Fittingly, Wedge Gardens manager Adèl
Grobbelaar’s birthday falls on Women’s Day, August 9.
This year, she turned a significant 60 and to celebrate,
her colleagues organised a surprise breakfast party on August 5.
“It was the most sanitised birthday we have ever celebrated,”
laughs Wedge Gardens deputy manager Estelle Raath.
“Working with Adèl every day is more than working with a
colleague; it’s working with a friend. She makes Wedge a place of smiles,
laughs and precious memories. As we wish her a very happy 60th birthday, we
celebrate the person she is and the joy and delight we all get from working
“She is a very special person who spreads warmth and
kindness to everyone she meets,” says Estelle.
A veteran in the field of substance abuse rehabilitation, Adèl
has headed up the Sanca rehab centre in Johannesburg for 22 years. She has a BA
in Social Work (Hons) from the Rand Afrikaans University and a BA in Psychology
(Hons) from Unisa.
South Africa has banned the sale of cigarettes
during lockdown to slow the spread of COVID-19 but the big illegal cigarette
brands are now the best sellers around the country.
“As most of us know, smoking is one of the
leading causes of lung cancer and other respiratory diseases worldwide. Unlike
legally produced cigarettes, illicitly produced cigarettes do not comply with
manufacturing and safety standards,” warns Estelle Raath, the deputy manager of Johannesburg-based
Sanca Wedge Gardens rehab centre.
Cigarettes contain the addictive drug nicotine,
as well as other toxic chemicals which are carcinogenic (cancer forming).
“There is no safe method of smoking. Nicotine
in tobacco is a very powerful addictive substance. Nicotine produces pleasing effects in your
brain, but these effects are temporary, and that is why you reach for another
“The addictive nature of nicotine and
withdrawal symptoms when trying to quit are what makes nicotine dependence a
chronic relapsing disease.
“With the current cigarette ban, my question is
‘If the smoking of legally produced cigarettes can cause so many diseases, what
are the illegal brands doing to smokers?’
“What other effects will smokers be sitting
with post COVID-19 and will we see a rise in substance abuse figures if these
illegal cigarettes contain chemicals that will leave smokers with more severe
symptoms and withdrawals?”
People who abuse drugs or
alcohol often do so to cope with anxiety, depression and other mental health
issues. A global pandemic like COVID-19 can trigger a wide range of emotional
reactions, causing high levels of anxiety and stress for all of us.
“Substance use and abuse
during this time should be avoided but ironically, people turn to substances to
cope with the stress and trauma,” says Estelle Raath, the deputy manager of
Johannesburg-based Sanca Wedge Gardens rehab centre.
People often cope by using
substances, primarily things that are easily available like alcohol, tobacco,
cannabis and non-prescription medications, she explains. “That’s why substance
abuse may rise during COVID-19. Substance abusers might look for a way to feel
better and escape from the traumatic and stressful circumstances. When they use
drugs or alcohol, the reward pathways in their brain are triggered.
“Many substance abusers
have underlying medical conditions, which often place them at great risk of
contracting COVID-19. The fear that they might get the virus by leaving their
homes or going back to work can cause extreme anxiety for many and anxiety and
stress are huge triggers for relapse,” says Estelle.
She explains that when a
person’s stress overwhelms their coping skills, they are more likely to abuse
substances, to relapse or to increase the substances they already use.
“We are social beings and
in need of human contact. COVID-19 has exposed people to isolation,
relationship challenges and financial insecurity. During isolation, no contact
can have a negative impact on mental health and again there is a correlation
between mental health and addiction.”
For those at risk
of relapse during this time, it is important to reach out for help before it
Other measures to
promote wellbeing during the pandemic:
Reduce or stop taking any non-prescribed substances if you can do it
Take prescription medication as prescribed.
Reduce the intake of caffeine and alcohol.
Connect with loved ones while maintaining physical distances.
Join addiction support groups; there are many groups available online.
Seek professional help if you cannot do it alone.
Gardens offers a professional substance abuse treatment programme based on
various psychological theories which were pioneered nationally. It is run in
conjunction with the 12-step professional programme.To contact Wedge Gardens, call 010 534 6596
or visit www.wedgegardens.co.za
My life revolved around alcohol, says 51-year-old
James Algera who recently celebrated 10 years of sobriety.
After growing up in Rustenburg in the North West,
James – like all abled bodied South African boys at the time – was conscripted
into the South African army for his national service. It was while in the army
that 19-year-old James first started drinking.
