Durban - Bronwyn* has been in a rehabilitation facility each year of her 17-year-old son’s life.
Now 40, she has been fighting addiction since she was 14 years old and has been treated at 18 different facilities over the years.
If it can be “snorted, gulped, injected, smoked” she has been on it.
Even after several stints at rehab, she has always returned to her old habits – sometimes picking up new habits from other addicts, or trying something new, something stronger to get a high.
Over the years she has been addicted to dagga, acid, ecstasy, cocaine, crack cocaine, tranquillisers and until a year-and-a-half ago, heroin.
“There is nothing I haven’t done for a hit. At 18, I sold my body for drug money,” she said. She has even resorted to stealing, when the rent income from a property she owns was not enough to feed her habit.
She said people she had met were baffled by how and why a “well-off white girl” kept getting hooked on drugs.
“My grandmother, mother and sister are also addicts … my poor dad,” she said.
Her father, a self-employed mining engineer, pays for her rehab. Presently in rehab, her father has forked out R30 000 for this programme.
She said the Jullo in-patient programme, in Merebank, was unlike her previous attempts at rehabilitation. It has been a few weeks since she joined the programme and Bronwyn swears she has not smuggled any “stuff” into the facility or attempted to have her “last hit” as she has done in the past.
“In the daily psycho-education sessions, I am learning so much about addiction and what is has done to me. I could not beat it previously because I was not healing psychologically.”
Bronwyn finds the twice-daily, non-religious meditation sessions at Jullo helpful.
“Listening to the harmony of silence helps me find myself. Me, not the drug-induced version of me, but the real me,” she said.
With her newly rediscovered self-worth, she hopes the time she is spending at Jullo to kick alcohol addiction will be the last. She longs to fix her life and have a relationship with her son.
Mothers’ love is what saved the lives of two other Jullo patients.
Thobani*, 21 and Ntokozo*, 20, from Bonella and uMlazi respectively, are both whoonga addicts.
Thobani has been hooked for seven years after “tasting” it from friends. Ntokozo dropped out of university because of the habit, which he said took his mind “offline”, thinking of nothing but the next hit. He smoked whoonga for four months.
“When you are on whoonga, you become selfish and think only of yourself. You don’t realise that you lose your value as a person and others would rather see you dead,” said Thobani.
Not wanting to see their sons’ lives stubbed out by whoonga, their mothers placed them in Jullo’s 28-day in-patient programme.
“There is nothing more painful than knowing you are the cause of your mother’s tears,” said Thobani.
Said Notkozo: “I am just grateful she did not give up on me and has spent the money for me to be here.
“With all that I am learning, especially in the life skills group session, I believe I can turn my life around and make her proud to have me as a son.”
Also hoping to mend relations with his family is 28-year-old Krishen*.
He believes it was the emotional and physical stress of his parents’ divorce and the violence in his home that set him off on drugs. He checked into Jullo after his life became “unmanageable” because of his cocaine habit.
Although what he was learning worked for him, two weeks in, he was still restless and irritable.
Perplexed, Jullo founder and addictions therapist Dr Lochan Naidoo called Krishen in and asked him to describe what the cocaine he was taking looked like.
When he did, a light went off in Naidoo’s head. “I showed him some pictures online and we discovered that he was actually taking crystal meth,” said Naidoo.
Krishen’s medication was adjusted but because Jullo is “rehab for the brain” he did not have to start over.
He believes that is what was missing from the treatment at his previous rehab facility, after which he stayed drug-free for a year.
During that time, he had a daughter, but kept the same friends and, “got a big head thinking I was invincible for kicking the habit”.
He cross-addicted to gambling and his life fell apart once again.
The multi-disciplinary team at Jullo, which includes addiction medicine trained professionals, psychiatrist, psychologists and social workers, have helped Krishen learn that he needs to make amends for the emotional and physical stress he has caused his family.
He has just eight days of the programme left. But he will continue to have the support of Jullo via their online facility, Roots, and can attend seminars and workshops.
Naidoo has encouraged Krishen to reconcile his own emotional trauma by developing a relationship with, among others, his father.
Naidoo said South Africa’s biggest addiction is not “hard drugs” but alcohol.
One of his patients, Skhumbuzo*, said he did not realise he was addicted to alcohol.
“Growing up in a township around people who drank all the time, I never considered drinking as an addiction. I mean, you can buy alcohol legally and you don’t have to hide the habit,” said Skhumbuzo.
In fact, for him alcohol was associated with good times. He started drinking at functions, “just to have a good time”. He was soon drunk every weekend then every day. It almost cost him his job.
This would not only have jeopardised his future but that of his family, for whom he is a breadwinner.
Just nine days into the Jullo programme, he is still experiencing cravings, which cause him to have the shakes.
At times, he cannot stomach food, a reminder of days when the rim of a bottle would touch his mouth countless times, but hardly a spoon of food.
His appetite is slowly coming back as he spends more time at Jullo.
The programme starts with a 6am wake-up call and includes sessions with medical and psychological professionals based at the facility.
From the outside, it looks like any other doctor’s office but once inside, it has full services including sleeping quarters, games rooms, a dining hall and various medical rooms and offices.
This is where Naidoo started his family practice almost 30 years ago. Here they offer detoxing, alcohol and drug rehabilitation and relapse prevention.
Naidoo also brings addicts’ families into the programme as he believes in healing the whole family unit - not because they may have caused the addiction, but to help manage the stress which may trigger a recovering addict.
His aim is to “liberate people with addictive personalities to enable them to live rich, full lives - on purpose and with integrity.”
He would also like to see South Africa move towards international standards of treatment.
He said the regulations currently related only to the facility and not to the method of treatment, which was the most important.
“Being an addict is like being hyper-focused on one thing, the substance which controls you.”
In treatment, Naidoo teaches addicts not how to stop that energy, but instead, to extend the focus to other things in life; to create balance.
* Not their real names