Waking up to the reality of addiction

2011-06-11 17:06

Lindiwe Ndaba’s car was stolen the day before our interview about her life as a recovering ­alcoholic.

If this had happened two years ago, she said, she would have run to the nearest ­liquor store, snorting ­cocaine on the way.

It was a regular thing for Ndaba to drive home drunk on the M1 highway. Blacking out and ­complaints from ­neighbours about her making noise was ­almost a daily occurrence.

She would often drink until 3am even though she had to be at work just a few hours later.

“I thought passing out or ­driving while you were drunk was pretty normal, that accidents happened to other people,” she recalls.

Ndaba had her first taste of ­alcohol and her first puff of a ­cigarette when she was just 12.

It happened with her cousin at a picnic in Soweto. She later ­graduated to dagga.

“I remember that day like it happened yesterday.

I’d just got home from a picnic with my cousin and I was drunk out of my mind. I puked, then passed out.”

After that incident, she was sent from St Teresa’s Convent in Rosebank to St Barnabas ­College boarding school in ­Newclare where she started ­running wild.

Her father has been a ­recovering alcoholic for 17 years.

“I know there’s an alcoholic gene in my family because the ­majority of my family drinks. But I never thought of myself as an alcoholic.”

Although Ndaba was always near the top of her class academically, she was expelled during grade 7 when she was caught ­trying to sneak back into her dorm after a night out clubbing.

Fortunately, the convent school she’d been at previously allowed her back.

After completing matric in 1991, she went to Rhodes University in Grahamstown and by this time, she ­recalls: “I was already a pro at drinking.”

More often than not, Ndaba was the one offering to get the booze and smokes.

“My memories are much clearer now that I’m in recovery. Going through treatment brings back all those memories.

One of the things I ­remember – and back then it was supercool – was sitting in a third-year student’s room and ­drinking a whole bottle of ­champagne by myself.”

She came back home to Johannesburg without her degree and couldn’t find a job so ­she enrolled at a local college. But the drinking didn’t stop.

By her early 30s, Ndaba started having blackouts and blanks.

“I recall my sister saying to me: There’s something seriously wrong with you when you’ve been drinking. You’re not fully here.”

After 19 years of drinking, she finally decided to seek help.

She booked herself into Phoenix House, a Sanca-run rehab ­programme based in Sophiatown.

It was her sister who ­convinced her to book herself ­into rehab.

“I didn’t just wake up and realise, right, I need to fix my life. My life was totally unmanageable when I went into treatment. I was ­literally on my knees.”

Even after she had checked in, she still lied to the counsellors about her cocaine use and it was only after two weeks that she ­finally broke down and admitted her problem in its totality.

She stayed there for six weeks.

“Unfortunately, alcoholism is an obsession and a compulsion. And once I started, I couldn’t stop. I always wanted that ‘one last drink’ and another and ­another.”

She has now been sober for 15 months and lives in an apartment in central Johannesburg.

Her 10-year-old daughter lives with her parents. She works at Blue IQ as an assistant to the chief executive.

Lindiwe says her life has changed completely and she is able to go out and have fun ­without getting drunk.

“I’m surprising myself everyday by my reactions to life’s ­situations.

It’s not an easy ­process, but it’s a good process.”

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