses – Charlemont Street…”
“My brother, Martin, often says to me: “Imagine, Fran, when we were kids and sitting around the table, us all having dinner and living in the tenements. Did we ever think that you would be a senator in Leinster House? Who would have thought?” So I look at that picture sometimes, and I think: “Well, ma, what do you think?” And my dad – I know he would’ve been thrilled, as well. They would’ve been, both, very proud – no doubt about it.
On the subject of depression:
“I do think a lot of people go through – at some point in their lives – a very dark time. I’d say most people do. You have to. There’s no-one escapes grief. And it’s how, then, you can… Or trauma, or whether it’s an emotional trauma. And maybe it’s an old childhood trauma. It could be lack of work, you know? It could be so many different things – or not going down the right path that we want to go… It can be triggered by so many different things.
And I think – I think – the biggest challenge that people face is learning how to verbalise what’s going on for them. And I think we don’t know how to verbalise. We don’t have that knowledge. And I can only talk about myself. When I went through my dark times, I didn’t know what to do about it. I didn’t know where to go – and I didn’t know how to put a name on it. And I certainly didn’t know how to put a name on what I was feeling, and the emotions that I was feeling, and the horrendous, dark…that darkness that’s within.
Frances tells Ruairí she didn’t share her difficulties with anyone.
“I didn’t, because I didn’t know. I thought I was just weird. I thought I was different, I thought I was the only one going through it all.”
“And I suppose it’s only in the last, probably, 15 years – or maybe even less, 12 years – where I got an understanding as to how to cope with it. And I really went out of my way to learn the tools to cope with it. And I think that’s always a challenge. But, overall, from the time I was a very young child, I think I would have went through periods of low self-esteem, never really living up to… Never measuring up, never feeling good enough, never feeling part of… Which, I think, a lot of people… It’s that disconnect, isn’t it? You know, and always feeling on the outside. And that would have been from a very young age – and it would have come at different times in my life.
On her lack of experience in politics and starting as an outsider:
“Yes, no experience in politics. So just fantastic, fantastic. I mean, it was just a fantastic experience. And I was advised to canvass all of the independents, first. And that’s what I did. I went canvassing all the independent counsellors, and then I went to some of the Fianna Fáil people, and then I went to some of the Fine Gael people, then I went to People Before Profit, and the Triple As, and Sinn Féin.”
“We were phoning and calling, you know. Like, phoning and trying to make… So, if I was doing a gig down in Tipperary, I’d ring all the independent counsellors down there. And you wouldn’t get them all to meet.”
“I have to tell you, what I was amazed at was: these amazing county counsellors that I met – and city counsellors, Dublin city counsellors, great people – the work that they do is just unbelievable. And I think that was a huge eye-opener for me. And they get very little reward, apart from just fulfilment, you know? So, it was a great experience – I loved every minute of it.”
RM: How do you stay grounded, in all of this? How do you stay happy, healthy, grounded?
FB: Well, don’t get me wrong – I do feel a little bit tired, at times. But I do have a strong – I suppose this might sound really strange – but I have a good, strong sense of spirituality. And that doesn’t mean that I’m religious. I have a very strong sense of – and this would have come from my own recovery – I do believe that my addiction, or my depression, was a soul sickness, and is a soul sickness. And that until I was able to start looking after my spirit, and doing things for my spirit, it was only going to be stronger again. And that’s really what I’m very conscious of.”
“I get anxious about not being able to live up to delivering what I want to deliver, around injustice. But I do bring it back to keeping it in the moment. So, I suppose there are things I do: I like walking, I like listening to music, I like spending time with my family, my dog, my dogs, my husband, obviously, my lovely husband. And there are things I like to do. But I do love working. I love being able to give back – and that’s why I’m here. I want to give back, and I want to… When I’m on my deathbed, I want to say I did my best. That’s all I want to do: “I did my best.”