Sunday, 30 September 2012 02:30
By D Francis
Antigua St. John’s - A former drug addict wants to see government “take the bull by the horns” so to speak in dealing with the whole rehab process of drug addicts in Antigua & Barbuda.
Mary John, a fairly well known woman who has been telling her life story many times over about her 18-year battle with drug addiction, openly shared her feelings with Caribarena.com during an exclusive interview.
Although she has been drug-free from 2003 to date, the experiences and images of those “dark” moments of her life only served to strengthen her resolve as she had to endure sexual abuse, scorn by some quarters of society and survive two suicide attempts, among other dangerous encounters.
She credits Crossroads Centre at Willoughby Bay in Antigua, where she has been several times, for doing a great job with regards to her recovery. She expressed deep concern, however, for the many drug users who may not be as privileged as she was to access the help they need.
According to John, “I think there needs to be a facility, free of charge where the many drug addicts we see walking the streets of St. John’s and even those who we may not know about to go and get help. And not only do they need to access proper treatment, but also there should also be an area where they can stay for a period of time, let’s say six months or so where they could be followed up/monitored and helped along the way to full recovery.
“I must commend the Substance Abuse Prevention Division for the tremendous job they are doing thus far, especially Norma Jeffrey-Dorsett, but let’s face it, how many of these drug addicts you see around are going to keep coming to hear a lecture from the substance abuse office or hear some words of advice and act on it? There needs to be much more than that being offered to drug addicts, because as we look around we see a new one, a young one on the streets, we are losing our youth to drugs and this has got to stop, where does is stop, the answer is clear get a national facility that will offer free treatment and follow-up care and we would well on our way.”
She was asked how she suggests this proposed facility be run especially to provide long term care for drug addicts.
She said: “There are many ways in which such a centre can be staffed with the right people, fully competent to do what it takes to bring these men and women around. We have counselors here who can do refresher courses of study regarding the skills necessary to deal with drug addicts or expertise can also be sourced from abroad. We don’t even have to go to the US, we can get professionalism from right here in the Caribbean to help with this growing problem of drug abuse amongst our citizens.”
She was, however, quick to add on the heels of this that the final turning point to change one’s life as drug addict has to start with that person.
“No matter all who wants you to get well, no matter what assistance is being offered to you as a drug addict, it is you who have to want that turn-around, that change for the better. You have to come to that realisation before it’s too late. I had a lot of people who wanted me to quit and offered to help but my mind was blank to that; I did not want to hear that at that time, all I’m seeing is the next high, the next hit.”
John shared, “An addict is assured of one of three things -- jail, institution or death -- with me, I was institutionalized. Some are not that lucky as many of them faced the ultimate ending -- death, which I could have as well as I attempted suicide twice.”
She warned: “A lot of people don’t realise it, but alcohol is indeed a drug. When I was admitted to Crossroads for the second time in 2002, most of the patients were there for alcohol abuse.
Drug addiction is an equal opportunity offender – no matter your race, colour or creed, how bright you are, you family status. Drugs does not choose you because you a poor, poor ugly or not too ‘bright’ as we would say. Look at me, I came from a good family background, went to Christ the King , worked at Barclays Bank, and there I was wrapped and tangled up in drug use for 18 years just from taking that first hit.”
Ms John also used the opportunity to warn young people against experimenting with drugs, as it was because of her curiosity to ‘experiment’ that got her bound to the habit in the first place.
“I have done public service announcements advising people against experimenting with drugs, that’s how I started. When I lived in New York which was between 1984-87, I met an Antiguan man who explained he did not use crack but sniffed cocaine recreationally and he asked me if I wanted to try it. Being young and adventurous, I agreed and from that day, I chased that feeling for 18 grueling years, always hunting for that feeling at any cost. To tell you the truth, I felt really good when I took that first hit and wanted to feel that way again and again, but little did I know it would get much worse.”
And worse it did get, according to John, as she ended up falling in and out of favour with her family, which was very well respected in society.
“My family was a well respected family and it was on my mother’s good name that I got favour. I ran a business called MJ’s Enterprises from 1987 - 1990, which involved sourcing local fruits and vegetables from local farmers and Dominica and sell them to restaurants, hotels etc. I was doing very well actually. When I went to get a loan relating to my business, it was because of my mother that I got an $8,000 overdraft.”
