Depression and Drugs
As a teenager, I developed an intense longing for someone who I could look up to for advice and guidance, someone I could talk to about my problems.
An older friend of mine, Juan Smith impressed me and I started following his example, beginning with smoking. I told him about my depression, the dark mess in which I found myself and unable to see a way out. He told me that he was struggling with similar issues and we connected. At last, someone understood. I desperately wanted to gain his favour and prove myself to him in some way. We started hanging out with two other friends, started wearing earrings and drinking alcohol with them. It felt comforting to be part of a definite group instead of standing alone like an outcast who never shared in anything.
I would have liked to discuss all this with my family, but did not want to burden them with my problems. I could not take the liberty of talking to my mother either. When my friend persuaded me to go along to night clubs, I felt like they cared about me and gave me the acceptance I craved.
This was the beginning of finding my escape in friends, parties and drugs. Juan told me one day, “Damn, you are the best. That’s why I look up to you.” It was the most wonderful feeling to see the esteem in other people’s eyes. They did not realise I was smoking dagga, let alone battling depression. It became an effort to achieve in school, but I alone knew why. I felt proud of having control over my body and was unafraid to start experimenting with drugs. I had faith in my strong will and that I could stop any time. This was not a logical move, but the depression became worse, consuming me from the inside. I felt invincible. My reasoning was ridiculous and stupid. The experience of being high is fantastic, a wonderful escape from depression...or so I thought.
Eventually, I was so far gone that I had to keep using the drugs to avoid withdrawal symptoms and it dawned on me: “I cannot stop using drugs.” It was no longer a matter of being “the best” or experiencing an emotional high. I was shocked as I realised I was now a drug addict - Juan and me both. The drugs and medication also clashed and there were some close calls where I felt I was inches from death. My schoolwork suffered. After school, I had to roll a dagga joint and smoke it on the way home. It was a consuming pain to realise that my parents would not even notice it. Although we lived in the same home, ate at the same table, we had become strangers. I often wondered if they did not even notice my red eyes.
Why did I not run to God for safety? By this time, I had lost all my friends, except for Juan, because he faced the same struggles I did. I often thought: “They don’t have to care about me; they are all just stupid nerds.” I knew I was inherently a good person; I would dust myself off from the negative consequences of my actions. My trembling was only tension. I would overcome, I thought. Reality would bring me to my senses and I realised I was just a broken person, left without any willpower. The pain in my stomach was from cheap drugs (mixed with cement and rat poison by the dealer).
One Bible verse would always come to mind through it all, like an anchor to cling to:
“The Lord also will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble."
I was living from moment to moment, without any self-respect. It no longer bothered me that I used stolen money to buy supplies from the dealer.
I wished with all my heart I could go back to where I was before I messed with drugs, but knew I could not. I avoided my parents and hit my head against the wall in frustration. I wished I had the courage to commit suicide. Juan leaned on me, thinking I was the strong one who would lift us both out of this pit. I thought I was the weakling. “What and who am I now? An empty shell? A helpless creature stealing his parents’ money for drugs.” It was my life. Juan said we should try Crack, Coke, Ecastacy and Acid (LSD), but it did not help. I hated myself so much and to make matters worse, had started mingling with a group of Satanists. They recommended heroin. I had a tiny bit of will power left and refused. I have no idea what Juan did. The following year, I used more drugs than before. I was driven by a force outside of myself. My school work suffered so much that it was only with immense effort that I managed to pass grade11.
I was suddenly seized with an urge to run away during the school holidays. I was sick and tired of everything and everyone, including myself. I decided to go and explore the streets of Hillbrow. I had heard that the Nigerians were in control of the drug trafficking. I remembered reading that it was the place where anything – from drugs to sex and stolen items – could be gained with money and a nod of the head. I felt guilty as I packed my backpack for the journey. How would my mother feel? How would she cope? I wondered. We lived in separate worlds, but she was still my mother. I continued using drugs and braved the unknown. I just had to get away from this depression, guilt and darkness.
My mother’s face stayed on my mind. I could not think of anyone else. It felt like people chased me into this wilderness. It seemed as though when I was among people, they were cold towards me, yet when I was with Jesus, I was the person I used to be. I arrived in Hillbrow, seeing the drug addicts as I explored and feeling at one with them. I was a living corpse. I should have brought Juan with me. I missed him and it was hell, living alone, fighting depression and drug addiction, begging people for a little bread and surviving without food or shelter. I missed home and often thought of Juan. There was plenty of food at home and always a can of money, used by the maid to buy bread, milk and vegetables. I used to steal from it for whatever I needed. Money was not always enough. I once sold my expensive school blazer to get money for drugs and told my mother that the blazer was stolen at school and new ones are much more expensive. She handed over the amount, unaware that half of it would go towards more drugs. I know it was the last thing on her mind, that her son was using drugs. Parents always suspect other children but never their own.
