Feeling sober again

Feeling sober again

THABA BOSIU – EACH of the testimonies from the 28 patients begins with a gospel hymn from the small crowd that has packed the hall at Blue Cross, Lesotho’s only drugs rehabilitation centre.  Khotso stands up to a song about resilience.
“We should never give up/ Never, never, never give up/ My brother, never give up/ My sister never give up/ We should never give up.”
Slowly he walks to the centre of the room, a cap in hand.

On the wall behind him is Manila paper poster that says ‘I am sober and I can feel it’.
Four relatives join him.  Khotso had always known from the day he entered the centre, three months ago, that he would have to stand before a crowd to tell his story. Yet when that moment arrived last Thursday he could not find the words. It seems even watching the other 20-something patients telling their stories over the past four hours has not helped calm his nerves.

As if sensing that he is drowning in emotions the crowd starts singing again. Tears are streaming down his cheeks as he tries to compose himself.
Eventually the crowd stops singing and Khotso takes one step forward to begin his testimony.

“I am confident that the future looks bright. I am leaving Blue Cross rehabilitation centre a better man,” he says to cheers.
“I came here a broken man. I have never seen people as good as those who have worked with me here during by struggle.”
He ends his testimony with a few words of gratitude to the relatives, staff at the centre and fellow patients.

The group of patients graduating today is a mishmash of the rich, the poor, the educated and the illiterate. Khotso is a well off and educated man. That much is clear from his designer jeans and shoes. An SUV will take him home at the end of the farewell party when other patients are crammed into a bus.

Yet what brought him here is the same thing that brought the other people: addiction.
For three months they were there battling addiction together.
They were sad when two fellow patients pulled out of the programme and one was expelled for theft.
All tell stories of how drugs almost ruined their lives, careers and families.

Today Khotso, 27, cannot finish his story because the organisers have said time is running out. thepost however started talking to him four weeks after he checked into the centre in September. Over hours of interviews he paints a picture of a man who grew up in a rich but broken family. His father, he says, was an alcoholic who abused his mother and crashed several family cars. When he was a teenager his parents divorced.

Khotso and his little sister moved in with their mother. “That was the beginning of my problem,” he says.  He was shipped off to a boarding school in South Africa where both father and mother pampered him with lots of pocket money.
By Grade 8 he was dabbling in alcohol and glue, a habit he says started because of peer pressure. Within a year he was smoking as much as 20 cigarettes a day.

“On weekends we would smoke all day long,” he recalls.
It took the school management three years to lose patience with him.
“They caught me drunk for the umpteenth time and kicked me out.”

He landed in a Christian boarding school famous for its ‘no nonsense’ attitude towards delinquency. His mother had been assured by relatives and friends that this was the school that would keep her son on the straight and narrow.
But within a few weeks Khotso had learned that where there is a will there is always a way. The school’s strict rules could be easily breached. With other boys they would sneak out to buy alcohol and drugs from a nearby township.

The trick, he says, was to come back before the morning roll call.
“But I was not that free to do as I pleased. There were rules that I could break here and there but still I was under some control that helped me slow down on drugs and alcohol,” he says.

That modicum of control ended when he enrolled at the University of Free State to study law. For the first time in his life Khotso was living alone and managing his own budget. A friend from Cape Town introduced him to cocaine.
“Within a few months I was hooked.” His mum, who had now moved back to Lesotho, was the source of the money.
He would manipulate her to give out more money. “Money was never really a problem for me.”

By the second year Khotso was missing classes and his grades were tumbling.
“By that time I was always high. I dropped out of university.”
Pleas to his mother earned him a second chance when she agreed to pay for his IT Diploma in Pretoria in 2012. He was now an addict who could do anything to get high.

“Beer would do the trick when I was low on cash but cocaine was what I really liked. It’s not a cheap ‘high’ because sometimes I would spend as much as M1 000 a day”. He however ‘staggered’ through the diploma and got a job but by the second month he was missing work and was fired.
“I was always too drunk to report for duty.”  Within three years he had lost three jobs.

“My use of drugs had escalated. I was using everything from dagga to cocaine. All I wanted to was to get high.”
As his career suffered so did his marriage which crumbled within a year. Khotso says after just a few counselling sessions at the centre he had realised how terribly he treated his wife and child.

He says as his addiction worsened he began to spend more money to support his drug habit instead of his family.
“I would beat my wife. By mid-2015 she had left with my child.”
It’s been more than a year since he spoke to her or saw their child. Still angry, the wife refuses to let him see his son.

He says although the separation made him realise that his life was a mess he did not think it was necessary to seek professional help.
“I thought I could just clean up myself and things would be fine. I thought I had the willpower to beat the addiction.”
The Damascene moment came in late 2016. After months of searching he had found what he describes as a dream job in Maseru. He had however barely settled in the job when he was fired after crashing a company vehicle. He was drunk.

Finally, he told his mother about his addiction.

“She took it badly because she thought I was becoming like my father who was a heavy drinker. To her it was as if I was following in his footsteps.”
“He was an abusive man who spent all his money on alcohol.”
What really triggered the decision to get help, though, was a conversation he had with his sister who is still in high school. She had flunked her examination for the third time when Khotso decided he could play a brother’s role to advise her.

What the sister said shocked him, he said. “She said she cannot concentrate because she is always worried about me. She said she worries that one day something terrible will happen when I am drunk.”

“I realised the extent to which my addiction had affected not only my wife and children but also the people who are my closest relatives.”
He told his mother that he wanted to go into rehab. She is the one who paid the fees and is the only relative who visits him. Three months on Khotso is packing his bag to leave the centre.

“I feel good,” he tells thepost as he pulls his bag to the car.
“I want to move back with my mum, get a job and maybe start a business.”

He doesn’t think the marriage can be saved but he thinks he can still have a chance to be a better father to his son.
“I know that it will not be easy. The temptation starts today because I will be helping with a catering contract at a local club. I have to be strong for the sake of my future.”

l Thabo, whose story was published last week, was expelled three weeks before the graduation for theft.

l The story is part of the Lesotho’s Drug Scourge series thepost will publish over the next few months.

Shakeman Mugari &
Rose Moremoholo

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