Heroin devastated the lives of Anoux Venter and those close to her. In this extract from her book she describes her first encounter with the drug and the downward spiral that followed.
Although she nearly died her story also speaks of hope and triumph - she has been clean for six years.
The first time
Raine, my boyfriend, said he wanted to introduce me to his boss and some work colleagues. He also told me he was going to introduce me to Brown Sugar.
To be honest I can't remember what or who I thought Brown Sugar was but heroin was definitely not on my list. It never was. I would have had a fit if I had realised. Yet I must have known it was some sort of drug; after all, I knew drugs had strange names.
Brett, his manager, was gay. He lived in a stunning flat right up against Table Mountain. I was impressed. The minute I walked into the flat I felt comfortable.
The living room was dark and cosy; they'd draped coloured sheets over the lamps which made the light soft and inviting and there were plenty of comfy couches to sit on.
They must have been smoking joints because I could smell dagga the moment I came in. I was surprised as they didn't look like the type of people who smoked. After I'd met everyone and all the pleasantries had been exchanged they asked if we were ready to chase the dragon.
I was nervous when they took out the lighters and tiny plastic bombs full of brown powder. I assumed the powder was the infamous Brown Sugar, whatever it was.
Hooked on my boyfriend
Looking back I can't believe I could ever have been so stupid, naïve and desperate for Raine's love, but that day I was all of those things. And that made all the difference.
In my eyes he was the best thing in the world and he was mine. I wasn't willing to lose him. I would follow him, just like I did that evening, anywhere he wanted, pathetic and quiet in his shadow.
So when the foil came round to me my curiosity got the better of me and I tried it.
It was merely an experiment for me. Just to be a part of something, just for love.
But in truth it was much, much more than that. So much more.
Many people say the first time they smoked heroin they felt sick and threw up so everyone was surprised I handled it so well. My first drag on death was like any other drug I'd ever tried: wonderful.
The high of heroin
The experience was more than wonderful. There are no words to truly describe how it felt. I lay back and became one with the couch. Every raw nerve ending numbed. The sounds became softer, the lights prettier, my breathing easier, even Raine became softer and seemed to disappear in the midst of my newfound ecstasy.
I was alone on a cloud drifting far away from everything and everyone and for the first time ever I was okay with being and feeling alone. I'd always been afraid to be alone.
I'm not romanticising that first time; that's what it felt like to me. I should never have taken that first drag. I was built to love it. Some of us just are. Our personalities, weaknesses, fears and flesh are just made to worship heroin. You'll never know if you're made for it unless you try it. And then it's too late.
At first we weren't using much. We were sharing a quarter gram between the two of us every day. A quarter gram cost only R30. Loose change.
Everything was easy and harmless. Just a game and a means to stay with my love. We didn't go out often any more and I enjoyed all the attention he was giving me. We never fought and I was permanently on my cloud. The portions became bigger. I didn't realise. Or did I?
It happened so fast I never even realised I had progressed from being a casual user. I didn't want to go without it. I didn't even want to try. We were permanently high. Day in and day out. My brain had given over and ceased trying to stop me. The more I did, the more I loved it.
We started to retreat more and more every day. We would hide in the darkened room all day long, hiding and doing our drugs, trying combinations of all sorts.
There was nothing on the market we weren't using. I stopped rationalising and just gave over and enjoyed it.
My body takes a knock
Eventually my body took a knock and I started getting terribly sick after a line of coke. I would vomit, feel better, then come back for more. I kept trying until it stayed in. I didn't know how to maintain it, but even less how to stop.
The more cocaine we used, the more heroin we had to use to come down from the hectic buzz. It was out of control. I fell into the claws of addiction at a terrifying speed. I had to use every day. I couldn't even go a couple of hours without it.
My nose would run uncontrollably and I would get severe cramps in my back. One small hit was enough to make me feel normal again. Heavenly.
I tried to lie to myself, tried to convince myself that I was still in control but I started to see the lie. I saw the lie when my back was aching and I had snot running down my lip. When you realise that only heroin can take that feeling away, then you must know.
