A patient of Wedge Gardens rehabilitation centre will never
forget the day his girlfriend died of an overdose and he woke up to discover
her cold body next to his.
August 31 is International Overdose Awareness Day. This
global initiative raises awareness of overdose and reduces the stigma of a
drug-related death. It also acknowledges the grief felt by families and friends
in remembering those who have died or had a permanent injury as a result of
International Overdose Awareness Day spreads the message
that the tragedy of overdose death is preventable.
The 39-year-old man, who has
been a patient of Wedge Gardens in Johannesburg for the past few weeks, shared
his story on condition of anonymity.
started smoking and drinking at around 15.
“Having predominantly older siblings, I was exposed to
going out and the whole nightlife scene. Trying to fit in with the older crowd,
I started smoking marijuana and taking ecstasy and LSD at 16.
“When I was 19, I was introduced to heroin and rock
cocaine, which I have battled to give up for the past 20 years. I have been to
many rehabilitation centres, both as an in- and outpatient. I have had
individual psychotherapy and spoken with many doctors about my addiction and
how to stop.”
The first meeting
This addiction cycle was repeated for 10 years. While he
wanted to get clean, he did not know how until learning about the 12-step
programme and how the Narcotics Anonymous and Alcohol Anonymous programmes
“I went to a 12-step-based rehab and once again I tried to
do this thing called recovery by listening to people like me who have managed
to stay clean and sober for a number of years.
“I believed so much in the programme and how it could
change a person’s life that I started training to become a drug counsellor and
found a new purpose in life. Then, at a meeting I attended, I met a girl who
had amazing green eyes. The kind of eyes that pierce straight into your soul.
“She had used the same drug of choice as me, which set off
warning bells. One thing I had learned is that two addicts in recovery
shouldn’t get involved. There is too much baggage attached on both sides. So we
became friends and nothing more. I would talk to her at meetings or whenever we
bumped into each other.”
He started working at a rehabilitation centre and says he
was in a really good place.
“I was clean and sober for over a year, doing something
that gave me an intense feeling of purpose.”
The beginning of the end
However, while at work one day, the woman with the green
eyes walked in to start her new job as a counsellor there.
“We grew close and even though I knew the outcome of
countless relationships between addicts, I honestly thought that with both of
us being clean for over a year, we would be able to make the relationship work.
“Unfortunately for those of us in recovery, if you aren’t
working on your own issues and dealing with them, they will resurface time and
time again. We became a couple after about three months of her starting to work
at the rehab. We were open about our relationship and I was told by my boss and
sponsor at the time that it was a bad idea.
“But once my mind is made up, nothing will stop me from
getting what I want. So we didn’t listen to the advice and continued on our
path. We decided that alcohol wasn’t our problem and that drinking on the
weekend would be okay. We became complete hypocrites. Teaching one way of life
but living another. Our path was sealed in our destructive behaviour.
“The girl with the green eyes had lived life with many
psychological issues. Self-harm, an eating disorder diagnosed bipolar and drug
addiction. From her earliest memories, she felt ugly, unworthy and undesirable.
I felt I could make her feel differently about herself if I showed her how much
I loved and cared about her.
“She was an incredibly talented artist and very beautiful,
but she couldn’t see these qualities in herself.
“We both relapsed and our relationship changed instantly.
All our past issues resurfaced and consumed us. Our daily struggle to fight the
withdrawal of the drugs and perform at work was incredibly taxing. We both lost
our jobs and had to be sent to separate rehabilitation centres.
“Something had changed; our relationship had become toxic.
It had changed from love, trust and friendship to jealousy, distrust and
confusion. We tried for almost two years to change back into what we once were
but after numerous attempts, and having been in and out of rehabilitation
centres, life seemed hopeless and horrible.
“No matter how hard we tried, we always started using
again. Eventually, the hole we were in was so consuming and powerful that all
we wanted was for the pain to be over.”
The man and his green-eyed girl decided to take an overdose
of drugs. “We thought a quick end for the both of us would be the easiest way
out. The pain of being in addiction and being in love was too much. It pulls at
the very fibre of your soul – two completely contradictory forces.
“We planned to take our lethal doses around midnight. I
organised the drugs – what I thought would be enough. It was way over our
normal quantity, like 10 times the amount we were used to. Due to her body’s
deterioration from intravenous drug use, she had to inject into her neck, while
I could inject into my arm.
“The initial rush of the drug felt like fire erupting
throughout my body, to the point of pain. We both passed out, lying next to
each other like we always did when we fall asleep.
“I remember waking up very confused, not knowing what to
think. Was I dead, was this the afterlife?
“I then felt her body next to mine; she was cold. I tried
to wake her, felt for a pulse, nothing. I carried her to the shower and tried
to revive her. I did CPR but it was too late.
“Four years later, the scene still replays clearly in my
mind. Such a waste of somebody with so much talent. I would trade places with
her if I could.
“I now can see that our relationship wasn’t what I thought
it was and the people who tried to help me were right. It’s so hard to see
something is real when you are living in a reality that feels like a dream. You
are trying to control the outcome but no matter how hard you try, nothing
works. It just gets worse and worse until something breaks.”
Show your support
This International Overdose Day, wear a silver badge, a
purple wristband or a purple lanyard as a symbol of awareness of overdose and
its effects. Wearing these can signify the loss of someone cherished; or
demonstrate support to those undergoing grief. It sends out a message that
every person’s life is valuable and that stigmatising people who use drugs
needs to stop.
More information on International Overdose Day – including
where to obtain badges, wristbands and lanyards – can be found at www.overdoseday.com
For more information about Wedge Gardens Treatment Centre,
visit www.wedgegardens.co.za, email
call 011 430 0320 or 071 690 4942.