WATCH: Recovering addicts share their stories

By Songezo Ndlendle Time of article published Jan 17, 2017

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Cape Town – South Africa is one of the countries where substance abuse remains a massive problem, rooted deep in the country's turbulent psyche and huge social and structural inequalities.

Research by the Central Drug Authority (CDA) of South Africa has found that substance abuse in the country was double that of the global average and that South Africa was also ranked in the top 10 countries in the world in terms of the amount of alcohol being consumed each year.

The CDA estimated that use of dagga, cocaine, and crystal meth, commonly known as tik, was also used twice as much in South Africa compared to other countries worldwide.

It is also estimated that there were around two million people in South Africa that could be classified as "problem drinkers", this out of a population of about 50 million.

So what hope do those who are caught in addiction have? Stanzel Goete,31, a recovering drug addict, encourages those caught up in substance abuse and said that it was never too late for users to quit, or to begin fighting their addiction.

"You might feel that you are in a hopeless situation and everybody else has given up on you. You probably hear the words from some people saying that you will never amount to anything and that you will never come right, but I want to encourage you to choose life," Goete said.

The consequences of substance abuse are well documented – the breakdown of family units and key relationships, poor schooling or work performance, loss of assets, as well as physical, mental and emotional turmoil.

Prison or a premature death are not uncommon final destinations for addicts.

Yet there are those who do come to terms with accepting their addiction problem and seek help – and who are successfully rehabilitated over the long term.

South African Community Epidemiology Network on Drug Use (SACENDU) scientist, Siphokazi Dada, said their most recent report, for the first half of 2015, included information from 75 rehabilitation centres and 10 936 in and outpatients.

"For most of the patients (32%) cannabis was their primary drug of abuse, followed by alcohol at 23%," Dada said.

Ulrich Strauss, a pastor at the Lofdal restoration centre in Kraaifontein, Cape Town, had been an alcoholic, gang member and drug addict for 20 years of his life.

He told the African News Agency (ANA) that he hardly ever knew his family, grew up with his mother and due to their precarious domestic situation had moved around a lot while he was growing up.

"I did not know my father and deep inside I longed to belong somewhere. I grew up a thief, popular among my friends because I have always had stuff."

He said drugs became his comfort zone and place of solace, even when acquiring it became hugely expensive.

"And so I took to theft to support my habit, and it became a prison, physically, emotionally and spiritually."

He said that when mandrax and alcohol were not enough, it was crack cocaine, ketamine, ecstacy, heroine, and cocaine.

"The more drugs you use, the more you need to use the next time. "

"I was using and selling drugs in equal abundance, doing well financially, but with a life on a downward spiral."

After some time, he was introduced to tik. According to Strauss, tik users live with the perception that they are not addicts.

He said that non-users could not easily notice the changes until the user got to the critical stage, which was memory loss, debt, shame, work loss and ruined relationships.

"Drugs became my life and the rock bottom was when I lied to my little daughter about why I wanted her to return a gold chain I had bought her. "

I had lost everything I ever had and realised soon I would lose her too if I hadn't already," he said.

Strauss had his break when he took a decision to go to Hesketh King in Muldersvlei, a rehabilitation centre which is also a Christian institution.

He said the day he entered the gates of the rehab, he knew that it was a new beginning for his life. "I am so privileged and blessed to have this new amazing life, getting to know the Lord more every day, experiencing his anointing, power, wisdom and freedom," he said.

Vaughan Pankhurst, 60, addiction counsellor and trauma specialist from Recovery Direct in Constantia has been sober for more than six years.

He said his drinking started when he was a 13-year-old. He said although his drinking habit continued, he never viewed it as a problem.

"Because of the nature of the disease of addiction and of alcohol, it just progressed very slowly. It is one of the problems with alcohol, it will take 20 to 25 years to bring you down to your knees."

At the stage when he started drinking, he was not an everyday drinker, but a regular weekend drinker. He said he never took a decision consciously, but once he started drinking, he simply could not stop.

"Eventually I was drinking three bottles of wine and a bottle of whiskey a day and I would only stop literally once I blacked out and slept on the floor."

According to Pankhurst, there is always a link between trauma and addiction and his trauma was quite a severe and extended one.

"I was bullied every single day of my life at school for 14 years and the bullying was both verbal and physical, so I got beaten up on my way home from school every day. And because of the poor relationship I had with my mother, I could not go home and talk to anyone about it, so I kind of internalised all of that stress. And that just led me to believe that I was a bad person or there was something wrong with me," he said.

He said that his trauma, coupled with the fact that his late father was also an alcoholic, were what caused his own descent into alcoholism.

"My father drank himself to death while he was living with me in my flat, so genetically we think that there was a genetic link now and a 70 percent probability of me becoming an alcoholic."

He said the trauma of being bullied and the fact that his parents has a dysfunctional relationship, which included severe physical abuse, activated his addiction.

Parkhurst further said the burden of carrying this baggage would eventually lead him to finishing a bottle of wine, and eventually, drinking became a coping structure for him.

He said that he lost everything because of his addiction. "I was a very successful business man. I had a very big large company here in Cape Town that employed 65 people."

"I had an office in Johannesburg for seven people and one in London for four people and the company was worth millions," he said.

After losing everything, he was in a rehabilitation centre for four months and that is where got help and became sober.

Denver Dreyer,41, from Kraaifontein Support group, has also encouraged people who might be suffering from an addiction problem to reach out to someone and speak to them about the problem.

"Most importantly, pray and bring God to the equation because he is the one who goes to places you cannot reach. Your journey is not unique, there are many of us and we have been through the same thing and we have come out of it, so be encouraged and may God bless you," Dreyer said.

African News Agency

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