After a horrifying experience with drugs, a young woman offers hope to hopeless addicts.
When Erika John had her first taste of cigarettes, she had hated it. But like most first timers, she had to keep up appearances and satisfy her peers that she had indeed “arrived”.
That was in 2008, when she was just 14.
Erika had scaled the high fence of her boarding school at night, to attend a party where she was introduced to the world of smoke and alcohol. It turned out to be the beginning of a long agonizing journey.
But the foundation was laid years before. Erika had a privileged, but very lonely childhood. She started her Education in a creche in the highbrow Ikoyi area of Lagos. Under the harsh dominion of her parents, she soon began to see life as a boring routine.
“My parents were never there. And I didn’t have friends. I was just doing this triangular movement every day from house- school- and from school back to the house”
Erika’s mother was particularly severe.
“My mum beat me a lot. She wouldn’t let me talk or explain anything”
For her secondary education, Erika was sent to Ghana, and entrusted to a guardian. But the trust in this man had proved to be entirely misplaced. And disastrous. From the moment she came, Erika was subjected to an unbearable cycle of sexual abuse and exploitation.
Erika had no one to turn or even talk to. Her mother paid occasional visits to Ghana, and when Erika complained, she was dismissed as a lazy bad girl. The guardian after all was a Pastor, and his words were gospel to Erika’s mother.
Erika became very bitter. Her studies began to suffer. She felt totally alone and unloved. And she soon found herself in a rebellious gang.
“My grades started to drop, but I didn’t care at all. Nobody cared for me. The only people that cared were my bad friends”
The first person to notice that something was wrong was Erika’s social studies teacher, Margaret Bansi.
After a lot of prodding, Erika opened up to her. The teacher wept when she was told of the sexual abuse.
She exposed the so – called guardian and did all she could, to rehabilitate Erika. But Erika was far gone. The partying, drinking and smoking had become a way of life.
At 16, just after high school, Erika became pregnant. Her mother took the child after delivery and sent her to Houdegbe North American University in Benin Republic for higher education. It was in that University that Erika went fully into hard drugs.
“Now that I was in the University, I was big and no one could stop me. In my 100 Level, I was already into marijuana and it was not a big deal over there. Everybody was doing it; it was a normal thing in the University”
Erika ascended the drug ladder fairly quickly.
“From marijuana, I went into codeine. My roommates and friends Introduced me to more. Then I went into crack cocaine and heroin”
Erika’s first experience with cocaine is unforgettable.
“The first time I tried Cocaine, there was this feeling- really very good feeling, you are so relieved, so happy, so peaceful, feel all alone and on top of the world. That was what I was always looking for and I believe every addict experienced that first feeling and try to have it back and graduate into addiction but you can never have that feeling back”
Erika’s parents had no idea that she had become addicted to drugs. She had become distant and would only visit home to take money and then leave again. But soon, Erika’s mother started receiving phone calls. However, each time she was asked, Erika denied.
By the time she was in her third year, Erika had dropped out of the University. Of course, her parents did not know. She still came back for money; not for her education, but for her drugs. She maintained her lie about being in school until the end of the NYSC service year.
After the supposed service year, she came back home. Her financial needs for her addiction grew. She could not get a job because she was not qualified. And she started to steal from her parents.
At this point, it was obvious to Erika’s parents that something had gone horribly wrong in their daughter’s life. To make matters worse, she became pregnant again. Her mother once more took charge of the second baby, but insisted Erika must find a job to support herself.
Erika was in a dilemma. There was no money from home anymore to support her expensive addiction. The withdrawal symptoms were something she couldn’t let her parents see. There was only one thing to do: run away from home. And that was what Erika did.
Erika left home to live in a place she called “The Joint”. It was a commune where hard drugs were used, distributed and retailed.
The Joint was a rough and dangerous place.
“At the joint, I faced different kinds of danger. Police will come and raid; shooting everywhere. Armed Robbers will come, not to come and rob but to come and smoke. With their weapons, they always looked scary but in my drugged mind I wasn’t bothered”
Erika’s parents searched and found her at the Joint. They brought her home and soon sent her to the NDLEA rehabilitation center, where she spent three months. When she was released, Erika went without drugs for a year. But unfortunately, there was a relapse.
“There were issues in my life that triggered my involvement in drugs, but because those issues were still there, unsolved, it threw me back into drugs. Because I didn’t deal with those issues, I had a relapse that lasted 3years. I went back to the Joint. This time nobody heard from me nor knew where I was, nor look for me again. My parents didn’t even know I was still alive”
Erika’s second experience at the Joint was more harrowing. There was danger all around her, both within and outside the Joint.