John explained that when she started MJ Enterprises it flourished and raked in hundreds of thousands of dollars with which she gladly did good especially where her family was concerned. But she said as the effects of her continued drug use wreaked havoc on her life, her business went dormant, but was restarted some time later by her younger brother who also included her in the process.
She spoke on the importance of family support for drug addicts and for them to listen to what they have to say.
“This was an area where I did not find much favour for whatever reason, sad to say. Mark you , growing up I was not in want; my father, although he was struggling with his own problems, provided for us well. But one has to understand the thinking of someone who is on drugs, all they are seeing is black and is all about the ‘next fix’ and how you are going to get it.
“I did feel bad/guilty for the hurt and embarrassment that I was causing family, friends and loved ones, but it’s not as easy to stop. And that’s the thing, some families do not usually think about how the drug addict member of the family is affected in all this. Most times, it’s all about their reputation, their image and don’t really think much about what you want to do, your ideas and cries for help’ and how they as a family can work best with your ideas.”
She recalled that based on her family’s suggestion she also did a stint at a rehab centre at Boca Raton, Florida in 2002 between May-October, but she didn’t find that to be helpful as she wanted to get help to get back her business on track again.
John went on to use crack in early 2002 and she warns, “The fall with crack will come much quicker than with cocaine.”
She shared that during her drug use she had ideas to make big impressions that sometimes end in failure.
“A drug user thinks grandiose having great ideas without thinking it through and in the end you realise what a fool you made of yourself.”
She said getting away from those who indulge in the habit was a good way to start to turn her life around but unfortunately she always ended up with ‘friends’ who were on some sort of drugs. John said as much as people who are on drugs cocaine/crack usually smoke marijuana and drink alcohol, she did not indulge in the latter two regularly. She said she even had periods during which she will go for weeks without using drugs but would get in a state of depression that kept her in bed, paying visits to the bathroom, the kitchen and back to bed.
“Marijuana did nothing for me but make me hungry, so I eat a lot and would get fat and weight gain was something I dread. The alcohol.. I used it to bring me down, as the cocaine offered that high and the alcohol was a downer. I use to have problems falling asleep so I used to take a lot of valium, a prescription drug but I had my way of getting it.”
John said the drug use took a toll on her body as she lost her appetite and came down to little over 100 pounds.
She recalled one time when she was in Point to get some drugs that she passed two guys and they said, “See what da gal come to, look how she have she self.”
“I heard them but all I wanted was the drugs”. It was in the same vicinity where she was sexually assaulted after an addict pretended to be leading her to where she wanted to buy drugs; he instead led her into an abandoned house and performed the act.
John recalled when she reached her lowest ebb and just didn’t think she could face anyone anymore.
“It was a morning I came home from one of my drug binges and went into the car with the thought that I was going to kill myself. The first time I drank a bottle of Havoline engine oil and the second time, it was gasoline. When I woke up after the first suicide attempt in early June 2003, I felt angry for some time that I was in ICU. I remember thinking, I am still here so it’s going through this all over again facing my family, society and hearing what other people had to stay and pointing their fingers at me, actually I really wanted to die. That’s why I took a second attempt but it wasn’t as bad as the first.
“I was in a coma...the engine oil badly affected my kidneys, etc.. It’s a miracle I’m still here. The second suicide attempt was drinking some gasoline; it wasn’t as bad as the first, the gas would only go down a little at a time.”
She said when she was released from hospital It was straight to Crossroads for the third time, but she said the interesting thing was she was told they have done all they could and it was up to her now.
“They told me it was up to me to choose, they have done their part. They said, ‘Mary knows everything, she knows the whole programme and what she has to do’. It was around that time I said hey, I can do this, I want life, I want to live and from October 21st 2003 to now I haven’t touched a drop of drugs again.”
John said, “I called crack/cocaine the devil’s representative on earth and wouldn’t wish this ordeal on no one. What I went through was tough and I want to use the rest of my life to help or prevent this from happening to others.”
She said apart from seeing MJ Enterprises grow from strength, it is her goal to reach lives not only here but across the globe and speak to them about the dangers of drugs. She said she is also In the process of writing a book called the ‘Strength of a Woman’ which will feature her life’s experiences with drugs and how she conquered. It is expected to be released in 2014.
John recently won the short class in the Figure Fitness category, a competition put on by the Antigua & Barbuda Body Building Association.