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His good humour apparently unblunted by years of drug addiction, Aslan’s Christy Dignam talks about heroin, sexual abuse and his belief in the redemptive power of music.
Adrienne Murphy, 09 Nov 2007
Christy Dignam sits on the vaulted steps of EMI’s opulent Ailesbury Road building, smoking a fag in the autumn sun.
“Have ye got a crack pipe?” he jokes as I approach. I’d been thinking it might be tricky getting Dignam onto the subject of drugs – perhaps he’d finally grown tired of speaking openly about his addiction – but no, the heroin trap is still Dignam’s number one subject. That, and the connection between addiction and childhood sexual abuse.
“I think it’s huge,” says Dignam. “The reason is that heroin is the greatest known painkiller – and that includes emotional pain. I can see the abuse in people’s eyes when I meet them in the street.
“I went to the Rutland Centre when Aslan split up in the 1980s," he continues. "I was strung out on heroin at the time. On the fourth week nearly everybody in there had this blinding flash of fuckin’ light and they came out with some deep trauma that happened to them as a child. And the next day you could see them glowing where they’d got all this shit out. But that didn’t happen to me. As far as I was concerned I had the best childhood.
“When I came out of the Rutland I visited me parents. And I’m trying to apologise 'cos it’d been in the papers why Aslan had split up, and about me being a heroin addict. I was trying to come up with some reason, and I remember saying to me da, ‘Look, it coulda been something that happened to me as a kid.’ Later I walked out the hall door, and just as I did I looked across the street at a neighbouring house. And in that moment I remembered being raped when I was six by a man who lived there. The whole thing just replayed like a video. It was unfuckinbelievable.”
From the age of six to nine, Dignam was raped by the same man several more times, and also by another neighbour.
“I grew up thinking I had some hand in it,” he says. “I thought I was a prick-tease or something. When you grow up your sexuality is totally screwed up. Because of all the shit that went on when I was a kid, d’y’know when you’re hungry, you have an empty gnawing feeling inside? Well all my life I’ve had a feeling like that. Say if I wanted to be part of a gang and you had to clean a window to be part of that gang, I’d clean the whole fucking house full of windows. I was always trying to be accepted. But the day I took heroin, it was like this hole just disappeared. And all of a sudden I felt adequate.