Three days after selling nearly all my clothes in Hillbrow, I decided to return home. I felt that no one at home loved me there, but at least at home there was food and a bed to sleep in. I phoned Juan when I got home, but there was no answer. My mother raised an eyebrow when she came home from work andsaw me there. I had already showered and dressed in clean clothes and probably looked quite respectable.
“I am back, mom! Wow, what a rough survival camp. The teachers were strict. Sorry mom, but I borrowed money from a friend. We ran away at night to buy junkfood and it was not nearly as good as your food.” She fell for the whole story and gave me money without a word.
“Go and return the money immediately,” she said. “I’m thankful you are home. Your eyes are red, you must have burned in the sun.”
My mom was worried about me. Maybe she really did love me? It was a good feeling.
“Go on, now,” she said. I bought more drugs with the money, depending on what was available. New drugs frequently appeared on the market, complete with instructions. My mom popped into my room early the next morning before she left for work. “Are you okay?” she asked. I just smiled, nodded and gave her a thumbs-up. Her small gesture of asking whether I was okay, touched me deeply. I decided to get help for my problem. I also had to prove to Juan that I was strong enough. Juan leaned on me. I realised with a shock, however, that my old “invincible” will power was gone like grass in the wind. I was so trapped in the merciless clutches of depression and drugs, I had no resistance whatsoever. Drugs were my lifeline – they pulled me through the dark depths, or so I thought. My mother’s little question haunted me. I confessed everything to her that night, crying and pouring out all my brokenness. I was afraid she would reject me.
Instead, she embraced me. “We must get help for you, today!” she said. A hired car took me to a rehabilitation clinic the next day, but I had to return before school started even though I was not completely clean yet. The people at the clinic were wonderful and did their best to make me feel special, but it still did not penetrate what I felt inside. It was pure torture to survive without my lifeline. Withdrawal was hell and it was a bitter struggle to rebuild my life. The road of recovery is very long, but I earnestly wanted to leave the drugs – not just for myself but also for Juan. I was a hero in his eyes, although I was the one who initially looked up to him.
One of the staff at the clinic told me that the car was waiting to take me home. It was finally time to leave. I greeted them and as I walked down the corridor, I heard a blood-curdling scream from one of the rooms. I knew it must be a newcomer. Had I also screamed and moaned like that? I wondered. I could not judge the person, because in that stage, it feels like you are dying. No pen can write a fitting description of that suffering and helplessness. I was now free of drugs, but still struggled with depression.
It was the same car in which I came to the clinic, but this time, my mother was in the car. My heart leaped. She came to greet me with a kiss. We sat in the back and started talking. “Have you heard anything from Juan, Mom?” I asked. “I miss him.”
She looked caught off guard and hesitated. She took my hand and said, “My son, I have bad news for you. Juan’s mother phoned yesterday. He died of an overdose. He committed suicide. His funeral is at eleven tomorrow morning and she asked you to come and be one of the bearers.”
I was shaken. How could God do this to me, now that I need Him so much? In the clinic, I had regained my trust in God, but now I felt disappointed. Juan was my only friend. I sobbed in my mother’s arms. She held me tighter and wiped away my tears. I wanted to jump out of the car and flee. I wanted “something” to just help me feel better right then, to take away this dreadful pain. My mom whispered softly: “You are going through deep waters today, but trust in theLord. He will carry you through it.” It became quiet within me. My mom and I had not spoken so tenderly in many years; I had thought she had forgotten God.
There was an eerie silence in the church among the undertakers. A cold silence. The large, silver-coloured coffin’s lid was taken off and Juan’s mother stood on one side, dressed in black. “I am grateful that you came. Juan talked so much about you, if only you knew,” she said brokenly. “It was my fault that we lived past each other. I thought that the big monthly allowance I gave him would compensate for my and his father’s absence in our ridiculous pursuit of pleasure. It is my fault that my son lays here today.”
I automatically moved forward to put my hand on her shoulder. “Don’t ever say that again. It is no one’s fault.” She showed a glimmer of a smile through the pain. “I hope all his friends are here today, so that they can see what drugs do to you.”
I finally looked at the body in the coffin and shock thudded through me. I nearly fainted at the sight of him. The pale face, blue around the lips spoke volumes of agony. His face was twisted and not even the calm of death could change it. One of my friends came by and everyone’s face was filled with the same horror. I was overwhelmed with regret, followed by indescribable sadness. My mom and I went home afterward and everything was now totally different from the previous day. You can also read more about me Hendrik Duvenhage or visit my official website of Hendrik Duvenhage