Trinidadian actor, comedian writer, producer and director Errol Fabien has headlined many a comedy festival throughout the Caribbean and further afield over the last few decades. However, although he recalls the experiences in his inimitable humorous manner, the early years of Errol Fabien’s life when he battled with addiction were no laughing matter.
Fabien is currently in Barbados doing a series of workshops with the Substance Abuse Foundation, and he recently spoke at one of those events at the Ivan Harewood Centre at the Christ Church Parish Church.
The 58-year-old, who is the co-founder of Gayelle Television in Trinidad and Tobago, said he was the sixth of nine children born to a school principal and a housewife who lived in a rural community and kept animals at their home. He said he never saw his parents or any of his siblings engaging in substance use. “But I remember when I was very young I saw a man smoking a cigarette one day and I was mesmerized; it looked so cool I just knew I had to do it at some point!”
He said he started by lighting pieces of scrap newspaper his parents used to light bonfires in their backyard to dispose of their garbage, but he quickly found out after numerous burns that it was a dangerous practice.
Fabien said he struggled with sibling rivalry in that he felt he had to live up to the high standards his older brother set, so when he was in primary school, “I realised that money buys friends, so I started taking money from a wallet my father used to hide under the bed, and I became the one who “ran things” at school. However, that came to an end when his father caught him one morning and beat him, and he turned to shoplifting to attract his friends. He explained that that was the first sign that he was becoming an addict. “Even though I got burned, got beaten and was caught stealing several times, I still repeated those actions, and that is the first sign of addiction; despite negative consequences you keep doing the same things.”
He said his life changed completely when he was in second form at secondary school, when he caught his “good big brother and a friend of his with a joint of marijuana. I told my brother I was going to tell our parents on him, but he invited me to smoke it instead.” At this point he warned the audience, which included Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson, “In most cases, it is close friends or relatives who offer children their first taste of drugs, not complete strangers.” Fabien stated that, “in those days, marijuana was seen as an essential tool for knowledge, wisdom and understanding, and I found that I could handle it, so I started using it regularly.”
And it was downhill from there. He quickly dispelled the notion of the drug bringing greater wisdom, since “I was smoking at the time I did my ‘O’ Levels, and it seemed to me the examiners in England were smoking something different because I did not get back a single subject!” Eventually, he left San Fernando, where he had become a regular on “the block” with other smokers, and moved to Port of Spain where he stayed initially with two of his sisters, who quickly asked him to leave their home when he started smoking weed there.
His sisters decided to charge him rent and urged him to find a job, and that was where his career as a comedian started in earnest. “I always liked acting and found I had a natural gift for it, so I got a job doing a television advertisement, and eventually I got a day job in a seafood processing plant.” While he was working there, one day a young lady came in to assist him on the job who he described as “the most beautiful woman I had ever seen.” Ultimately they got into a relationship, but the girl’s mother put her out of their house when she let her know that “Errol Fabien is a drug man and I don’t want you to have anything to do with him!” They eventually moved in together, got married and had three children.
Fabien left the seafood factory to pursue his career in entertainment, but his drug habit had intensified as he had begun to mix the marijuana with crack cocaine. “At that time when my wife went out to work at the factory, I sold everything in the house to fuel my drug habit. One day I was at home with our three girls, all of whom were under five at the time, and I took out their earrings to sell and left them at home because I had a powerful urge to smoke. When I got back home that evening the children were scared, and dirty, and I was told to stay away from them. I ended up on the streets, but my wife sought me out and encouraged me to go into rehab.”
He said: “Rehab is for people who want it, not for those who need it. I went through a screening process and at first they told me I was not ready, and my wife did not think I was ready either. However, on March 1, 1988, I entered a rehab programme, and I managed to survive for 14 days without marijuana in the first instance; the first time since I was in second form and smoked that first joint. On the 27th of May, 1988 I left the rehab centre and I have been drug-free for the last 30 years and seven months.”
The comedian, who volunteers at the New Life Ministry Drug Rehabilitation Centre in his native Trinidad, offered some advice to his audience.
“Make sure you keep a close eye on the young people around you. Give them new options for their future and show them that they can enjoy themselves without having to resort to using drugs.”