International Overdose Day: Survivor shares harrowing tale

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 drug overdose.

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.

He 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 work.

“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.”

That night

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 wedgegardens@randaid.co.za or call 011 430 0320 or 071 690 4942.

A recovering addict’s story

Amy should’ve said ‘yes, yes, yes!’

Over the years, I had been able to bring myself to sobriety but would relapse after a few months.

I had no idea why this was the case.  I mean, I wanted to stay clean but I would fall off the wagon after some time.  I knew something was missing, I just didn’t know what it was.  Countless times, they tried to make me go to rehab and I said ‘no, no, no’, convinced that I could do it on my own.  I insisted that I was fine.  Although I had heard the word, I didn’t know that ‘recovery’ was what I needed.

On the 16th of May 2019, I booked myself into Wedge Gardens Treatment Centre in Lyndhurst.  Coming down from a three day crystal meth binge, my mind was under siege.  Although I was confused, one thought reigned supreme: I needed professional assistance after my 10-year bare-knuckle slug fest with drug addiction.

Having never been to rehab before, I came in with the typical addict’s mentality of resistance. This was slowly disposed of once I had interaction with the passionate Wedge Gardens staff members.  To my surprise, they weren’t judgemental and they understood me to the extent that I thought that the Great Architect of the Universe created them specifically for me!

After being tested for a variety of drugs in my system, the nursing sister dawned a beautiful warm smile – which can be likened to a smile from Jesus to a child, and said: “Young man, you are in the correct place.”

Seven days passed in detox before I – and a few other patients – were in a stable enough condition to proceed with our respective programmes. With my pseudo-confidence mask firmly in place, we were led up to our rooms.  On the way, I could feel the energy of relief as I crossed the well-groomed garden.

Some patients were playing volleyball – one of many sporting activities; others were watching and cheering those who were playing on.  “Are these guys high or what?” asked my tainted inner voice. It was strange to see a bunch of ‘junkies’ and ‘dronkies’ having fun without drugs or drink to aid their broken minds.  I thought to myself, when last did I truly have fun?

Will I understand who I truly am ever again?  To me, these questions were rhetoric but shortly lived after a session with my therapist.

A wonderful woman with an assertive demeanour and the ability to listen, empathise and tell it like it is, at the same time. She articulated herself incredibly well as she told me about the ‘true self’ as opposed to the ‘addict self’.

I took what she told me to heart and immediately began to share the information with all the other newbies who sat with me at the lunch table in the dining hall, where we enjoyed wholesome meals three times a day and also where role call was taken from Monday to Friday by a wise elderly gentleman, who was helped by Wedge Garden to his sobriety and recovery from alcohol abuse.

The new perspective that was mentioned by my therapist provoked the urge to know more about this ‘true self’ that she spoke about.  Fortunately, the Wedge Gardens recovery programme has compulsory lectures from Mondays to Thursdays. All patients are to be present. These lectures assisted me and others to break down the false understanding of self.

The halfway house residents attend their own lectures and have a separate programme.  However, all the patients are educated on a variety of subjects.  The damage caused by our addictions, as well as how to reintegrate ourselves into society by teaching us crucial life skills that may have been arrested due to drug addiction and alcoholism.  Not only were we guided into reinventing our personalities, but also given cross-fit training once a week to restore physical fitness!

Each patient was assigned to a duty.  This taught us to take responsibility and accountability for the upkeep of our immediate environment.  As a result, we were given an allowance by the treatment centre, which afforded us the basic necessities sold at the tuck shop on the property.

As a patient at Wedge Gardens, I was grateful for the AA and NA closed meetings that happened three evenings a week on the property.  These meetings played a crucial role in mine and many a recovering addicts’ road to recovery.

