At the age of 10, Charles Stewart had his first drink; back then it was considered a rite of passage for young men.
However, years after that first taste of alcohol in 1969, Stewart found himself facing a crossroads, choosing between his active addiction or working towards recovery.
“Drinking played a big part in breaking up my family. I think that that had a lot to do with our divorce because I was still out there in the world, drinking… drinking and out with friends shooting pool,” Stewart said as he shared his story of his road to recovery with the Cayman Compass.
He is one of many individuals silently battling addiction in Cayman.
Today (30 Sept.) marks the end of Recovery Month, which annually occurs in September and shines a light on addiction. It also serves to publicise support available to those living with drug and substance abuse.
In a recent Compass Ask the Experts segment on addiction and recovery, Kimberly Febres, programme coordinator in the Department of Counselling Services, said that quantifying the number of people living with addiction in Cayman is difficult, but the problem is real.
“There are people who are seeking help, but there’s probably an even greater number of people who aren’t seeking help. So even though we have limited numbers and statistics, we probably don’t have an accurate count of what the numbers really are,” Febres said during the segment.
She added that, despite this, “I can tell you that our services are always full and sometimes in some cases, we even have a wait list for people who need to access services.”
Terry Delaney, senior therapist at Aspire Therapeutic Services, also participating in the Ask the Experts panel, pointed out that research over the last 25 to 30 years has shown that regardless of the group being looked at – whether it’s women, men or teenagers – about 18% to 21% of the population has either a major problem with, or addiction to, alcohol.
“If we’re looking at alcohol only, and generally there’s 20% of the population [that is affected], that’s one out of five people that have a problem,” he said.
Recognising the problem is key
Stewart was one of those individuals who fell into that bracket, but he recognised his problem and sought help.
Taking that step was not easy, he said, as he had lived with his addiction for most of his life.
He first attempted to stop drinking while he was at sea in Japan. He couldn’t recall his age at the time.
Stewart said he remembered that his mother would always put the Bible in his suitcase when he went to sea and he would often dismiss it, but one day he picked it up and began reading.
He was moved to make a change and it lasted for the year he was on the ship.
“Then I came home, and I went right back. When I get back into with friends and things, you know, it’s there still, but you know, you’re not doing anything about it,” he said.
He said at every turn alcohol was accessible, from the time he worked as a chef to when his father-in-law opened a bar that he later managed.
However, he said, he saw his family fall apart and he knew he needed to change.
“The main thing I think was keeping away from the old places you used to go, and you know, old friends you still love them and maintain [those relationships]. But I had a couple of experiences like that; I’d be off it and I go back around them, and I’d drink again. So, you’ve got to keep away from the old places,” he said.
Years later he would once again attempt to stay away from the bottle, and he said this last time stuck.
Stewart has been sober for the last two years and he said now he cannot even stand the smell of alcohol.
He noted how his life has improved since then.
“It has turned my life completely around and it makes you feel so much stronger. You get up in the morning, you don’t feel that laziness… like you don’t want to get out. You’ll rise like a lion, strong. I guess the cigarettes, the alcohol… it has to do with your health. It’s really good in every way… your health, your pocket… in the family it draws you together,” he said.
Struggles turn into saving grace for others
Emma Sabina Powell has a warm smile, the kind that lights up a room. But behind that smile she hid a dark and painful secret – she was addicted to marijuana.
For years the 54-year-old battled her addiction, which would eventually lead her to hit rock bottom.
Her introduction to drug abuse came in the months after her father, with whom she was close, had died.
“My entire world changed,” she said.
She was nine at the time.
“My dad died in October and before Christmas I had tried drugs for the first time. It was marijuana and marijuana was pretty much a part of my life ever since. There were periods when I didn’t do it. But it was normal for me to be stoned on any day,” she said.
Powell said she grew up with anger and pain when she was sent away to live with her father’s relatives after he had died.
“I didn’t know how else to deal with it. I learned to smother it with getting high and that worked for me. But, as time went on, I became a lot more dependent on it and I still managed it, but my life revolved around it. You know, I’d go to work and I couldn’t wait to get off work cause I was going to go home and get high. There was no feeling in the world like being stoned and not having to deal with life on life’s terms,” she said.
Powell, who said she used to be a “disciplined user,” was not exposed to a lot of the challenges that women can be exposed to in active addiction.
After she graduated to crack cocaine, Powell said she knew she had no control over her life and needed to help.
She said in 2009 she checked herself into rehab.
“I was originally supposed to be there for six months, but after three months I decided I can fix the world. ‘I don’t need you guys. You guys aren’t doing anything for me.’ That addictive personality was still dominant, and I decided that wasn’t the right place for me, after three months to the day, and I left,” she said.
Powell said she stayed clean for six years after leaving, but she relapsed for three months after that.
“I knew what to do and I eventually found the courage to reach out to someone for help because when you relapse that comes with a lot of shame and pain and you lose confidence in yourself. It takes away a lot,” she said.
Powell said she turned her life around and completed the full rehab programme.
She said the driving force behind getting her back on the wagon was the thought of destroying her relationship with her niece who she loves like a daughter and her niece’s son, who she also loves dearly.
“I didn’t spend time with him anymore. We didn’t do the usual things we were doing, and I wanted that back. I wanted a relationship back with him. And the day I went into treatment it was his birthday. Today all those bridges that I burned when I was in active addiction have pretty much mended themselves because I have changed my life,” she said.
Powell, who has been drug-free for the last six years, now works with addicts helping them through their recovery struggles.
She is a director at The Bridge Foundation, which manages two halfway houses – one for men and one for women – for those recovering from drug and alcohol addiction. She also works as the organisation’s administrative assistant.
Powell said getting clean and sober is not an overnight endeavour – it takes time, commitment and, more importantly, a desire to change.
“They can go to treatment every week. It’s not going to help. You have to have that desire for yourself, not for your family, for your friends, for your kids, for anybody. You have to have that desire for yourself. You are unable to actually take care of other people and your kids and anything else until you learned to take care of yourself,” she said.
Powell said working at The Bridge has helped her to curb her urges to fall back into drug abuse.
While she said recovery is not easy, she insists “it’s worth it”.