Drug abuse is increasing and methods for help can be exclusive in their ideological practices

PLEASE NOTE: the piece that is to follow could be triggering as it relays scenes of explicit drug use. Please keep in mind that it is based on the life experience and subjective opinion of the author. It in no ways seeks to deter people from seeking help from and community within NA. Nor does it seek to project a blanketed image of certain spaces within South Africa’s cultural scene.

The 2010s saw a significant spike in drug use. There is an increased use in the most popular form of drugs such as cannabis, alcohol and cocaine. Yet there is a new ligament attached to addiction–synthetics as well as prescription drugs (such as Xanax). One could say that the 2020s are set for even more drug use, with access to controlled substances becoming easier due to drug regulation laws that are easy to side stepped. We are bearing witness- in the current climate -to an “Uber Eats” style form of drug circulation.

I was taught to think of my own history of substance abuse as a cause of an affliction. That I was born with a pre-determined recessive gene from my father’s side, which led me to enact addictive tendencies. My first encounter with the world of drugs began at a young age. I was 16 years old at a music festival when I first smoked dagga. This did not have a harrowing result as many conservatives would believe as they associate cannabis as being the “gateway drug”. No. Drugs really became a problem for me when I was about 21 years old. Originally from a smaller city, I was completely overwhelmed by the allure of Johannesburg and my new university career as an art student. The music, the people, the art; it never and still doesn’t cease to put me under some type of spell. Then there were the parties. Soon enough as a very young and impressionable girl who so badly wanted to be a part of this world, who wanted to belong- I began making connections with older, more established artists practicing in the community. Now reflecting on what happened, nearly 10 years ago; I am saddened that this was what occurred though my first brush with the Johannesburg “art scene”. In retrospect, I feel that it was these older artists’ responsibility to look out for young impressionable people. I got eaten alive. I was 21 the first time I took a line.

I remember it vividly in fact. Sitting in a cramped apartment in Maboneng at 4 in the morning post jol. We were a group. Artists, illustrators, photographers. I was the youngest and they offered me some blow. I was scared and they teased me. Of course, not enjoying being infantilised, I took the line and that was the start of a downhill cycle for me. I loved it. I loved the sensation and how the drug made me feel; the invincibility of it all. My spiral from recreational use to abuse was swift. It began as a harmless thing. Using when my friends were at parties then eventually, life got hard. A friend committed suicide and my chosen mother had passed away in that same year. I began buying. From that point on, I was always high. I did not think that I had a problem even as everything around me began to crumble as I was not what some would call, “a functioning addict”. My cards were falling for everyone to see. After a dramatic family intervention I was admitted to rehab that year, weighing in at 45kgs and having just survived an overdose. Walking into rehab is difficult. You walk in with a mixture of shame, helplessness, embarrassment and depletion. It was here where I first heard of what we refer to in the recovery community as “the rooms” of Narcotics Anonymous (NA).

NA is every addict seeking help’s only free go to. It not only a support group but a community of recovering addicts built on the foundations of Alcoholics Anonymous. It works according to “step work” and 12 guiding principles; or the 12 steps to recovery. Which is a little bit of a fallacy as after you complete the 12 steps, you start all over again. NA believes that there is no known cure for drug addiction- that we must work the 12 steps and support one another. I have never felt at home in NA. From the chosen use of language to an overall lack of sensitivity towards different ways of being and seeing the world by its individual members; I have always felt excluded within this community in particular…

My first objection to the guiding principles and foundations of the movement, is the fact that you are expected to always identify yourself as an addict before speaking. “Hi I’m Marcia and I am an addict”, for the rest of my life. First of all fuck that. I will not define myself by an illness, which is what addiction is classified as, an illness. I am many things outside of my addiction and I will not solely identify myself as an addict before all else. Another issue for me is the serenity prayer we say at the end of meetings. Some of you may know it. It goes, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”. For many non-religious addicts-myself included-this has been problematic, though NA maintains that they have no religious affiliations. My last point of concern is the members and their understanding of the current socio-political context as well as the notion of creating safe spaces. In the last NA meeting I attended at the end of December 2019, a group member made queer phobic insult as a form of humour and this greatly upset me. Yes there is an LGBTQIA NA group for those in the know but it frustrates me that I need to go there just to feel accepted and not to be stigmatised for my sexuality.

All this said, however, the power of NA should not be underestimated. My first spell in recovery meant that I remained completely sober for 5 years and I have not been back to rehab since. What I’m asking for is a change in the way that we structure recovery. Yes NA works but its implementation is strict and perhaps even borders on militant. What is needed is an NA that’s open to discussion for structural change and reform, to take bodies into consideration that they are erasing by ignoring. I want to go to NA but right now it really sucks.

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