Wedge Gardens completely exceeded my expectations.  Before coming here, I thought and felt nothing for myself nor for my life. The therapists, along with the programme, helped us get rid of the tainted and poisoned ideas and views we had on life.  The step work (when committed to thoroughly) gets us to face and deal with our demons in truth!  The occupational therapy, conducted by a sweet, soft-spoken young lady, enabled us to identify our emotions accurately and deal with them correctly.

I found a renewed sense of self and gradually uncovered talents that I hid from myself and that have the potential to help society heal.

From myself and on behalf of every patient here at Wedge Gardens, we extend a major ‘Thank You’ to Rand Aid for believing in us and for enabling us to find a new lease on life.  For assisting us to a spiritual awakening and teaching us to live life on life’s terms.  With all this being said and experienced, I can with new-found confidence say, Amy Winehouse should’ve said ‘yes, yes, yes’ – because rehab saves lives !!

By: Kamohelo Moalosi

Grateful Recovering Addict

The enigma I found in myself (what it is, is where it isn’t)

Kamohelo Moalosi, who is undergoing rehabilitation at Wedge Gardens rehab centre, wrote this piece about his journey to sobriety:

I’ll start by acknowledging the divine, God! And I give thanks for His continuous mercy and everlasting love. It is a surreal realisation, one that can not be achieved without one being totally truthful and humble.

Me, the true self, has been dormant from suppression by what I understand as the enigma. There would be no reason to live to learn without its carefully planned existence. I by no means romanticise its persona, but I also do not disrespect it. Over the years and through a dreadful journey of endless days and drug use, I found out about many things. Most of which are polar opposites of who I truly am. But I did ask God to guide Me to understanding myself and that’s when The Enigma appeared. To learn and know what ‘it is’ I had to be taken to places where ‘it isn’t’, physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally and figuratively.

I begun to seek the unattainable and thought that rare knowledge would make me. It is actually sick and scary to want to be smarter than everyone else. It’s an illness that thrives off other illnesses – delusion to name one – and it infects perception of self and of the space one finds one’s self in.

Despite the enigma’s intentions, the true self stays true. That’s all it can be – true – and though it is dragged through the dirt and darkness it never ever dies. It is the strongest character I have ever met. It is darkness that discovers light, but it is light that gives birth to life. It is light that nurtures and strengthens minds and souls wholesomely. It is light that allows love. It is light that brings warmth and healthy growth. It is the light that reveals the treachery that lingers in the darkness. It is light that is the true self. And it is the true self that is the light.

The enigma stirs the need to pursue happiness, but happiness is but only temporary. The pursuit of happiness is a second rate ambition, only monotonous boring people are happy! It is easy to attain happiness – drugs, liquor, alcohol and many other frivolous worldly things can bring happiness. One can develop an obsessive compulsive personality whilst chasing a temporary chemical reaction – that’s happiness when thoroughly thought of – which is an illness! It is the prize for the meek.

Joy is the internal conquest uncovered. It is not found through and by inebriation, it cannot be summoned by the external feeble offerings of the world. It is not delivered by the hands of the meek. It lasts forever, for eternity! It does not compromise the true self, for it is the true self that leads and guides one to joy. No fool knows joy; no well-seasoned thief can steal it. No chemical can educe joy. It can not be broken!

You’ve been challenged to kick a habit for a week

Wedge Gardens rehab centre challenges you to kick a habit for one week – from 23 to 29 June 2019.

As part of the South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (Sanca) family, Wedge Gardens is supporting Sanca’s Kick your Habit campaign to raise awareness of the complexities related to addiction and dependence.

By stopping something you really love for one week – be it chocolate, coffee, tobacco or even shopping – it is hoped you will experience, albeit briefly, what a substance dependent might go through in treatment.

We would love to hear from people brave enough to accept the challenge – please share your journey with us on the Wedge Gardens Facebook page: www.facebook.com/WedgeGardensTreatmentCentre. Tell us what you have given up, post photos, thoughts or even encouragement to those going through rehab.

The stats

Substance dependency statistics show that drug consumption (cannabis, cocaine, and tik) in South Africa is twice the global average (UN World Drug Report, 2014).

