Tag Archives: Wedge Gardens Treatment Centre

Former addict lights the way for people in recovery

At 11 years of age, James Donovan started drinking. At 13, he was smoking weed and when he was barely out of his teens, he exchanged a sexual favour for a meagre R50 hit.

The boy who just wanted to fit in became the adult who lived on the streets, who was unemployable and virtually unlovable. After the first failed rehab attempt, his family made the tough decision to cut ties with him.

Then the kindness of a stranger changed his life. “I was living on the streets of Windsor in Randburg, Johannesburg, having lost everything and everyone in my life. Everyone was tired of me and I was completely alone with nothing but the consequences of what my addiction had become. Then one day I was hustling for money when this stranger I had tried to hustle extended a helping hand,” recalls James.

The man was determined to give James another chance. He contacted Sanca Wedge Gardens treatment centre and helped James apply for a government-subsidised bed in the Rand Aid Association-run facility.

Put on a waiting list, James remained on the streets, with his benefactor bringing food and blankets.

Six weeks later, on July 29, 2014, space for James became available. The 29-year-old arrived at Wedge with nothing but a plastic bag of clothes he had dug out of dustbins. “I was fearful and didn’t know where I would go after treatment but all that mattered in that moment was getting the pain to stop. In retrospect, the pain outweighed the fear of letting the drugs go,” he says.

James has been clean since that life-changing day, six years ago. Today, he works as an addiction counsellor for a Pretoria-based treatment centre, is in a stable relationship and has made amends to his family.

Of his partner, James says: “I am extremely grateful as she is also my accountability partner.”

Remembering his early days at Wedge Gardens, James says that ‘by doing the next right thing in that moment, allowed tomorrow to take care of itself and my life started falling into place’.

A journey to hell

Raised in Craighall Park, Johannesburg, and currently a Pretoria East resident, James says his childhood substance abuse allowed him to feel part of something.

Soon, however, the very thing that he thought was enabling him to fit in with his peers, alienated him from society.

“The impact substance abuse had on me was catastrophic. I lost numerous jobs due to lack of attendance, theft, abusing substances during work, lack of performance and even being caught buying drugs while driving a company-branded vehicle. I have also lost two job prospects because of my criminal record for theft and fraud.

“My education was greatly affected too. I was abusing substances in school and selling illicit substances – mainly cocaine and ecstasy – on the premises to other students. My juice bottle was often filled with vodka.

“I would steal from my family and was not an active member of my family structure. I would isolate and withdraw, leave home for days or come in and out of the house at all hours of the day and night. I would be high at family functions and events or just not pitch up at all. The police raided my family home looking for drugs and my mother would see me begging at robots, which broke her heart.”

Eventually, his mother gave him an ultimatum – go to rehab or leave home. James went but the day his treatment ended, he relapsed. Eventually, they turned their backs on him. “I had stolen the smiles off their very faces and caused them to live like prisoners in their own homes, with locked doors and hiding valuables for fear of me stealing or pawning their personal belongings.

“Drugs helped me escape, to alter my perception of reality and to temporarily fix how I felt inside.”

The family moved to the UK when James was 16 but after being bust for burglary, he was put back on a plane to South Africa. “Drugs were so much more expensive there, so I turned to criminal activity to support my habit.”

Back on home soil, James started to experiment with party drugs such as magic mushrooms, cocaine and khat. “I was mixing drugs and found that combinations of drugs could give me different highs and effects. All of this while trying to balance school and this secret life I had been living. Narcotics created an illusion that my life was manageable.

“I then progressed into experimenting with crack cocaine and heroin, which became my drug of choice.”

James’s life spiralled out of control. “Addiction was a bottomless pit of emptiness inside me that could never be filled.”

After being told to leave the family home by his mom, James lived on the streets and soon found himself in Sun City prison in Diepkloof, Johannesburg, for shoplifting.

“I remember telling myself in prison that I was done with drugs but when I was released, I went straight back to them. I was powerless in the face of my addiction and could not give up the very thing that was taking everything away from me, including my sanity.

“I became just another junkie on a street corner, living to use and using to live.”

Over the next few years, James spent a cumulative two years in prison and went in and out of rehab. In 2011, he was sectioned to a government treatment centre and ordered to complete a three-month programme or go back to jail for theft.

For the first time, James was introduced to Alcoholics Anonymous’s (AA’s) 12-step programme. He found a sponsor and attended Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings but 16 months into his recovery journey, he started to obsess about drinking. “In my mind, I never had a problem with alcohol. I was drug tested often so alcohol would be the one thing I could get away with.

“They say that this disease of addiction is cunning, baffling and powerful. My own mind convinced me that I was just going to have one drink, that no one would know.”

The consequences of that decision saw James back on the streets as an active addict. He also stayed and worked for a while at a Nigerian-run brothel where, he says, the girls were kept virtually captive.

“My pattern became clear to me. I would get into a rehab, rack up some clean time, relapse, lose everything, end up back on the street and then go back to prison.

“That last time, I was convinced that I was going to do things differently. I was going to try not steal and turned to begging instead. My career became dishonesty, lying to people about some elaborate story of needing petrol for a car that did not exist, or needing nappies and formula for a baby that was not real. There were days when begging was just not enough and I would need to steal, risking my freedom in exchange for sucking my soul through a crack pipe.”

It was at this rock-bottom point that James, hustling for money, met the person who cared enough to help a stranger get into Wedge Gardens rehab centre.  