I started using more and more. The withdrawal became heavier and more intense. I couldn't sleep late any more. If I slept longer than six hours I would be woken up by the cramps. My metabolism had become like Raine's used to be.
My body had adapted to the doses I had pumped into it and I needed more and more just to feel okay, just to feel normal. Heroin was no longer nice, but I needed it to keep the cramps away.
Facing the family
On Christmas Day I woke up late with a fright. I had to go to church; my mother didn't want to hear any excuses. None.
I hated church more than ever.
I couldn't face God. I was too ashamed. I was sure He wouldn't want to know me any more anyway. Why would He? I hadn't spoken to Him in years. I did everything that was against His will and even if I'd wanted to fix things, I was too weak.
My nose was running when I opened my eyes that morning, my muscles tight. I knew I had only one grain of heroin left. I'd forgotten about having to go to church. I was used to being able to wake up early and go to score, but not that morning.
I carefully smoked the last heroin I had and prayed it would last. How ironic. I prayed, for the first time in ages, that the effect of the heroin would last through the service. What a sick joke. But pray I did, feverishly, because I knew if it didn't, last I would be in hell.
The service was a nightmare. It was as if the devil was sitting next to me and teasing me. The withdrawal came fast and furious. My nose was streaming and I sat sniff-sniffing the entire time.
After a while my mom became irritated and handed me a tissue. Only one tissue? That wasn't nearly enough. My legs were cramping and I sat with my feet tick-ticking against each other.
I shut my eyes tight and prayed once again that the service would end, but the devil didn't answer my prayers. It was the longest service ever. I left the church in tears, God's disappointment warm upon my cheeks.
I was going to get help, I decided. One of these days. But I needed just one more hit.
While I was at work one day my mom called. She was offish and said she wanted to see me the following day at two o'clock in her office. I could hear in her voice it was serious. I was immediately afraid. I'd never heard her talk like that before.
That day she was sad and angry all at once. Funny, I thought to myself, as she wasn't usually an emotional person. I wondered what could possibly be so serious.
We sat across from each other and looked each other straight in the eye. I felt extremely uncomfortable.
She said nothing. I said nothing. She waited and waited. I couldn't handle it and asked her in a quivering voice what was wrong.
She was calmer than I thought she would be. She answered me without yelling or screaming. She said she wanted to know from me what was wrong.
I took a deep breath and started my lie: "Don't worry, I'm fine, everything is under control.'' My mother was furious. I couldn't understand why; I was indeed okay and everything was under control. I realised I had to say something more.
I told her I smoked dagga. I tried to comfort her and explain it wasn't as bad as she thought it was. If she wanted me to stop I would. No big deal. But the more I talked, the angrier she became.
It's all over
I realised with a nauseating shock everything was over; she knew and I wouldn't be able to talk my way out of this one. The nausea pushed up in my throat and for a moment I thought I was going to be sick right there in my mom's office.
She told me I had one more chance and I knew she was serious. It was the weirdest feeling. The moment I surrendered my body went limp as if the demons were being drawn out one by one. They couldn't handle the deceit. They also knew what was coming: the end.
I took another deep breath and just let go. My mouth opened and shut and I couldn't stop what was flowing out of it. The relief was enormous. It was as if the heaviest weight was being lifted from me.
My tears came fast, so fast it took my breath away. I sat and cried in my mom's office, the strangest place for a confession. I would never have thought it would all end like that.
When I looked up I expected her eyes to be hard and unforgiving. Instead they were soft and loving. She wasn't angry and there were no accusations, just unconditional love and support. She was relieved.
She broke the silence with the news we had to get going. I didn't even want to ask where to because I knew. It plunged me back to reality. I sat upright, ready to fight again.
The relief had been so overwhelming I had for a while forgotten the consequences my confession would carry. The tension returned to my back and my fingers clung to the edge of the chair.