It was to be a long 20 years before he got clean and
in that time, alcohol nearly cost him his family and livelihood. Today, his
life is on track and James says he is in a good place, working as a structural
aircraft technician (sheet metal) in Saudi Arabia.
On July 19, 2020, he had been clean for exactly one
decade and to commemorate the milestone, he sent an email of thanks to Wedge
Garden’s Adél Grobbelaar, who has headed up the Sanca rehab centre since 1998.
“Today, 10 years ago, I asked my work to allow me to
be booked in at Wedge Gardens for alcohol abuse. I can proudly tell Wedge
Gardens today that it has been 10 years and I have never touched a drink again.
It has been a long and difficult road but with all Wedge Gardens’ teaching and
care, I made a difference in my life and society. Thank you, guys, so much for
my time there and all the care you took of me,” he wrote.
Looking back on his early days of drinking, James says
that the impact of his addiction was initially ‘not too bad’.
“As I got older, alcohol became a priority in my life
– everything revolved around it,” he says.
James was working in the aviation industry and he and
his family were living in Kempton Park. “Those years, using alcohol was the in
thing with the ‘boys’.
Eventually, he hit rock bottom – unable to function
properly at work or as a husband and father.
“My finances were in a bad way and I would drink to
make my problems disappear. I would make up with a hangover each day and my
problems just got bigger and bigger. Eventually, my wife said that I had to
choose between the bottle and her and our children.”
James had previously been told about Wedge Gardens by
his employer and made the life-changing decision to ask for help, thus starting
a new chapter in his life.
“The Wedge Gardens programme taught me to face life
without using alcohol to cope,” he says.
After leaving Wedge Gardens, James still faced a
number of challenges in reclaiming his life. “It was difficult. I had to leave
my old ways behind and get used to a new way of life – like fishing and camping
without a beer in my hand. I avoided so-called ‘friends’ who, it turned out,
only wanted to know me when I bought them drinks or drunk with them.
“I had to change my lifestyle and make new, sober
friends. Basically, at the age of 40, I had to start over again. This time, my
wife and two children were my priority.”
James says that four years after leaving Wedge
Gardens, his finances were still very shaky and he decided to apply for an
aviation job in Saudi Arabia.
“By the grace of God, my application was successful
and I have built a good career over the past six years.”
James’s wife lives in Saudi with him and their son
spent three years there with his parents but now lives in Kempton Park with his
sister, who is married and has given the Algeras two beautiful grandchildren.
James says he no longer thinks of drinking and
describes his emotional state as strong and positive.
“My advice to people battling alcohol is to focus on
God because He will help you through your struggles. Have faith and believe you
will get through the recovery process. Forget the world and focus on yourself.
“Do not be afraid to ask your family or, if you are
employed, your work for help. You will succeed; stay strong.”
KAREN GRIESSEL, A SOCIAL WORKER AT JOHANNESBURG’S SANCA WEDGE GARDENS TREATMENT CENTRE, TALKS ABOUT FAITH VERSUS FEAR AND HOW HAVING FAITH CAN HELP THE ADDICTION RECOVERY PROCESS:
During these trying times, a common experience
many are having is the uncertainty of what tomorrow holds.
There have been many job losses and few
opportunities exist. Then there is the pressure to maintain livelihoods within
the challenges of families and relationships. If substance abuse is added to
the mix, it paints a dim and unsettling picture.
Fear of the future not only keeps people
trapped in addiction, it also prevent them from making progress in recovery.
The most common fears that people experience include financial insecurity,
worry about how they will cope without alcohol or drugs, death, disease and
illness, relationship worries or that recovery is bland and boring with no
happiness, good feelings or the temporary comfort substances offer.
Another trap so many of us fall into so often
is worrying about things that have not happened – or may even never happen. It
is hard for people to let go of their concerns over what may happen and instead
focus on that which is in their control, which is preparing for the future.
The opposite of fear is faith, which is defined
as believing in that which is unseen in the hope that all will work out for the
good if we do the right thing.
Others forms of faith include having faith in
one’s own ability or in trusting others like a therapist or a support group or
a trusted friend or loved one. Even better is having faith in a higher power
for strength beyond understanding. A faith community also gives a person
support and structure, which may increase feelings of hope and the chance of
There is no amount of evidence that will
convince someone during active addiction that they can do without the
substances because the individual must be willing to take a leap of faith to
get the recovery ball rolling.
Self-determination and motivation are two
crucial elements in the recovery process of addicts.