A new beginning

“One of the most profound things I learnt at Wedge Gardens is that ‘addiction doesn’t come in bottles and pills; it comes in people’. The drugs were but a symptom of the actual problem and the problem was me.

“I learnt through AA’s Big Book that my addiction centres in my mind rather than my body. Neither drugs nor relationships, money, validation, affirmation or status could fill the void in me. No amount of any of these things could keep me clean. A quote to this effect is, ‘My outward circumstances do not change my inward reality’.

“I heard this saying once that made complete sense and reinforced the above. It states: ‘I live in a body that wants to live with a mind that wants to die’. I have a mind that tells me that I don’t have a disease, I’m not good enough, this isn’t going to work, that I don’t deserve recovery and I have a body that ensures that I do not stop once I start.

“Carl Jung, a leading psychiatrist and contributor to the AA Big Book, believed that spiritual development could cure mental illness. When we work on our spiritual aspects, we straighten out mentally and physically as well.”  

James says his time at Wedge Gardens was incredibly informative. “I think the desperation I had when I walked in there is the very thing that allowed me to go into recovery with an open mind. Completely defeated by my addiction, I had become willing to do whatever it took and follow whatever suggestions were made.”

James attributes the fact that he has not relapsed to his willingness to work the 12-step programme. “It’s not been so much the intensity of the programme, but rather the consistency of the programme I work. To this day, I have a sponsor, work the steps, have service position at NA meetings, attend the fellowship meetings and maintain my relationship with a higher power… and I’m still standing as a result of it.

“The process of rebuilding my relationships continues and I have learnt that the best apology is changed behaviour.

James says his work as an addiction counsellor enables him to ‘turn the mess of my past into a message of hope for others’.

“I know I am always one bad decision away from the worst day of my life. That knowledge is what keeps me committed to the 12-step programme.”

* Sanca Wedge Gardens offer holistic rehabilitation for the body, mind and soul. Find out more at www.wedgegardens.co.za

Anxiety in COVID times

Registered nurse Estelle Raath shares her experiences of the general anxiety that has become so commonplace during the global coronavirus pandemic:

I am not even an anxious person – organised, but definitely not anxious. So what is happened to me during the COVID-19 pandemic?

I think as a frontline worker, the fear and anxiety cause by this new disease and what could happen to all of us was overwhelming in the beginning. While most of the country stayed in level 5 lockdown, we had to drive the empty highways to work, not knowing what every day would be like and fearing that we would be the ones bringing COVID-19 into our homes.

Anxiety and stress during COVID-19 can cause:

  • Insomnia
  • Lack of concentration
  • Deterioration of chronic and mental health conditions
  • Increased use of substances.

I remember waking up during the middle of the night, my heart pounding and worrying about so many things, then trying to talk to myself to stay calm and breathe, and then my thoughts were: “If I am going through this, what is an anxious person going through right now?”

I knew that I was not in a good place and that I needed to get out of it. Looking back now, I realise that staying in routine and going to work every day, although I was scared, it was my saving grace.

People with pre-existing anxiety or substance use disorders may be extra vulnerable during COVID-19. Anxiety affects a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, behaviour and daily functioning. There are so many factors that can affect the way we respond to anxiety in a pandemic. People with pre-existing anxiety should continue with their treatment and if the symptoms increase, they must contact their healthcare provider immediately.

One thing that I realised was that I first have to take care of myself and my thoughts, before I can help those around me. So many people around me are struggling with anxiety caused by COVID-19 but I think we will only see the real effects much later.

“Do not let your difficulties fill you with anxiety, after all it is only in the darkest nights that stars shine more brightly” – Ali Ibn Abi Talib

* Estelle Raath is the deputy manager of Sanca rehab centre Wedge Gardens, which is situated in Johannesburg. To contact Wedge Gardens, call 010 534 6596 or visit www.wedgegardens.co.za

Mindfulness is a great coping skill

MINDFULNESS: the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we are doing.

Mindfulness a great coping skill, says Karen Griessel, a social worker at Sanca rehab centre Wedge Gardens in Johannesburg.

She writes:

It is fair to say that the world around us has changed significantly and for many, not for the better. It is important to find ways to help us cope with our challenges and emotions.

One great way of doing this is mindfulness. The goal of mindfulness is to wake up the inner workings of our mental, emotional and physical processes.

For people recovering from substance abuse, mindfulness can really add to the healing process. Acceptance of your thoughts and owning your feelings without judging yourself is very helpful in releasing tension and anger.

On other words, just allow yourself to feel and be whatever you need to be.

I personally have found mindfulness Apps very helpful as a guided process, especially for beginners.

Here are a few Apps that are popular to get you started on becoming a more serene individual:

  • Meditation and relaxation pro
  • The Mindfulness app
  • Headspace
  • Calm
  • 10% Happier
  • Breethe


011 534 6596

Awesome Adèl turns 60!

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 with her.

“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.

Illegal cigarettes and substance abuse

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 cigarette.

“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?”

To contact Wedge Gardens, call 010 534 6596 or visit www.wedgegardens.co.za

COVID-19, mental health and substance abuse

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 happens.

Other measures to promote wellbeing during the pandemic:

  • Reduce or stop taking any non-prescribed substances if you can do it safely.
  • 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.
  • Practice self-care.
  • Seek professional help if you cannot do it alone.

Wedge 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

Ten years sober!

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.”

To contact Wedge Gardens, call 010 534 6596 or visit www.wedgegardens.co.za

Faith versus fear


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 recovery.

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.

To contact Wedge Gardens, call 010 534 6596 or visit www.wedgegardens.co.za

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!