St. John’s Antigua- The road to recovery is neither short nor smooth, but it does have its moments worth savoring. For recovering addict Mary John, one such moment came this past weekend, when in only her second year of competition, with sponsorship support from Harney Motors, she won her height class and placed second overall in the Figure Fitness category of the National Bodybuilding championships.
She’s come a long way from chasing the next high, and is happy these days with the satisfaction of waking up each day still clean and still committed to her sobriety.
Mary has been bravely candid about her story, becoming something of a poster child for recovery; starring in anti-drug promos, speaking at schools and to other community groups about drug use as someone who’s been there and knows what rock bottom looks like.
Exercise has been a big part of Mary’s recovery.
“I’m a very active person and I was an athlete in school and I know that exercise certainly helps a person in many ways…it made me feel so good that I looked forward to doing it every day,” she told OBSERVER Media. She quickly became a regular in the gym and after attending the National Bodybuilding Championship in 2010, set her sight on competing. It’s been good for her and, she hopes, an inspiration to others. As was read in her intro on competition night, she believes “that one of the reasons God saved me from many years of drug addiction was to be an inspiration to others.”
Being as open as she has been about that journey, especially in a small society like Antigua, can’t have been easy, but, she said, she made a promise to herself that if she survived her addiction and the lows it brought her to, she would go public with her story.
The word “survived” isn’t used lightly by Mary John. As someone who’s been through several rounds of rehab; someone who has put herself in dangerous situations in service to her addiction; someone who knows what it is to lose the will to live, who says of her last suicide attempt, “I wanted to die” and nearly succeeded in getting her wish, survival is more than just an abstraction.
It was, in fact, not always a certainty, because the certainty of a bright future dimmed when, back in the early 80s, she gave in to the impulse to “try it” – of her own free will, she acknowledged.
“I think I was addicted from the first hit,” John said, reflecting on the lure of the high. “You never get it back but you chase it.” And caught up in the chase, she said, “A drug addict is capable of doing anything.”
John’s period of recovery, and the deliberate act of going public, has not been without its risk, beyond the risk of relapse.
She has, she said, been victimized for her outspokenness and in particular her charges of police complicity in the drug trade – carrying signs like “the Police are involved too” in anti-drug marches, for instance. According to her, some whisper their encouragement but few want to get themselves in the crosshairs of those with the power to rain down retribution to those they feel might be speaking out of turn. Many, she indicated, are threatened by what she knows as someone who lived in the belly of the Antigua drug culture for many years. But she says she feels no fear.
“With what I went through, it’s hard to be fearful now,” John said.
Fear, shame, anger, she’s been there and move past it. But this October, she’ll be celebrating nine years of being in a better place, a place where she’s free of the shadow and reality of the debasement, including the rape of her soul and, yes, body, that dogged her during her years of addiction. And if her story celebrates anything for addicts and the families of addicts, it’s that there’s hope on the other side.
Yes, addiction is a disease and not merely a test of character, but with the right tools and the strength to get through it, with the realisation that it’s not just about getting clean but staying clean, and that while support is important, no one else can do it for you, there is hope; every day that she stays clean, John is proof of that.
These days, she runs her M J Enterprises and plans to write and/or collaborate on a book on her journey. Given her candor, it should make for interesting reading.
These days, she doesn’t dwell on regrets, though when asked to state her biggest regret, she reaches for this hard truth: “it’s that I was such a big disappointment to a lot of people.”
These days, at 48, her deepest satisfaction comes of knowing “that I was able to turn it around for the best.”
These days, Mary John has more wholesome pursuits, like her fitness regimen and her goal of returning to competition and winning – yes, her competitive fire has been stoked.
These days, though life and business are not without their ups and downs, though she remains concerned about the drug culture and the vulnerability of young people especially, and continues to lobby for both proactive and reactive interventions, she’s doing okay.
These days, she’s getting on with the business of staying healthy and staying clean, and that’s better than okay.