Windhoek – Two weeks ago, on a Sunday afternoon, while in the rehabilitation centre, Sophia * (not her real name) made a bittersweet commitment to end her 25-year long relationship with alcohol.
“I took my pen and paper and wrote a letter breaking up with alcohol. I wrote a letter, saying, ‘hello my friend. I’m officially breaking up with you. Yes, you’ve given me good times and memories but more heartache and pain’,” said Sophia, sharing the content of the letter she wrote to her ‘long-time partner.’
Sophia, who also referred to alcohol as her ‘former husband’, told New Era Weekend that she found comfort in the bottle to escape her personal problems. Her parents divorced when she was nine years old.
“We moved to my grandmother’s house but she died when I was 12 years old,” narrated a tense Sophia, flicking her fingers, but for most of our interview a rather composed person.
That was when she started experimenting with alcohol and drugs to “escape reality”. Although she started off as a social drinker, Sophia gradually became addicted to alcohol.
“I always used to say that I don’t need to get married because the bottle is my husband. The bottle doesn’t backchat, it doesn’t command and I could use him whenever I needed to,” she says.
“It was my escape from reality. But it’s all just a justification for abusing alcohol. So recently I had to divorce him. Which actually did me well,” she says.
Sophia ended her dependency on alcohol at the Etegameno rehabilitation centre on the outskirts of Windhoek where she is booked for five weeks.
Writing the letter of commitment to end her addiction was the decision that she would never return to her old life.
“I gave the letter to my psychologist who read it to me and that was the first time that I heard what I wrote. Nobody told me to write the letter. I did it because I made a decision to end this,” said the 37-year-old.
“I made a decision to come here. I told myself I would complete the five weeks because I have the tools. But while I was here I entertained the thought of consuming alcohol,” she said.
But she found herself missing her old drinking buddies. “The day before I made the big decision I found myself thinking about my drinking buddies and some conversations that we had. The next morning I woke up with a taste of alcohol in my mouth and by lunchtime I was about to go insane,” she says.
She immediately ran to the nurse and explained that she was experiencing withdrawal symptoms. “I told her that I can’t concentrate, I taste alcohol in my mouth and she gave me Clorets bubble gum.”
“I tried my best to concentrate but my thoughts went to the taste of alcohol. I could literally taste the alcohol. I was about to go home. Being here (rehabilitation centre) is your choice – fortunately the sister told me that I’ve come too far to quit,” she said.
That was when she asked the nurse to give her a calming injection.
“I slept and the next morning I just said this is it. That’s how I came to my big decision of writing the letter to alcohol,” Sophia related.
Kicking an addiction needs a strong support structure. “You need to mentally prepare yourself for the physical effects and the withdrawal is no joke. You cannot do it on your own. I don’t know. You probably have to be Mary or Jesus to be able to do it on your own. It’s very tough,” she said.
Other than being resentful and aggressive, Sophia would speak her mind, often in the most vulgar way when under the influence of alcohol.
“I don’t ever want to see that person that I was. I never want to see the person I was even just two months ago. I want to be better. I want to be that person that my family looks up to.”
Sophia knew that it was time to seek professional help when one Monday morning in November 2016 at two in the morning, she found herself at the corner of Robert Mugabe and Sam Nujoma avenues in Klein Windhoek.
“I don’t know how I got there. I was definitely on foot, it was past two in the morning and I don’t know how I got there,” she said. She recalls only what her brother told her. That she called him from a stranger’s phone asking to be picked up.
“I don’t remember that. I only remember being at the traffic lights in Klein Windhoek and waking up in my bed,” she said. It was then that she was referred to Etegameno rehabilitation centre.
“The first thing that I’m going to do when I get out of rehab is to ask for forgiveness from my father because I was always trying to hurt him and bring him down. I resented him for divorcing my mother,” said Sophia, adding that she has forgiven herself for the destructive behaviour.
Alcohol made Sophia move from the safety of her family home to a shebeen, where she rented a room.
Her drinking habits got so bad that her friends started distancing themselves from her.
“My friends started to see me in a different light. I could start drinking at 2am but when it was time for work I would be there early and well dressed. And if you did not know me you wouldn’t say that I had a beer because I did not have slurry speech, I did not walk zigzag. I was not dirty and I was still capable of doing my job as I would when sober,” said Sophia.
She added: “But if you knew me very well you’d see from my eyes. So my friends that knew me very well evaporated slowly but surely. So I found myself only with the bad ones.”
Verona du Preez, the manager of Etegameno rehabilitation centre, said she has seen many people living a life of sobriety after seeking professional help. But she added that it takes commitment.
In fact, one of the admission requirements at the centre is for the client to be ‘strongly’ motivated for treatment and acknowledge their dependency on alcohol or drugs.
Most people would seek professional services when, for example, a spouse threatens them with divorce.
A regretful Sophia said with a deep sigh: “Don’t even try. Don’t even try because alcohol is a very good remover. But good in a bad sense.”
She added that alcohol destroys self-respect, dignity and very good friends.
“It can even remove your family. Fortunately for me and I see it with some other clients, our family hasn’t given up on us completely. There is still a little bit of hope,” she added, stressing that “a very good support structure” is important for addicts who are leaving rehab.
“I have been equipped with the tools to live a life free from alcohol but rehab for me starts on 08 March when I leave this place,” said Sophia. – New Era Weekend
• Her real name is not revealed to protect her identity.