It's Friday evening and everybody seems to be suffering from a bad case of "Thank God it's Friday" fever. The rum shops along the Santa Flora road on the way to Palo Seco are filled and glasses are knocking in after-work limes. As we enter the gates of Palo Seco Women's Centre for the New Life Ministries Drug Rehabilitation Centre where Catherine Crow works as an admin assistant/counsellor, photographer, Micheal Bruce and I are also feverish for a good lime.
We defer it, however and get into gear for Crow's interview. She comes out into the waiting room with a huge smile on her face to greet us — "Hi, a pleasure to meet you." Casually dressed in jeans, shirt and chain with cross pendant, eloquent and engaging, I can't guess what her testimony is but her mysterious eyes tell their own story. Not many people who have been in rehab are willing to come out into the wider society and testify but the forty-something-year-old woman is brave and assertive.
"Of course you can take my picture," she tells Bruce. "I want my story to be a warning and inspiration to others. I want them to use my testimony as food for thought in their own lives!" she advises.
Her story begins with an unexpected revelation about being locked up on three occasions. Jail... I can't believe it; this woman with the "Convent girl" accent doesn't fit the profile. "I came into rehab a year and half ago, at the New Life Centre branch in Mount St Benedict in St Augustine after being locked up for the third time in jail. The first and second time I was locked up for drug possession and the third time for drug trafficking. On the third occasion the police raided the crack house where I had moved to in order to be closer to the drugs and with the raid they took everyone in the house including me!"
I urge her to continue. "Where do I really begin? I grew up in a good home; I went to a good school, St Joseph's Convent..." I knew it! The mother of two sighs at my justification, fiddles with her cross pendant and proceeds with her saga, "I excelled at academics, passed exams, went to University, did my degree and masters. As a teenager I loved to party like the average youth but somehow when I drank alcohol I never knew when to stop. I would drink until I passed out while others would just have a couple.
Nonetheless, I got married, moved to Florida, had two beautiful daughters and landed a great job at a University. Then I got divorced and began dating my second husband and everything went downhill from there!"
I sense the regret in her eyes and sadness in her tone but her signature smile is reassurant that the story ends well despite the painful plot. "My second husband was a drug addict. I tried desperately to change him, to make him stop his drug use. He used to physically abuse me but I still wanted to help him beat his addiction. Soon I gave up hope because nothing seemed to work and the only way I devised to deal with his addiction was to become an addict myself. I began using crack cocaine and our lives went by in smoky moments in coke houses. I left the US to run away from him and my younger daughter came back to Trinidad with me. He followed and we got married and my drug use worsened. My daughter moved back to the US, I didn't have a care in the world I abandoned my family and friends; I cut all contact with everyone. My new family was my addicted husband and fellow drug users. I lost weight went all the way down to 85 pounds and became a druggie by day and by night. It was a life of desperation, dishonesty , despair and mistrust. I left my job, we didn't have any problems for money as my second husband's parents were wealthy and they sent money to us weekly which we squandered on drugs. Just imagine that we would get three thousand dollars as our weekly allowance and we would find it hard to take 20 dollars out of that money to buy a butter bread, a juice and a tin of sausages. Food wasn't a priority. Nothing as a matter of fact was a priority but getting high!"
I try my best not to interrupt Crow's story but I must ask- "What did getting high do for you? Was it a temporary happy for you?"
"No it wasn't. The first time I used drugs it was different not euphoric just different after that it didn't do anything for me. It caused me more pain and with that pain I felt suicidal because looking at myself in the mirror revealed what I had become. Not once did I get a "happy" out of a hit. I had to sleep on cold floors, without drinking and bathing water, without bathroom facilities and without food. Now tell me, where does the adjective 'happy' fit into that scenario?"
Playing with her pendant, she explains that the notion that getting high can ease the problems of the fainthearted is overrated —"Once you get high you always have to chase the next high but it never comes and that's why you get addicted and increasingly frustrated. I was privy to so many near death experiences courtesy my drug use such that in retrospect I am really lucky to be alive!" The former computer analyst declares that the rehabilitation sessions she received at New Life Ministries, a project of The Living Water Community, was her life saver; that, prayer and the undying love and support of her family. "My family never gave up hope on me; they came to visit me in jail when I was there. After my third time in the slammer they asked me if I would go to rehab and I said yes as I had seen death as the only alternative. Rehab at New Life Minstries was a lifesaver for me. I met other people in similar situations and the sessions and personnel there gave me the support (psychological, spiritual etc.) for my recovery." It's been 18 months since that first day Crow started her therapy on the Mount and today she is a million times better than before but her healing, she insists is not complete but a work in progress. Even as a newly recruited counsellor in the recently opened Palo Seco Women's Centre, she admits to the people she counsels and otherwise that she still gets urges but her rehab sessions have taught her coping strategies to counteract these urges. "Many people think too hard about the future when recovery from addiction requires gradual baby steps in the right direction. I have learned so much about myself in the past 18 months of being clean. I realise now that people with addictive personalities are more predisposed to being addicts." Addictive personalities? "People with these personalities may be predisposed to it due to genetics and they may have gone through some early childhood trauma, sometimes they pretend that emotions don't exist or bottle them up. These people like myself can be loners, very creative, and may have low self esteem. What helps me beat my urges is the saying we have at the Centre: 'Play the tape through'. By doing this when you get the urge, once you go through the consequences of your hit in your mind you realise that you never want to go back to where you were before because it's miles away from where you are now."
Where were you before and where are you now?" I enquire. "I was at a desolate place where I had lost myself, my purpose, my soul. At first I didn't see the light at the end of the tunnel, just tunnel but now I have found my soul once more and I never want to lose it again. I wasn't the best mother and I hurt my daughters immensely. I want to prove to them now that I have come to my senses. I want to show them that I can stay clean and be a good mother, a good person and an example to other women," she says touching her pendant once more. I can't help it; I must ask her about her cross pendant. "Everyone graduating from the programme gets one. Since I graduated I have never taken it off, it's my constant reminder of my past battle, my future challenges and the reassurance that God is not far away but walking by my side every hurdle and every step!" As the interview comes to a close and I commend Crow on her strength and commitment to her life anew, she asks me about her Woman Express debut, "When will it be out? I want my daughters to read this story. I want them to see how far I have come. I want them to see their mother and feel proud," the tears in her eyes make me misty-eyed as well. I hope that her daughters are indeed proud by her revelations.
We leave Palo Seco and Bruce and I make our way back to the West along the Santa Flora road passing the booming bars and limers. We can't seem to get Crow out of our minds. We decide to take a rain check on the cold ones we yearned for at the beginning of the trip. Hmmmm...We both evaluate our personalities and those of our loved ones. As we hit the highway I ponder on this courageous woman's highway to recovery and I smile...somehow I know that she will reach her destination and take others there safely as well!