One day at a time

2011-03-16 00:00

“HOPE for the hopeless” reads the banner over the front doorway of what seems like a matchbox compared with most houses. The interior is crowded with bare necessities, which provide an obstacle course for anyone walking through. It’s hard to imagine 20 or so people living on the premises, but they do so without complaint because it’s the only place left where they can find hope.

The Panorama Recovery Centre, situated in Panorama Gardens, is run by recovering alcoholics and drug addicts who offer free assistance to both alcoholics and drug addicts who want to end their addictions. The centre is owned, managed and was founded by Monty Reddy, himself a recovering alcoholic and drug addict.

“In 1986, my father brought me to Pietermaritzburg to change my ways,” said Reddy. “I was a heavy alcoholic and drug addict. I wanted to change but I didn’t know where and how to get help. After my recovery, I wanted to help others to do the same. It has been my dream.”

Today the Panorama Recovery Centre is the only rehabilitation centre in South Africa that offers free assistance to drug addicts. The centre opened in April 1998 and initially functioned as a halfway house. With the help of recovering alcoholic Morgan Govender (the father of the house), the Panorama Recovery Centre houses reforming addicts for approximately 14 to 21 days or until they have reached the fourth step in the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step programme.

“Drug addicts often stay for longer as some drugs can stay in the system for 50 days or more,” explained Reddy.

The centre offers aid to at most 20 people due to the restricted space, with Reddy often being forced to turn down addicts seeking help. Doctors and social workers also assist at the centre, free of charge, and patients are counselled by volunteers who are recovering alcoholics and drug addicts who have been in recovery for many years.

“We offer hope to the newcomers,” explains Reddy. “We can relate to them and when they see that we have won the battles that they are currently fighting, they believe that they can win them too.”

Many of the reforming addicts who make it to the recovery centre’s doorstep have experienced the true meaning of rock bottom.

“We are all write-offs in society when we come here,” said one of the reforming alcoholics. “We come here broken and beaten with no one left who has faith in our recovery.”

For Govender, this was on New Year’s Eve in 2008. He was on his way to Pietermaritzburg in an attempt to patch things up with his wife. He had been clean for seven years, until he bumped into some of his old friends in Howick. They told him that if he had a drink, his problems would disappear. Instead, he ended up in an accident.

The next morning he ended up in Copesville with a 50% chance of survival. The doctor told him that he wouldn’t be able to walk again after the accident and he was paralysed down the right side of his body. When things didn’t work out with his wife, Govender started drinking again, and drank progressively to kill himself. In April 2009, a series of events led him to the gates of Panorama Recovery Centre. “I didn’t think that I was ‘that’ person,” said Govender. “I read the sign ‘Hope for the Hopeless’ and I felt ... relieved. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired.

“Today, I attend meetings every day, and I share my experiences and growth with the new people. Working with the newcomers makes me happy. I found peace of mind working with them. Today I can look in the mirror and say that I love myself.”

The programme works one day at a time and patients are transported daily to Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous meetings. They are urged to continue attending these meetings regularly after they have left. According to Reddy, 99% of the rehabilitants are unemployed and so the centre also helps them to develop skills so that they will hopefully find employment on their departure. Everyone is treated the same and is required to do chores such as cooking, cleaning and cutting vegetables. Reddy believes that this enables them to return to the world as better fathers, employees, sons and husbands by recreating a sense of responsibility. It also teaches them to appreciate the smaller things in life.

“Often the people who come here don’t appreciate their lives,” said Reddy. “They took and their parents were expected to give. About 90% of those who come here have been stealing, housebreaking and breaking the law to afford their addiction. We show them that this is wrong and show them how to go back into society and do things the right way.”

The most common addictions are alcohol, whoonga and sugars. One of the rehabilitants (36), who started taking drugs aged 15 and has taken everything from cocaine to LSD, explained the process of addiction.

“Initially when you take drugs, you are continually looking for something stronger, something that will take you on a higher high. In the last stage, it doesn’t make a difference what you take. It’s no longer fun, you just want that continual kick and you do everything you can to get it.”

The majority of addicts who have come to the centre are between the ages of 18 and 25, with the oldest being 61 and the youngest only 13. Last year, the centre aided 363 addicts, some from Johannesburg, Kokstad, Cape Town and Lesotho. According to the centre’s statistics, more than 50% of them are still sober and attend meetings regularly.

• The Panorama Recovery Centre is a non-profit organisation and operates on donations. For those willing to assist the Panorama Recovery Centre, please contact the centre at 033 390 1493 or Monty at 083 384 3630. The centre is currently looking for bigger premises so that it can assist more people. It works transparently and is open to people visiting the centre.

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