My name is David and I am a drug addict.
I have been using drugs and alcohol for 35 years.
For 20 years they were my solution. When I used I felt better about myself. I was able to relax, have fun. I felt more connected to people. I was able to talk to people and make friends instead of feeling intimidated by them. I felt part of something.
But then the drugs stopped working, and I couldn’t stop. For the next 15 years I tried everything. I was in and out of rehabs, psych wards.
I tried Ibogaine, sleep therapy, methadone, suboxone, acupuncture, acutouch, psychotherapy, hypnosis, herbs, amino acid supplements. I even ended up in Diepkloof prison for three weeks. You’d think that would be enough to scare some sense into a middle-class white boy.
I always managed to quit for a while, or get my using down to manageable levels where I believed I was in control. And for a while I would be. But sooner or later the drugs would take over and I would end up in a complete mess, broke and alone .Somehow I would always end up back on the drugs and I could understand never understand why. I was baffled and mystified. I knew I wanted to, needed to quit , but I didn’t know how.
As a child I was miserable and unhappy. My parents fought all the time and my father had a terrible temper. He was also a minister, so aside from the chaos at home we had to present the picture of a perfect and happy family to the rest of the world.
I learnt from a young age to pretend and hide my true feelings. This was reinforced when I later I discovered I was gay. In apartheid South Africa this was the greatest of sins. I internalised society’s attitudes and thought there was something wrong with me. I carried this secret until I was in my late twenties and was never able to be myself or get close to people.
I had my first drink at the age of twelve and by the age of fifteen was drinking fairly regularly, but not excessively – it helped me make friends and gave me confidence, but I hated getting drunk and rarely did.
In the army I drank even more regularly. It was something everybody did. I always considered myself a moderate drinker though I was drinking almost every day.At university I started smoking weed. I also started partying – hard. This was new to me given my conservative small town background. I discovered the underground punk scene where I fitted right in. I also got very involved in anti-apartheid politics.
Needless to say I dropped out after three years. Five years later I ended up in Johannesburg where I discovered there were lots of other freaks like me in the world. I opened a comics and games bookshop in Hillbrow.
My life revolved around partying and clubs. I started taking club drugs. Even though I had discovered that it was okay to be gay I was still terrified of intimacy. I had lots of friends. And I had drugs. They were my consolation for lack of intimacy.
Although my life was chaotic, it was still manageable. I was still able to go to work every day and look after myself. I didn’t believe there was anything wrong with my lifestyle. It was still fun.
Then I discovered heroin. It was love at first taste. It started slowly, progressing from a weekend thing to everyday use over about a year. That’s when the fun stopped. Heroin became the most important thing in my life.
Nothing else mattered. I started stealing from work, selling my possessions, lying to my friends and family. This is when I first started wanting to quit and discovered I could not. It took another five years of hell including time in jail till I was ready to quit. I went back to my parents in East London and went into a psychiatric ward for treatment.In East London I stayed clean for three years. I went back to studying at the age of 42. I was leading a quiet life revolving around my studies, but was still single and frustrated. Then I rediscovered heroin.
It filled the gap in my life. This time it took another three years to get back into full blown addiction of everyday use – perhaps because I had some purpose to my life in my studies – but it wasn’t enough.
By the end of my third year of studies I was back in the cycle of lying cheating and stealing. I admitted to my parents I had a problem and went to rehab.
I managed to fit rehab into the summer holidays and was back at varsity for the new year. I scored a bag of heroin on my first day out. This went on for another five years. I was in the rehab cycle. For the next four years I spent my summer holidays in rehab. My last relapse was in December last year.
Instead of a slow progress as before I went straight back into active, everyday use. The stealing, lying and cheating started all over again. I wanted to quit, but couldn’t. I was so overcome with shame and fear I ended up lying in my room for three weeks, praying to die and leaving only to score. I had no friends and no material possessions left.
I had to be completely broken before I could realise the true nature of my problem. I always thought my problem was heroin. All my life I blamed society and other people for my problems.
In the last three months, through intense work on the 12-step program I have realised my problem was me.
I have never learned to deal with my emotions and used drugs to suppress them. I have now been given a new chance at life and a program to live by that enables me to deal with problems as they arise, instead of having to use drugs. I am truly grateful for this.”
Where to get help
The South African Depression and Anxiety Group’s Substance Abuseline is available 24 hours a day.