As part one concluded, Victor narrowly escaped a jail term for violating his probation, while Kevin’s recovery was soon to be savaged by crack cocaine. To read part one of the story, click here.
The Story Continues
While Victor received a reprieve from his probation officer, Kevin wasn’t initially so lucky: crack cocaine hastened his particular trip to hell.
"Nothing spirals you down like crack," says Kevin. "It has you selling everything."
Kevin’s nightmare lasted about two years. By the end of it, the mother of his children was gone, his kids had no respect for him, his friends had abandoned him, and his own mother told him she wished he had never been born.
"She told me she wished she had flushed me down the toilet," Kevin says without emotion.
Around that time he ran into a childhood friend just back from treatment.
"You could see the spirit in him again," Kevin says. "I said to myself, ‘When last did I look like that?’"
Kevin had a moment of clarity. "At the age of 30, I said maybe a rehab sounded like a good idea." Within a week, thanks to that astute supervisor, he was on his way to a treatment center in the states.
Victor also made his way stateside about a year after his probation ended, thanks to a longtime friendship with a local man who was in New York attending meetings there. It was in a meeting at 68th and Broadway that Victor began to understand how the program of Alcoholics Anonymous could work to keep him sober and happy.
The Long Road Back
For Kevin, rehab was the easy part. It was coming home that presented the challenges.
With a bar on every corner, and drugs being sold in every alleyway, Kevin’s counselor cautioned him to "get involved" in his recovery.
That meant changing jobs, changing friends and getting to meetings. He was allowed an hour a day off work to go to AA. But still, he said, his former friends had bets that he would relapse.
Relapse was and is common among people returning from treatment, says Kevin, who has remained clean and sober since then.
It was in New York that Victor made the vital connection. "I heard so many stories. Some of them were my story."
"You know, you come home in a blackout and decide to make some fried chicken … you turn on the stove and the next thing you know, you have passed out. When you wake up, the kitchen is full of smoke. You find out you are not the only one who’s had that experience," Victor says.
Or you lose your car.
One time, Victor says, he lost his car for two days. He even reported it stolen before he found it parked a couple of blocks away from the bar where he had left it.
He says when you hear other people tell similar tales you know you are no longer alone.
He points to a sign above the doorway in the room on St. Thomas where hundreds, if not thousands of alcoholics have found sobriety. "You are not alone," reads the simple light-colored wooden plaque he says was painted by a homeless alcoholic woman decades ago. "She came back here and celebrated her 20th anniversary with us."
After a time in New York, Victor returned to St. Thomas determined to help his fellow alcoholics. To that end, with the help of some altruistic people and the Council on Alcoholism St. Thomas (COAST), he turned his dead mother’s home into a combination halfway house and AA meeting place.
Sunlight reflects upon the white walls dotted with slogans: "Think," "The war is over and you lost," "A day at a time." The 12 steps and 12 traditions hang on rollers on one wall.
Victor wistfully recalls his hope that his West Indian friends would recover from the same fatal disease from which so far he’s been saved.
"You know what’s sad? They came in, but they never got it. They are all dead. A whole army of them," he says shaking his head.
He says a few locals do get it. However, most don’t. "They think they’ll be less of a man; they’ll lose their edge."
Victor never drank again after his return from New York in the early ’80s. But that is not the end of his substance saga. He still smoked Marlboros, he says.
One day a friend passed him a Marlboro, he said would be like no other he’d ever had.
It was laced with crack cocaine.
The first puff took the man—who at that time was "clean and sober and free of mind"—off on a three-and-a-half-year odyssey to the depths of despair.
Again, his lifelong friend stepped in. "At this point Scott was now running a program in Culver City, Calif." He invited Victor to come there and clean up.
It was there that Victor faced the entire spectrum of his disease of addiction. He met famous actors and rich people and indistinct and poor people. He understood it made no difference who you were.
"Once you have the disease of addiction you just have to turn it over and work this program," Victor says.
Both Kevin and Victor remember vividly facing the specters of what they could become if they didn’t get a handle on their substance abuse when they did.
For Kevin it was at the rehab.
"There was this one guy who couldn’t even keep water down." And there was a heroine addict whose hand was the size of his leg. "He had no veins in it."
He saw the extremes and it scared him. "If the road I was on led to this, I wanted off," Kevin says.
Victor recalls meeting an addict from Hawaii in a prison meeting in California.
"The guy was drunk. He went home to get more money and got into an argument with his grandmother. He blew her head off with a shotgun," Victor recounts matter-of-factly. "He didn’t knew he did it until the next day," when he was told. He had no recollection of killing his grandmother.
The Death and Resurrection of a Community
Victor sees alcoholism at the core of his community’s dysfunction. "How do you run a government when everybody’s drunk?" He says drinking has always been a way of life in the Virgin Islands.
"When a society is afflicted with alcoholism, then the society cannot conduct anything properly," he says. "A drunk lives under false illusions."
Speaking of his own experience when he very first went to an AA meeting, Victor says he thought, "What’s this strong West Indian man doing with all these old women and men. Their lives are burned up – I still a strong man; I can still drink," he says breaking into the vernacular.
Victor believes that is the pervasive attitude. He says his countrymen are living in darkness with prejudice and ignorance. They don’t know there is light at the end of the tunnel.
It is why the community is in "shambles," he says. Everything is done with a drink. "As long as this society stays under a blanket of alcohol, the society is going to be in chaos."
And as for the young people, Victor says things are no different than when he was growing up, except today the young people carry guns and cocaine has replaced rum.
"You’re killing your brother; your sister. You’re breaking your mother’s heart. Look what you are doing to your grandmother," Victor implores.
"Let us start the intervention in the schools. Let us make it well known we have a plague."
Kevin has been clean and sober for 18 years, Victor for 16.
Both men attribute their long-term sobriety to the Alcoholics Anonymous program.
But without the "noose" of enlightened higher-ups—a supervisor and a judge—either one of them could easily have died—or worse.
Epilogue: Sadly, Victor and Kevin’s stories are not unique to the territory. If you’re concerned you might have a drinking problem, consider the following questions:
* Do you drink alone when you feel angry or sad?
* Does your drinking ever make you late for work?
* Does your drinking worry your family?
* Do you ever drink after telling yourself you won’t?
* Do you ever forget what you did while drinking?
* Do you get headaches or have a hangover after drinking?
If you or someone you know has a problem with alcohol, there is help available.
V.I. Resources for Alcoholics
1) Alcoholics Anonymous help line 340-776-5283
2) Council on Alcoholism St. Thomas (COAST) 340-775-3161
3) The Village V.I. Partners in Recovery on St. Croix: 340-719-9900
4) AA online www.aavirginislands.