Ritchie B’s Inspiring Recovery from Addiction Success Story
I grew up mostly around my grandmother since my parents were travelling around looking for the best job placement my dad could get. It wasn’t an ambiguously glamorous job, he was a welder for a gas company that had plants all over Southern Africa. My parents did what they could to provide for me and sometimes spoiled me with gifts none of the other kids parents could get them, since theirs weren’t in the city.
My gran was loving and I think I was her favourite grandson. Still, I couldn’t shake the jealousy I felt at seeing my cousins being around their parents whilst mine weren’t around. They would come over from their mom’s place and spend the day laughing in his room and I sat and pretended to watch television. I overheard all of their laughter and conversation and it felt like they had this secret pact and that I was excluded. It was never an option in my ‘their-and-mine’ kind of attitude for me to share in their intimacy. I could not bring myself to admit that I craved the attention they were getting and I felt horrible for feeling that gran’s love couldn’t make up for that gnawing feeling of being alone.
At some point I guess I made a decision to never be needy and expect that kind of love. At a young age I felt disillusioned and I found it hard to relate intimately to anyone. It was easy to smile and act and read the bible when the church-folk came around, but always from a distance.
My primary school life wasn’t too bad, I got into trouble for bunking and a theft. High-school life was spent flitting between outcasts and the cool gang. I scored the right invites and soon started to drink to keep from showing how insecure I actually felt. Of course I made a fool of myself and couldn’t remember any of my escapades the next Monday. I felt people needed a clown and I needed to forget so I kept on feigning friendship in order for me to escape my life at home and just get wasted.
After school my longtime friend who had been living in Cape Town moved back home. At another friend’s party I was introduced to drugs for the very first time. My longtime friend told me that once I choose to go down this road, there is no stopping, quoting verbatim, one is too many and a thousand never enough. I said no for two seconds and then I used my first drug and I felt alive. The next day I used again. And years passed.
At the end of my journey with drugs I was left isolated and lonely. I was pretty much the scared, insecure boy I was when I lived at my grans. I only kept the friends around who didn’t mind that I wanted to use as often as I could. Taking a bath and looking after myself physically were the furthest things on my mind. I felt completely done-in by life and circumstance. I could not see beyond my next fix. Completely alienated from society, making shock appearances at work and at home, staying just long enough to get into fights – because I needed a reason to leave soon after to go use some more. More than what I looked like, I felt like an empty shell, and the drugs that initially brought me closer to experiencing ‘better’ friendships didn’t work. Everywhere I went, in every interaction I had, I always left feeling like a fraud. I remember feeling empty and numb and eventually starting to entertain thoughts of suicide, not being able to stomach the look on my family’s face (when I would eventually come home.)
One day I called the number listed for Houghton House and spoke to someone and I insisted on coming in the next day. I came in without an assessment because I didn’t know who to bring along with me. I guess a part of me knew that I did not have to check this out, if it didn’t work, I’d have died using drugs.
When I walked into Houghton House, one of the staff members told me that they would take my phone and lock it away. They also needed to have my luggage checked for any alcohol or drugs. It only strikes me now that I hadn’t thought of bringing any alcohol or drugs, I just so badly needed a break from it all and I was hoping I came to right place.
The counsellor assigned told me to take responsibility for the fact that I have a disease and that I’m an addict. The only two options I had was to get out of my own way and to become teachable or go out and use and eventually die. I didn’t have the courage to leave, I hadn’t felt safe anywhere in a long time.
Of the many things I learnt that saved my life was: I had a disease over which I’m powerless. I learnt that I didn’t like the isolation of being in active addiction. I had become tired of lies upon lies and I really wanted to live. I didn’t know that there were those out there who had actually been through what I was going through, without drugs to give their life meaning. It was a challenge for me to keep quiet and not inject my own will into my process. I wanted to control but I had to surrender to the fact that my thinking was warped and that I could not trust my own judgement.
Tuesday morning yoga was a release for me. I could speak about how I felt, I didn’t have the words to articulate my guilt, but the yoga provided a release for me to let go of all the complicated things I felt. For the first time in my life I realized that I had no concept of how to love myself. I broke down one Tuesday morning when I had to hug myself, I had never given a kind of acknowledgement to myself. I was never a priority, my life was spent trying to please others.
So my life today is different but also pretty much the same as that first morning. I’m integrated into society and I express my gratitude at being given a second chance – on a daily basis. I overwork myself because right now my work gives my life a different meaning. I’ve rekindled the relationships with my family, who probably still think of me as weird – in a loving way. The friends I have, value me enough to tell me the truth about me, with love. I have a freedom from my compulsions and my thoughts (to a degree) and I have a relationship with God that I don’t understand, but am actively exploring. My life has the trappings of success, but my soul has the trappings of recovery. I give back to the program and institution that saved my life by sharing what I learnt with other desperate and lonely people who want to make sense of their past and give meaning to their future.
This is the poem I wrote a few days before I left Houghton House. I’d like to share it in the hopes that between the words there’s a message that was carried to me of hope of a future free from drugs and the obsession to use.
Still – I buried
The shattered peace of me
In search of self-control.
I came broken to
These gates of change
Where many surrender
Their undone selves
And found and left redemption.
Here in this place
Are steps to hope
Where the lost find love
And journey on and on and on
To perfect restoration.