“I experienced many dangers. One time I entered “one chance vehicle” still in search of drugs. When they got to Jibowu , they pushed me out of the bus. I was badly injured. People came to help and contributed more than thirty thousand naira for me to go to hospital, but I didn’t go. I took that money right back to the Joint to smoke.”
Several times, Erika got into trouble with the Police. She was quite often arrested and taken away after routine raids of the Joint.
“I will sleep in the police cell; they get tired and release me when nobody came to look for me, they will say ” this one na Omo Ijoba, just dey go” Government child. It was always happening”
Even though her mind had been numbed by drugs, Erika still lived in fear at the Joint. Many times, she saw people die and couldn’t help feeling that she might one day die in the Joint.
“My most frightening experience was a day we were smoking and someone just dropped dead in the Joint. They just pushed him aside and everybody continued smoking. This was a blow to me: this person just dropped dead now, nobody cried, no announcement, no poster, no burial and I was sure the family members would not even know what has happened. That was very frightening for me.”
After three horrifying years at the joint, Erika came to a turning point. A Christian group named “Christ Against Drug Abuse Ministry” or CADAM came to the Joint to offer the addicts a chance to live. Erika took the chance. She quickly agreed to register for their rehabilitation program, but there was a little snag: her parent’s consent was needed.
“So, I called my mum and told her that I was at the Rehabilitation Centre and that I was tired and wanted to be free. I didn’t want to do drugs again. I didn’t want to die. We both started to cry on the phone.”
Erika’s mother eventually came to see her, but they were told by CADAM that the rehab would commence in about three months. Her mother was horror – struck.
“Won’t she be dead by then??” she cried.
It was Erika who strengthened and comforted her.
“I have been through a lot mother; I will not die. Let’s wait for the time”
Erika insisted on returning to the Joint while she waited for rehab to begin. She had to continue with her drug use. She didn’t want her parents to witness the withdrawal symptoms.
“So, I told my mum where she could find me. She came there every day to see me and buy the drugs for me to avoid withdrawal symptoms so that I will not die. I stayed there from that January to 29th March 2019 and finally left the Joint and went to CADAM for Rehabilitation”.
Erika’s rehab took all of one year. She described it as a rough experience.
“The rehab had to do with authority. I didn’t like authority- people telling me what to do. It was hard. It took me three months to adjust. Then I stood up and told myself that, this is real, you are not doing this for your parents, you are doing this for yourself. So, I made up my mind to deal with the problem no matter what. I summited myself to authority and did the needful”
Erika grew to like the therapy sessions of CADAM. She found them very open and caring.
“They gave me time and allowed me to talk about my problems from the start. I didn’t even know where the problem started or where it came from until I started talking about it again and again. So, I began to pick something, so this is why I did this, oh this was where I got this from. It wasn’t easy recalling all what you have been through and writing about them. I didn’t really know what the problem was, until I started addressing the issue right from my childhood”
And yet there were times Erika felt so exhausted that she wanted to leave. But she stood and fought.
She fought all her fears; all her resentment of her parents. And she won.
“I came to realize that all my parents ever wanted was to give me a good life. But I also wished they had listened more to me; that they had given more time to me. So, I looked at the whole situation critically and I concluded it wasn’t their fault alone so I had to forgive myself and forgive them from the bottom of my heart.”
Erika’s parents were very active during her treatment. They had family therapy sessions too, and were strongly united in their desire to see their daughter get well again.
“My parents were exceptional during my treatment. I am yet to see such parents with like minds”
The combined efforts finally paid off, and Erika returned to normal life. Erika is deeply grateful to CADAM who brought her back to life without a fee.
“Before my rehab, I was not a religious person but right now, thanks to CADAM. I am very spiritual.
I have a core relationship with God because I know the major role He played in my rehabilitation and I know He loves me so much. Now I see myself praying day and night.”
Erika is now inextricably linked with CADAM.
“Now I work with CADAM , I am a Counselor, I am also their Front desk officer. In fact, anything you want to know about CADAM, you pass through me. I am the face of CADAM, I am the CADAM ambassador. If you want to see anybody in CADAM you have to see me first. You don’t know me; you don’t know anybody in CADAM” she joked, with a broad smile of satisfaction.
Erika finds time to go to the Joint to offer hope to addicts. Her old friends are always stunned by her transformation. Her major dream is to help women who are struggling with addiction and offer them a way out.
In her spare time, Erika relaxes by reading, writing and watching movies. She will want to get married and start a family one day. And when that happens, she knows exactly what to teach her children.