The average age of drug dependency in South Africa is 12 years and decreasing.

South Africa is among the top 10 narcotics and alcohol abusers in the world.

For every 100 people, 15 have a drug problem and for every R100 in circulation, R25 is linked to the substance abuse problem (Christian Addiction Support, 2016).

* Wedge Gardens can be reached at 011 430 0320. You can also ‘like’ Wedge Gardens on Facebook (www.facebook.com/WedgeGardensTreatmentCentre) or follow them on Twitter (@WedgeGardens)

Research gives a picture of Wedge Gardens

An interesting picture has emerged of Wedge Gardens rehab centre outside Johannesburg, following research done by Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University, formerly known as Medunsa University.

The university’s research was done over the past year and involved 246 patients at Wedge Garden’s in-patient facility for men aged between 18 to 82 years old.

“The research highlighted addiction trends and provided valuable information regarding substance abuse for us as a treatment centre,” says Karen Griessel, a Wedge Gardens social worker.

“Our highest population age range is 18 to 39 and dwindles as the age increases. Racially, we assist more white men followed by black then coloured then Indian men.

“The population is made up largely of single men with a small percentage of married or divorced patients. Very few are widowed. Educationally, more than half have matriculated and a good portion of patients have diplomas or certificates,” she says.

Unfortunately, a very high percentage is unemployed. The report showed that in more than half of the men, their direct family is responsible for financially assisting them. “Some are self-sufficient,” she added.

Most also live with family members.

“Interestingly, half of the men were brought up in two-parent homes, followed by a large percentage of single-mother homes.

“Christianity is the major religion practised. Some of those researched have no religious affiliation while a few other religions are practised by a minority of the men.

“Half of the men have on average one or two children of their own,” says Karen.

Shockingly, more than half reported that they were between the ages of 10 and 15 when they first tried drugs. The next age group was 16 to 21 years.

Most first experimented with cannabis, alcohol and cigarettes.

The drugs used just prior to admission include dagga (39.4%), alcohol (32.5%), cigarettes (28%), tik (24.4%), nyope (24%), khat (20.3%) and cocaine (16.3%).

Karen says that in the years leading up to their admission to the rehab centre, many said they used dagga, alcohol, cigarettes and khat.

“Interestingly, prescription medication featured as well (19.1%).

“Another concern is that 38.8% of the sample population said that family members – mostly brothers and fathers – use drugs on a regular basis.”

According to the research, a very high percentage have been in rehab before, with some having taken the decision themselves to get help and other being urged to do so by concerned parents.

The reasons given for their drug use include: It makes them feel good (56.5%), stress (56.1%), curiosity (45.1%), chasing a high (43.1%), coping (39.4%), family problems (38.6%), availability (37.8%), needing something stronger (30.1%) and finances (17.1%) .

“Ultimately, it is important to understand the people we work with so we can better help them,” says Karen.

* Wedge Gardens can be reached at 011 430 0320. You can also ‘like’ Wedge Gardens on Facebook (www.facebook.com/WedgeGardensTreatmentCentre) or follow them on Twitter (@WedgeGardens)

Drugs won’t get you to where you want to be, learners told


Social Worker Rhulani Khoza addresses the audience.

Learners at a Devon school heard on 20 February that drugs are a one-way road to failure.

Zikhethele High School is in a rural area 40km from Springs, near Gauteng’s border with Mpumalanga. As with all out-of-the way places, residents do not have access to the same services as urban dwellers do. Given their relative isolation, learners of the school welcomed the recent visit by Wedge Gardens rehabilitation centre social worker Rhulani Khoza and a patient, who cannot be named for privacy reasons. The campaign was co-ordinated by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Though often perceived to be a problem of the inner city, substance abuse is just as prevalent in rural areas.

Rhulani drew the attention of the audience – comprised of both learners and community members – with his lively speaking style while the patient, with his first-hand experiences of addiction, filled the role of programme director.

