A Recovery story: Carnival time in Trinidad and Tobago

At the age of 23, the last thing I thought I would be doing is changing my life; I’d thought at my age, there was hardly anything to be changed – I was still in the process of building it!

While this might hold some truth, the blocks with which I was building were not leading me toward success or happiness. In fact, they were leading me straight to an end I couldn’t yet see.

I was born and raised in Trinidad and Tobago to two lovely parents who worked hard to secure the life they wanted for themselves and me and my brother.

I grew up an anxious child, fearing everything from the heavy rain and flooding roads to being left alone for too long. It felt as though from the age of 6, I was doomed to a life of figuring out where it all came from. I found solace in the outdoors and playing music whenever I could.

Trinidad is a small place. It’s a beautiful little island where we know best how to work almost as hard as we play, alcohol and marijuana being an integral part of many peoples lives.

Trinidad and Tobago

In my family, alcohol was no stranger – Mum and Dad drank often and by 15 I’d not only had my first real drinking experience but my first “drink so much that I need to call my parents for help” drinking experience.

I was turned off for the time being, given the brutal hangover, but I still wanted to see what else was out there. How else could I get away from my head? So at 16, I smoked marijuana for the first time.

It didn’t take long before I was buying my own and smoking daily, sometimes on my own, sometimes with friends. I thought I had found a solution to my constantly anxious state AND something incredibly fun all in one! Little did I know, this was the start of my downward decline into addiction- an affliction I had no understanding of before getting into recovery.

As my life went on, I held onto smoking, drinking, other drugs and certain behaviours as a way to hide from the truths that I found too hard to face. I couldn’t see when it was changing from something fun and even “normal” for many of my friends and schoolmates into something dangerous and out of control.

hand in the sand woman-s

My parents were always worried, but I insisted that I was in control every time it came up – I could stop if I wanted to, I just don’t want to. I became so consumed by my need to fill my internal void of self-worth and self-knowledge that I wasn’t able to think straight anymore.

I would often have clear reasons to stop crop up in front of me, like crashing my parents’ car or blacking out and wondering how I managed to drive home unscathed, my parents saying they were scared for my life, broken relationships, etc. but I couldn’t ever see that it was a real issue.

I only wanted to hide.

By 22, after enough time spent lying and denying things, my friend group was small and full of other addicts and stalled youth and my relationship with my family was distant at best. I was deemed an entitled hothead at work who couldn’t be relied on for much and my image of “edgy, starving artist” or “disturbed youth” was getting old. Even to me.

When an episode of mania came upon me after taking some dirty stimulants over the course of three days, I was finally spooked just enough to cut the hard stuff out. My drinking was moderate and I liked it that way but my smoking hiked all the way up and worst of all, I met somebody who enabled me to do what I knew how to do best: put myself aside – needs, wants, thoughts – in order to please them.

This relationship sucked the life out of me in every way I could’ve imagined. Having no sense of self whatsoever, no ability to validate myself, feel my worth and access my personal power, my days were dark. I felt hopelessness like never before and every single minute was a fight.

broken plate

Somehow, when I knew I was reaching my breaking point – which would have been either suicide/severe self-harm or relapse to stimulant drugs, I asked for help. This was the action that ultimately saved me.

I found Camino Recovery Centre online with my parents, feeling a huge sense of relief when I read about their treatment of not only drug addiction, but also behavioural and process addictions.

I suddenly got a glimpse into what might be going on inside of me and scared as I was, I knew I needed to go. I spent 3 months at Camino.

Learning about my own past, trauma and the disease of addiction. I was introduced to the 12-step recovery program, which spoke about a God that I understood to be something already within me and met countless people who had worked this program and come out the other side as happier people.

For the first time in my life, I felt like there was hope for me to live with myself as I am, anxiety and all. I learned about forgiveness and acceptance, of myself and others, about shame, where it comes from and how to heal from it, and most of all I learned about recovery, how to live life on life’s terms AND get a kick out of it.

I’ve been back home now for just over a month and yes, still sober, going to a meeting every day (AA/NA) and working my steps with a sponsor.

Just a couple of weeks after getting home, Trinidad celebrated its annual festival we call Carnival. It’s a time of dancing, loud music, drinking and overall indulgence that radiates out from the island for the weeks leading up to a Monday and Tuesday where it all comes to a head. The city centre shuts down to accommodate massive trucks blaring music and serving drinks to fuel the crowds of people dressed in bright coloured handmade costumes and the madness ensues.

Last year I vowed I’d say no to working and take part in the fun, but things didn’t pan out exactly as I’d hoped. Still, I spent Monday and the first half of Tuesday out in the thick of it all with my camera, taking pictures accompanied by other sober fellows.

I wasn’t sure I’d be able to enjoy myself surrounded by all the alcohol and excitement that I couldn’t be a part of in the way I wanted to be, but I most certainly did.

The sun was shining and the energy was nearly tangible; a feeling of euphoric release and freedom that rippled throughout the masses of people who took part.

tropical beach

I was able to receive it all, clean, clear and sober and I felt reassured yet again that I’d made the right choice getting sober. Some days its easy to feel like I’m losing out in this culture, but everything is still there, I just no longer need to be high to be a part of it.


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