How My Addiction to Cocaine and Alcohol Left Me on the Streets
I was brought up in a good home and I always said I'd never do drugs, alcohol or cigarettes. Lesson number one: Never say never. In my 20's I moved to the UK to study, and was soon flying high as an international aerobics and weight-training professional, as well as sub-editor.
I was 25 when I first started dabbling in cocaine. Its allure was enormous - all the achievers around me were doing it socially. I was told it would make me work well and that it would help my creativity. All of this fed my ego, and I was soon sucked in, big time. The trouble with my cocaine habit was that when I was coming down, I needed to have something to 'balance the books', so within a short time I was a chronic alcoholic too.
Few people manage to experience in a lifetime what I experienced in 5 years using cocaine and alcohol. While many people around me realised I had an alcohol problem, I managed to hide my cocaine addiction. I was ashamed about doing drugs, but for some reason felt I could get away with being labelled an alcoholic. Gradually I lost everything due to my bad behaviour, inability to deliver and zero credibility: my friends, my job, my money.
Then my parents passed away and I came home to an inheritance. I married the first man who told me I was gorgeous, only to discover that he had a gambling problem. Once the money was gone our marriage fell apart. Our three children we aged 3, 2 and 1 when social services threatened to take them. I'd lost my home and realised I was an unfit Mother, so I gave them to my husband's parents to raise.
When you hit rock bottom - a homeless, penniless drug addict and alcoholic - you usually become a prostitute or you steal. I found a 3rd option - taking people to the drug dealers. It's how I supported my addictions and became a white woman living on the Cape Flats, protected by the gangs.
I've never hated myself more than the day I took 16-year old girl to the drug dealers. She came from a good home and 24 hours later she was dead from a tainted dose. But I was so chemically dependent that I was unable to pull myself out of the hell I was in.
Of course I tried
to stop, every single day. I sometimes made it till 10am, but would be so ill, screaming, tearing at my skin and hallucinating, that I'd start all over again.
This was my life till the mid 90's when I met Peter. We made a fine pair. He had a bad drinking problem and was also homeless, but for the very first time we were able to share our stories. We moved to a new area where we lived on the streets. I was bloated, looked awful, and in deep, deep trouble.
Lesson number two: Never stand in judgement of anyone else. That's what I learned when a prostitute took pity on me, gave me the keys to her home and told me to go there because 'God wants you to get clean.'
I so badly wanted to clean up but I was terrified. I'd been there before and knew the side-effects. It's the worst experience imaginable. But Peter and I took her advice and I can only describe what followed as miraculous. We stopped cold turkey together. However we didn't have a single side-effect except two drastic temperature changes that took us from extremely hot to extremely cold.
That was 14 years ago - and we've been clean ever since. It hasn't been easy. It took four and half years working day by day to turn my life around physically, emotionally and spiritually, filling all those empty spaces.
I'd visited countless rehab centres on my previous attempts to quit, and now I took the opportunity to to start applying what I had learned as I slowly reclaimed my life. When people ask me now how we got through that first night, I tell them honestly - We prayed.
Peter and I have been married for 7 years and we now run an NGO, which offers educational and drug prevention programmes. Today we embrace healthy living and lead balanced lives. I fought for my children and got them back, and I feel blessed being surrounded by loving family. I travel the country sharing my story, although I always re-iterate that mine isn't the only way.
There are many different roads to recovery, whether with or without assistance. My fervent hope for addicts is never to say that it can't be done. Because as I've discovered, if you want it badly enough, you can make it happen, as long as you have the faith to take it on.