Goodness and Mercy Shall Follow Me: Celestine Woods

by Jenny W., 17

“What keeps people high and drunk is pain.” – Celestine Woods

Nearing the end of her long-term battle with an active addiction to cocaine and alcohol, Celestine Woods sat on the couch of her home in Red Bank, New Jersey. She watched as Barack Obama, the first Black president, was inaugurated—only she was barely there, so high on cocaine she couldn’t even cry. 

She sadly remembers, “I could not rejoice how I wanted to on that day because I chose to be high.” 

At this moment, she wished she could be with her ancestors and show them their prayers had not gone unanswered, but she soon realized that even if they were there, Celestine would not be. For Celestine, this was a moment that planted the seed. She references the Parable of the Sower from the Bible when describing her battle to recovery. She felt lost, like seeds planted on a stone, with no chance to root and grow. Her journey to recovery began in 2009 when one of those seeds finally found the soil it needed to take root and, for Celestine, recover. 

Over fourteen years later, Celestine is turning fifty-five and spends her weekend celebrating by running a 5k and going skydiving for the first time—she has never been a settler. 

Celestine grew up with an alcoholic, abusive mother in a community where almost everyone she knew was on welfare. Her life circumstances gave her an Adverse Childhood Experiences score of nine, making her significantly more susceptible to health problems such as addiction. 

She wanted to end this cycle of poverty and addiction within her family, so she was inspired by her 11th-grade computer class, where she learned about administrative assistants. This career path immediately caught Celestine’s eye; the nice cars, the office dress, and the stability of a career enticed her. When prompted, she told me the story of her first administrative assistant job in a correctional facility. To this day, she remembers receiving the list of the employees’ phone number sheets and seeing her name on the list. She burst into tears and recalled the moment with pride, a moment only earned through her perseverance. Today, she works as an administrative assistant in an elementary school. 

When asked about what has kept her strong through her various life struggles, she proclaimed loudly and with much joy, “the love of the lord.” When her eldest son was in foster care, and Celestine was a teenager, she visited him, he was still very young at the time, and his foster mother noticed Celestine was visibly depressed. She ushered her into a room and pulled out a thick Bible, instructing Celestine to look for Psalm 23. Never having read a Bible, Celestine began to scour the book for the letter S before being told Psalm starts with a P. To this day, Celestine remembers the Psalm and carries it close to her heart as it gives her strength through her most challenging moments.

Being around Celestine, it is difficult to imagine her depressed or at rock bottom. Her excited, loving demeanor is contagious and inspires you to love life as she does. As our conversation went on, we shifted to the topic of self-love. 

The months leading up to her final decision to recover were full of little moments that planted the seed of recovery in her. Typically she thought about recovering when she was running low on money to support her addiction or when the high was not that good, but one night was different. 

Celestine had gotten a lot of coke on an excellent deal and was using it when she became paranoid and worried the police would find and arrest her in her living room. If they found her, she decided to call a friend about attending Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and hopefully avoid charges. She did call her friend, who had been in recovery for years, and the next day attended a NA meeting. This meeting was an incredibly emotional moment for her. Celestine found a community to help her recover from active addiction at this meeting. Her clean date is February 5th, 2009.

The love of the lord and verbalizing her pain and emotions have been significant in fixing her relationship with family members. She has three children, and she and her husband were in active addiction for many years. As she decided to get help for her addiction, she rebuilt a relationship with her eldest son.

Additionally, her relationship with her two youngest children has improved. No longer hiding the trauma inflicted upon her and using her pain—self-love, taking care of herself, and the love of the lord has increased Celestine’s ability to care for those around her. Celestine has broken generational trends. Despite a future planned out for her from the beginning of her childhood, she was able to overcome these challenges and spread love within her communities.