SLICE OF LIFE: The message in a bottle

My name is Tshego Mokgabudi and I am a substance abuser.

Like a large number of people my age, I indulge in drinking and smoking, often.

I have not always seen this as a problem. As long as it did not affect my schoolwork and relationships then I felt it was all fine. But after speaking to a very brave and inspiring man, Kolopo Kganyago, a Bachelor of Education graduate who beat his addictions, I came to realise that maybe all wasn’t so well with myself.

He told me the story of his fight with substance abuse and, in his story, I found many of the same difficulties in my own life.

My substances are cigarettes and booze. I drink alcohol almost every second day and buy a box of cigarettes at the same rate. Honestly speaking, this has been the case since I was in first year. I am in my honours now. Scary.

I began drinking when I was 14 and began drinking on a daily basis when I left home for varsity at 18. I think the fact that I no longer had my mom’s hawk eyes watching over me every day really did create a sense of liberation in me. In this liberation, I revelled socially as my drinking got worse and worse. At first, drinking seemed like fun but more and more it became a compulsion.

On a daily basis I battle with depression, anxiety, loneliness and everything else that comes with being in your early 20s. Maybe I see these substances as some kind of solution.

When you’re six or seven beers down on a Tuesday night, not having started an assignment due the next morning, everything really does get overwhelming. That’s when I had to admit to myself that I do have a problem.

Our image of a person struggling with substance abuse often is someone with needle pricks all up their arm. Or someone stealing money from friends and family just to feed their habits. I find that that makes it harder for us to see ourselves in that light. It is almost as if we don’t fit the profile then we’re alright.

I like to believe that I’m a good person. I have a good relationship with my mom with whom I speak daily. I have a good relationship with my brother and friends, many of whom are from my primary school days. I’m in a romantic relationship and I like to think I give it my all. That’s why I didn’t see myself as fitting the profile of a substance abuser.

I realise now that the problem was exactly that. I was too afraid to be honest with myself.

Looking back, I think that is one of the reasons why substance abuse is so dangerous. It is not reflected upon. It is unacknowledged. It is the unspoken. When you talk about it, people don’t appreciate the bravery it takes to admit these things.

It begins with admitting to yourself that you are a substance abuser and working out why it is you are one.

Look at the triggers that make you want a drink or a smoke and remove them from your life.

Figure out which environments and friends are enablers for your problem and cut them out.

These are the little ways that I have been trying to work on my habit since admitting to myself that I have a problem.

Every day is a struggle but taking it one step at a time really does make all the difference.

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