Paulette Walker was born and raised in Jamaica. Her childhood was scarred by experiences of violent physical and sexual abuse. As a result of her childhood "secret", Paulette became increasingly distant from her mother and siblings and began to abuse alcohol during her adolescence as a way to cope with her traumatic experiences.
Despite her childhood hardships, Paulette enjoyed great success in her early adulthood. She was named runner-up in the Miss City of Montego Bay pageant, went on to own and operate a successful beauty salon and hosted a radio show.
After moving to Toronto, Paulette worked in salons and was the make-up artist for the prestigious Gemini Awards. It was during this time that she was introduced to ‘free-basing’ cocaine.
Over the next 20 years she struggled to fight an increasing dependence on both alcohol and crack cocaine. Her addiction led to homelessness, violence at the hands of others, unemployment and ultimately the loss of custody of her children. Life became a cycle of hopelessness and despair.
Paulette’s first drug charge saved her life. She entered the court-ordered Drug Treatment Court (DTC) Program at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and was released from custody into a recovery home for women. Full of regret, shame and fear, Paulette decided to quit drugs for good.
Paulette has stayed away from drugs since.
During her treatment, Paulette took a food services course and learned how to live a structured and productive life. She reconnected with her son and extended family and took a full-time position as head chef in the cafeteria at CAMH, where her legendary soup and infectious charm and friendliness left a mark on staff and clients.
In March of 2005, Paulette was invited by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime to travel in Vienna, Austria, to share her story of recovery and success. Later that year, the CAMH Foundation honoured Paulette with a Courage to Come Back award (now known as a Transforming Lives Award) for sharing her experiences with addiction.
After successfully overcoming a 20-year battle with cocaine addiction and alcohol abuse, Paulette now works at CAMH as a Peer Support Worker with the Drug Treatment Court Program and continues to participate and share her story to encourage and inspire others to get help and achieve recovery.