Karen Griessel, a social worker at Sanca-accredited
Wedge Gardens rehab centre in Johannesburg, says the desire to get clean and sober
must be internally driven.
“Self-determination and motivation rest on the
person’s core values, interests and morality. The decision to stop drugs and
alcohol has to be made by the addict. They must independently and freely make
their own informed decisions about their recovery.
“I often meet families or loved ones who
motivated and driving their loved one to get treatment but, unfortunately, if a
person doesn’t have their own internal drive, motivation and self-determination,
it makes the process more challenging,” says Karen.
The person suffering from the substance abuse
disorder must want to change their lives and sometimes, says Karen, this
process takes time.
“Unfortunately, addicts have often lost their
self-belief and therefore don’t feel like they are competent in dealing with
life and the challenges that come their way.
“People with self-determination have self-belief
and control over their lives; they take accountability and responsibility for
their actions. It is these core qualities that are needed in the addiction recovery
“In fact, with the nation facing great levels
of stress and anxiety as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, we should all
focus more on self-determination and motivation so that we do not get sucked
into the negativity of helplessness, which leaves people feeling like they do
not have the power to improve their situation.
“This leads to hopelessness – the feeling that
nothing can be done by anyone to make a situation better – which is highly debilitating.”
The International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit
Trafficking, also known as ‘World Drug Day’, is celebrated annually on 26 June.
The theme of World Drug Day 2020 is “Better Knowledge for Better
The field of addressing the drug problem has been ‘plagued’
by misinformation of many kinds. This year’s theme aims at improving the
understanding of the world drug problem and at fostering greater international
cooperation for countering its impact on health, governance and security.
Wedge Gardens rehab centre social worker Karen
Griessel has issued a word of caution to South Africans, following the lifting
of the ban on the sale of alcohol.
“For many, being able to enjoy a drink now and
again is good news but for others, alcohol use creates problems,” she says.
She explains that alcohol abuse is generally
defined as drinking too much alcohol too often – to the extent that it
interferes with everyday life, functioning and relationships, even though it
appears as if the individual’s life is still manageable.
Symptoms of alcohol abuse include the need to
drink to relax, driving under the influence, problems in the family or
friendships, neglecting responsibilities, legal problems and hangovers or
Karen says some people might be tempted to
hoard alcohol in case a ban is re-implemented. “This could put the social
drinker at risk of drinking more than normal – especially because they are
unable to resume their normal social activities and might feel bored and
frustrated. Others with a limited budget may choose to buy alcohol rather than food.”
An increase in the abuse of alcohol will have a
snowball effect, leading to more gender-based violence, crime and
irresponsibility, she warns.
“Furthermore, those addicted to drugs who
cannot find their fix will turn to alcohol to fill the gap.”
Alcohol causes people to lose their inhibitions
and sense of responsibility and this type of risky action could be extremely
dangerous at a time when South Africa’s coronavirus cases are expected to
“At the end of the day, we all have to take
responsibility for our own lives and that means making healthy choices when it
comes to our alcohol consumption.”
No person goes without adversity, trials and
tribulations and even more so those who dabble in addiction.
“Often, their challenges are self-inflicted,”
says Karen Griessel, a social worker at Sanca-affiliated Wedge Gardens rehab
centre in Johannesburg.
“Being able to bounce back sooner than later is
what matters. It must also be said that it takes conscious effort to be
resilient and take your power back but, in the end, it is so worth it,” she
“If we look at the world pandemic at present,
all of humanity is showing resilience in one way or another so it is part of
most people’s nature to want to fight back or fight for what is right.
“The good news is that resilience can be practised,
just like working on your muscles in the gym. If you are not born assertive or you
lack confidence, it does not mean that you cannot nurture these characteristics.
Learn to be solution-focused and not to obsess about problems – this, at the
core, is all about self-belief.
“Research on resilience theory shows the
importance of managing one’s immediate environment by addressing demands and
stressors head-on,” she says.
Resilience ties into the strength-based
perspective which means using one’s resources, skills, positive attributes and
strengths to fight difficulties.
“Positive thinking doesn’t mean ignoring a
problem; it means understanding that troubles and setbacks happen but that with
confidence and self-esteem, they can be overcome,” says Karen.
The 7 Cs of resilience
Competence in knowing how to
handle a situation effectively.
Confidence rooted in
Connection and networking.
Character in knowing what is
right or wrong.
Coping, which leads to
handling stressors better.
Control as a problem-solver
and not a victim.
Wedge Gardens offers holistic rehabilitation
for the body, mind and soul. Find out more at www.wedgegardens.co.za