Going it alone
The word ''rehabilitation''had barely passed her lips when I explained in no uncertain terms I would run away if she took me to rehab. I was in no position to negotiate but I was determined to fight for my freedom.
I was happy to have everything out in the open but not happy enough to be locked up in an institution. My mother wanted to know what I suggested we do.
I'd never given it serious thought and I knew I had only one other option and that was to do it at home. Alone. She was sceptical, but prepared to give me one chance. The agreement was I would be allowed to try it my way, but if it didn't work I'd have to give in and go to rehab.
I woke up with a cramping stomach and severe nausea. I was used to the nausea, but this time it was stormy and I hardly made it to the bathroom in time. Nothing stayed down, not even water. It hardly hit bottom before it was pushed back up again.
I was weak and sore. My stomach carried on cramping and I was sweating and had goosebumps at the same time.
I wet myself. I was a junkie, just like the ones on TV people find lying in their own piss, vomit and sweat. I was no better than them.
That was my first day. The first of seven torturous days. By day five I was sure I was dying. I was empty. I was a skeleton. There was nothing inside me and I was sure I'd vomited out even my soul.
I was too ashamed to even look at myself in the mirror. I was dried up and desperately needed liquid, vitamins and food, but nothing would stay down. I could feel I was using up the last bit of my energy. I wasn't going to make it, and I didn't care.
Darren, who worked with me at the restaurant, had a mother who was a nurse and she sometimes helped people detox. She was my last option. When we called her, she didn't hesitate in offering me help.
She said I needed liquids as soon as possible otherwise my body would go into shock and that could lead to a heart attack. She wanted to know how long ago I had used something and what medication I was on.
When I said I was already on day five without any medication or professional help she was shocked and explained to me how terribly dangerous it was. Injections helped me to stop vomiting, but I still wasn't ready for solid food.
Soup and injections
I had to drink a soup which pumped energy into my veins. After just a few hours I was able to sit upright without feeling as if I was about to fall over. Injections and soup, injections and soup, over and over.
I thought I would soon feel better but I didn't. I'd hoped I'd found the quick fix I'd spent years searching for, but Darren's mother made it very clear to me I'd have to be patient.
She smiled at me all the time. It irritated me. Everything was wrong. I wanted to be able to feel like her. I couldn't remember the last time I'd truly smiled about anything.
I was angry at my mom, because she didn't know what to do with me, at my father who didn't even know, at Raine because he started everything, at myself for not stopping when I had the chance. Most of all I was angry with myself, because I hadn't said no that very first day in Brett's flat.
At that point I surrendered myself to God. The weight I was carrying was just too much and I couldn't do it alone any longer. I was bent over double from the burden and called upon God to come and help me.
Abby, my therapist, was the last link in my road to freedom and she saved my life. She understood me. She knew where I was and why.
She explained to me and my mom that although I'd been extremely brave to detox alone, it had also been very dangerous. Rehab was much more than merely a place to detox or to overcome the physical aspects of addiction, it also taught you how to work out your emotions. It helped you become a part of society again.
At the beginning I was under the impression that when the physical pain was gone and the longing for heroin had subsided, everything would automatically fall into place.
She explained it was only the beginning of the battle - a battle I'd have to fight for the rest of my life. And even though it becomes easier as time passes, addiction is a demon that would never be permanently destroyed.
The road to healing
It has been six years since that day in my mom's office. I'm whole again. I'm married to the most wonderful and patient man in the world.
A man who has never met my former lover, but allows me to grieve for my past now and again when I feel it necessary. A man who has walked the path of healing with me and has never judged me for my past. He loves me, truly loves me.
I need nothing more than what I have. I desire no more than what my family has already given me: love, support and forgiveness. I have learnt to live with God at my side.
Demon Lover - My Addiction to Heroin by Anoux Venter is published by Human & Rousseau, a division of NB Publishers. It costs R135. ISBN-10 0-7981-4815-2/ISBN-13 978-0-7981- 4815-3
Anoux can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
YOU Pulse; Summer, December 2007