“Do not stop dreaming; it is your birth right and it comes without limitations,” said Rhulani.

He encouraged people to find their purpose. “Once you have found your purpose, you need to stick with it… it is a bit reaching a destination. If you are headed for Durban, you need to stay on the N3 to reach your destination. You cannot take the N1 to Limpopo, no matter how convinced you are that you will eventually reach Durban.

“The same applies with fulfilling your purpose and reaching your dreams – you can’t do drugs and hope to progress at school or have a successful career.”

Wedge Gardens is based in Johannesburg and can be reached at 011 430 0320.

Addicts are not bad, but addiction is!

Personal experience with addicts has given Paige Little strong beliefs on rehab.

The newly appointed occupational therapist at Wedge Gardens treatment centre says that she has seen first-hand the destruction that can come through addiction. “However, I believe there is so much more to a person. Addiction is bad but it’s important for addicts to find the good person behind the substance use – the one who has great potential to achieve many goals in their lives. Goals of success and not destruction.

“I have always believed that their behaviour may be bad but the person is good and I would love to see people who abuse substances understand this and become their true selves.”

Her plans for the OT department at Wedge Gardens include using dialectical and cognitive behavioural therapy. “I would love each patient to build up their self-esteem and for the OT department to become a safe space where they can progress and develop.”

Paige studied at the University of Witwatersrand and completed her bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy (OT) in December 2017. She did her practicals at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, Othandweni Children’s Home, Rand Aid’s Elphin Lodge, Edenvale Hospital and even spent some time at Wedge Gardens.  Her year of community service was completed at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital. “I completed a six-month rotation in adult neuro, focusing on traumatic brain injuries, cerebrovascular accidents and spinal cord injuries; and then spent the next six months on the OT psych ward, focusing on assessing and treating individuals with diagnoses of schizophrenia, personality disorders, major depressive disorder, bipolar mood disorder and substance use.”

A Randburg resident, Paige intends moving to Eden Glen in April to be closer to her work.

Since joining Wedge Gardens at the beginning of the year, she says she has ‘thoroughly enjoyed exploring my passion in occupational therapy as I work with each and every patient here’.

Tik – Methamphetamine, an all-consuming danger

The use of the drug tik alters normal functioning in a specific part of the limbic system that processes emotions such as anger and fear. As a result of this alteration, people using tik can easily develop paranoid, aggressive or violent states of mind.

“Crystal meth is typically sold in straws and costs between R15 and R30,” says Karen Griessel, a social worker at Wedge Gardens rehabilitation centre in Johannesburg.

Tik comes in many forms, from a fine powder to larger crystals. It can be snorted, orally ingested, injected or smoked, which is the most common method in South Africa.

On the street, tik has many names, including ‘tuk-tuk’, crystal, straws and globes. The powder or crystal is placed in a light bulb after the metal threading has been removed. A lighter is used to heat the bulb and the user smokes the fumes.

Tik symptoms include loss of appetite, weight loss, poor hygiene, increased irritability and a short-temper with out of control aggressiveness, dilated pupils, rapid speech, high anxiety, psychosis, headaches and insomnia. Addicts could still crave the drug months after using it.

“The affordability of tik means it has gained rapid popularity in South Africa. Tik is often combined with a host of chemicals and other harmful ingredients that cause mental health and physical health problems,” says Karen.

To understand it better we need to understand the limbic system, which is a collection of brain structures that includes the hippocampus, hypothalamus and amygdala. The hippocampus plays a vital role in normal consciousness by converting unstable short-term memories into stable long-term memories.

In addition to a wide range of other functions, the hypothalamus acts as the origin point for a number of different emotions and sensations, including pleasure, thirst, hunger, anger, aggression and varying degrees of sexual satisfaction. The amygdala shares in tasks performed by the hippocampus and hypothalamus, including storage of long-term memories and the generation of pleasure, fear, anger and other emotional states.

