A 2014 World Health Organization report ranked Saint Lucia ninth for the highest per-capita yearly consumption of alcohol. Another report that same year labeled us the country with the second highest alcohol consumption in the Americas—10.4 litres per-capita yearly consumption. A study by the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission of twelve Caribbean islands revealed our students were the highest abusers of alcohol. A concerned reader might well ask: So what are we doing about the sorry situation?
“Not much,” according to one recovering alcoholic who spoke with me this week. “The situation is worse than we think or we are willing to admit!”
Sylvester Richmond Constantine, aka “Horse”, says he grew up in a regular household, his father a social drinker. He attended the RC Boys’ School, went to church regularly and participated in related activities growing up. He was also a member of the once prestigious popular Catholic Youth Organization. He actually vowed to avenge some day the CYO football team’s prior defeats by becoming the organization’s best-ever goalkeeper. “I was not so good at first,” he chuckled, “but there were days when I really focused and no one could score.”
As for his first taste of alcohol: “I used to have a drink now and then, mainly at Christmas or at a party, no problem. The trouble started when I got a job for Foreign Affairs as a driver. At the time the office was on Brazil Street and on Fridays, with other staff members, I used to go downstairs at the [long defunct] Rain Restaurant where we would have several rum punches.
“After a while I started drinking more and more. At meetings, at bars after work.” He chuckled again: “I drank with government ministers and their police bodyguards. There soon came a time when I would drink at every opportunity. I had become a bar fly.”
His live-in girlfriend complained but Constantine was defensive. He refused to acknowledge what was happening. He insisted he was like every other young man enjoying life. He never saw himself for what he was: an alcoholic. Consequently his personal life was a mess. His bills went unpaid—he needed the money to pay for his alcoholic kicks. He quarreled with his girlfriend, blamed her for every little mishap. He even quarreled with his priest. “Why were his sermons so lengthy?”
He ignored the advice of close friends and for 20 years did not go a single day without a bellyful of booze.
“To me,” he said, “alcoholics were old men and women drunk by the market. I never saw myself as one of them.” He knows better now. And he credits a co-worker with his life-saving turnaround.
“Her name is Julie Bonnet,” he smiled. “We both worked at Renwick & Company. There was this incident that involved another driver who got fired for being drunk on the job. Julie pulled me aside and asked me three times: Did I want to end up like the fired drunk or would I man up and go to Turning Point?” Constantine promised to undergo treatment. But easier said than done. Lucky for him, Julie Bonnet stayed on his case. In early October of 2013 Constantine took himself to Turning Point, sponsored by his friend Julie. “At the very first interview I was told I had to be admitted right away for six weeks. I declined. You see, my birthday was around the corner and I wanted to go liming with my friends.” He was finally admitted on 14th October.”
During the six-week programme, he says he was finally able to confront the truth, thanks to his doctors, counselors—and other addicts. He finally acknowledged he had a problem that had cost him his relationship with his girlfriend, with his children “and a whole lot more.” Besides, there was the high blood pressure that was creating other serious health complications.