Monique Jantjies* witnessed her daughter go from A-student to drug addict. She reveals how substance abuse changed their lives. By Eulogi Rheeder
‘My daughter, Charne*, was an outstanding girl who excelled academically in junior school, as well as being a top student in swimming, dancing and music. She received a bursary for high school and started off strong in Grade 8.
‘However, in Grade 9, she became friends with the wrong crowd – she started drinking, smoking and skipping her extramural activities. She bunked school, failed subjects and eventually lost her bursary. I never suspected she was experimenting with drugs. In hindsight, I should have noticed the signs, but maybe I was hoping it wasn’t true. She was also – as addicts are – very good at hiding her secret.’
The highs and lows
‘When Charne was 17, I conceded that she had a problem. I frequently picked her up from friends’ houses trashed out of her mind. It gradually escalated to the cops phoning me to come and collect her from the police station. Then strangers would phone me in the early hours of the morning asking me if I could pick up my inebriated girl. I learnt that she was dating a guy who supplied her with drugs and that they often spent weekends at his place on drug-binges (she was in boarding school because I hoped it would give her some stability). She also often left without telling me where she was going, and then switched her phone off. I once had to file a missing persons report.
‘Desperate to save Charne’s life, I checked her into rehab. For a few weeks following her treatment, things went very well. But then she started dating a guy who was also a recovering addict. One evening, she got so drunk that his parents phoned to ask me to fetch her.
‘When I confronted her about her relapse, she locked herself in the bathroom and started taking all her prescribed antidepressant medication. She screamed that she didn’t want to live any more. I managed to break the door down and rushed her to the hospital. Her psychiatrist checked her into the clinic for a week. Things went well again for a while, till her boyfriend came back into her life. She left home and moved in with him. For the next month or so, I didn’t know if she was okay, or even alive.’
‘One morning I got a call from her; her boyfriend had beaten her and she wanted to come home. What I saw when she came into my office I don’t wish on any parent: she was so thin, untidy, dirty and very lost. Yet, for the first time, I could see in her eyes that she wanted help.
‘We spoke, we cried and she finally admitted that she needed help. A week later, she checked into rehab. She finished a seven-week treatment programme at a primary facility before moving on to two months of secondary care at Tharagay Treatment Centre.’
Over the horizon
‘Today my relationship with Charne is much better, but I hold a lot of anger and resentment towards her. It’s been a huge financial burden on me as a single parent and I’ve spent all my savings and had to borrow on my bond to get her the help she needed. But I finally feel like I can breathe. For the last eight-plus years it felt like I was holding my breath, waiting for the call to tell me my daughter is dead.
‘Although Charne just recently celebrated 11 months of sobriety, her journey has only begun: drug and/or alcohol abusers’ emotional development is usually stunted, so Charne sometimes still behaves as though she’s a teenager, although she is almost 24.
‘It may take years for Charne to catch up to people her age. She’s also a very different person from before the drugs. I miss that person, but I know she is gone forever.’
Dion Wessels from Tharagay Treatment Centre gives guidelines to help addicts get better.
The signs of addiction
• Behavioural Changes in relationships with loved ones, mood swings, decreased motivation, change in sleep patterns, change in speech
• Appearance Careless or messy appearance, poor hygiene, red face or cheeks
• Personal habits Avoiding eye contact, secretiveness, change in appetite
• Health issues Nosebleeds, depression, sweatiness, nausea, vomiting, weight loss
Addressing the issue
‘Have an open chat with them. Just ask them directly whether they are taking drugs, but in a non-judgemental way,’ says Dion. Tell them what you are observing and ask if they want your help. ‘If they refuse and you know it is out of control, consult with a social worker or your GP, or summon in some specialists to help you arrange an intervention.’
‘A good support system and an aftercare programme are crucial, as is involvement and accountability in a 12-step fellowship, as you will find at Narcotics Anonymous.’
*Names have been changed.