Pleasure levels inside the limbic system are regulated by a chemical messenger inside the brain called dopamine. High levels of this chemical translate into an increased experience of pleasure. Like most other commonly abused drugs, tik triggers euphoria by boosting the limbic system’s dopamine levels.

However, while some drugs produce relatively modest dopamine increases (two to four times above normal), tik produces an extreme dopamine boost (12 to 13 times above normal). This extreme effect largely accounts for the highly addictive nature of the drug.

“Tik also affects the pre-frontal cortex which affects the ability to make decisions, forge healthy human connections and to have empathy. This changes the pre-frontal cortex’s control over the amygdala and results in feelings of paranoia. Addicts may think someone is out to get them, that lies are being spread about them, that their possession are being stolen or that their lives are in danger,” says Karen.

This fear often causes violent behaviour in habitual users.

Wedge Gardens rehab centre has a holistic three-month programme run by professionals who are equipped to deal with the complexities of drug and alcohol addiction. As challenging as it is, it is possible to get clean and recover from the personal losses suffered through addiction – whether these losses are physical, psychological, emotional, social or financial.

“Recovery is a lifelong process that needs holistic rehabilitation. It takes commitment and motivation to want a healthy and normal life again,” she says.

Wedge Gardens can be contact at 011 430 0320 or visit the website www.wedgegardens.co.za

Synthetic drugs, the monster creeping in and killing our youth

The recent videos that have created a storm across social media highlight the dangers facing our children.

Several children who smoked what was an unknown substance had to be rushed to hospital where they were treated for symptoms including seizures, psychosis, nausea, vomiting and hallucinations. At least 14 people were hospitalised after smoking the substance on the last weekend in October.

Karen Griessel, a social worker at Wedge Gardens rehab centre in Johannesburg, said that the increasing popularity of potentially-deadly synthetic herbs is a massive concern. Particularly worrying is the number of young children who expose themselves to synthesised chemicals while experimenting with what they often think are natural herbs.

The message is clear: Stay away from any substance similar to marijuana because one hit could land you in hospital.

In October 2016, Karen spoke out about patients who had used these cannabinoids,  also called K2, Spice or Herb Blend, amongst other names. She also went undercover to prove how easy it is to purchase the substance.

“My concerns regarding this unregulated substance is that it is freely available and because the chemical compound changes in every other batch produced, it is a difficult task to pinpoint, prevent and, especially, to treat.

“However, the symptoms of smoking these herbs have obviously escalated to a whole new level which should not be underestimated – as illustrated so graphically in the videos currently doing the rounds.

“I think it is of major importance that a national education campaign around these substances be held. We need to protect our children and loves ones. The younger generations, many of whom are still naïve, are most vulnerable.”

She says the symptoms – violent temper tantrums, aggression, irrational behaviour, impaired mobility, slurred speech, panic attacks, seizures, reduced or elevated blood pressure, delusion, confusion and psychosis – are of grave concern.

“There are also rumours that the synthetic herbs are being laced with Flakka which could have terrifying outcomes because both are extremely dangerous drugs.”

Flakka is a synthetic drug but a cathinone similar to cocaine and bath salts (psychoactive designer drug). Symptoms include hyperactivity, strength, agitation, delirium and psychosis, changes in heart rate, cardiomyopathy and heart attacks.

“Now can you imagine mixing this deadly cocktail? More should be done across all sectors to safeguard our citizens. And citizens should be made aware and educated whilst the shops selling these products so openly should be exposed.

“Please use this information and share with others so we can be empowered to fight this enemy. If you have any information regarding these drugs and the shops selling them, please do the right thing and report it.”

Wedge Gardens can be contacted at 011 430 0320. You can also ‘like’ Wedge Gardens on Facebook (www.facebook.com/WedgeGardensTreatmentCentre) or visit their website – www.wedgegardens.co.za

Copyright Wedge Gardens Treatment Centre 2016