Royal Hotel suit and tie, to on the streets filth and drugs – The journey of how I went from an internship at the Royal Hotel to trying to run away from Durban hitching to Cape Town.
I had been to rehab and heard what others who had suffered from drug addiction had said, stuff like alcohol is a trigger; don’t stop going to meetings and church; stay away from places where you used to hang out or use at; and don’t mix with those same friends you used to use with. But they can’t tell me what to do – who do they think they are? They had no clue that I would be working at the royal hotel studying at an international hotel school accredited by an American standards institution. I was at the best job I had ever had and studying through the best college I ever had (thanks to my loving mother and sisters who went through great lengths to get me accepted).
Well I was doing pretty well – I was a Christian who got born again in rehab and came out and got stuck in a church for a few weeks. I found work to occupy most of my time and I enjoyed it, mostly because of being a people’s person and I enjoy serving and learning about how to be a great manager. As 2 months of being clean and sober outside of rehab passed I started having this “I can do this” attitude, meaning “I can live without attending AA/NA meetings or even church. My life is at the beginning of its great future – I don’t need these meetings to hold me back. I can hang around the shops where I used to hangout now. Come on, I’m fine.”
The staff/interns at the royal were having parties every week and I would go with them occasionally and just drink a coke or something. In rehab I apparently stopped smoking cigarettes, but that wasn’t really the case; I used to secretly find a place to smoke a cigarette where nobody would see me. Even my family and friends thought I had stopped. But slowly I started smoking openly with my colleagues and eventually my family knew. I remember my sister clearly saying “I just hope you don’t go back to the drugs” and of course I said I wouldn’t. One night there was a big party hosted by the royal hotel staff and I remember clearly wanting to drink but not wanting anyone to know, so I left the party and went to Joe Cools, a club at the beach. Those double brandy and cokes brought that tingling tipsy feeling back, and even though from sheer self-disappointment I didn’t drink again for at least 2 weeks, the memory of the feeling was with me and I slightly craved it.
There was no fear of a drug relapse, no! I just had a drink; I didn’t spend a grand on a full moon (Crack cocaine) or something. Well the thought that I can have a drink once every 2 weeks and be able to maintain control sneaked in. I didn’t see this as a slow spiral back to old behaviour; no, this was the new and improved Mac. He now has control over his drinking and smokes cigarettes, doesn’t go to church much since he works most Sundays (excuse), and he doesn’t need a support group because he has control. I had had at least 4 episodes of drinking once every 2 weeks (nobody but those who were in the bar knew about these) and on my 5th episode I got so wasted I passed out somewhere and only got back home the next day. You would really think this was old behaviour wouldn’t you? Not me. I could fix this. Well the next time I got very drunk to the point I knew if I went home my mom would know, therefore I needed to fix this! I needed to get sober. How? Crack gets you sober; of course I would know this. Eish! We all can hear and see what’s going on here but somehow I still believed I had control.
While this was going on for a period of about a month and a half, I would not arrive at work on some of those days when I had a jol the night before. I had a tavern I always used to hang out at and I would sleep at the back there by the merchants place. Yes, smoking weed (marijuana) again and drinking as much as possible because I was under lots of stress trying to not lose the good boy image which I had wrecked a couple of times already. It wasn’t long until one day I spent my whole pay cheque (R5000) on Crack. 25th December 2009 I didn’t spend with my family, I came back on Boxing Day, changed my clothes and left for a party. I only came back on the 31st (New Year’s Eve) and did the same thing.
In the industry of taking drugs you generally don’t smoke alone. It’s not that you can’t – you can and definitely sometimes you will. But when you are going to go buy there is usually someone hanging around who is trying to hustle people who are going to the bar or are buying from the dealer. They ask people for loans and if they can smoke with you. If you one day gave them a smoke then you can say “remember last time I hooked you up?” You can even go home and try seeing what you can sell like Cell Phone, Clothes, anything valuable. So I obviously had no phone anymore and I lied to my mom and sisters and said I had been robbed.
Work had given me a last written warning before Christmas so I believed that I now had no more chances, and my dream of being a restaurant manager melted away like the crack when it was in the pipe and I inhaled it. It was gone! After New Year’s I never went back home. I couldn’t face my family because I was guilty, full of shame and embarrassed. I hung out and slept by the bar at the bottom of Umbilo where the dealers were, and I met a guy named Andrea when he one day called me to smoke with him. He told me that he is homeless and I asked him how he gets money to smoke and he said he hustles. He said he asks people for broken appliances and he fixes them and then sells them. After he and I got close because he would come back to the bar every day to buy, he asked me if I wanted to go with him, to which I agreed. I had spent at least a whole week sleeping at the back of the tavern, the mommas and the merchants liked me so they were very helpful to me, and they fed me and gave me weed and cigarettes. So Andrea and I became friends I would follow his lead because he knew how to hustle on these streets. I was just hopeless and full of guilt and shame and just wanted to disappear.
Thinking about those times right now makes me want to cry because I did not feel loved even though in my heart I would always talk to God. I felt like a naughty child whom God would not help because of what I was doing and how I was acting. I still asked for help though. So we would go around the areas of Montclair and ask people for their broken appliances or even phones or any old things they wanted to get rid of. People would give us irons, wooden furniture and even broken phones. They would also give us food and something to drink. He showed me how to always check garages, to check if they were open, and bicycles were what we mainly looked for when doing this. We had a dealer who would give us half a moon for one bike. We occasional found other things in garages like electrical appliances (drills, etc.), which we would steal and sell. Andrea was street smart; he was not afraid to do the most stupid things just so he could get his way. Well I was stupid as well by thinking he was a worthy teacher for me to follow. We slept all over the show – post office steps, train station benches, behind the bar, a broken down car in Clairwood (we made friends with a mechanic who owned it, he wanted us to sell appliances to him).
I still had a gym card which my mom was obviously still paying for because whenever I got close to South Way Mall (where gym was) I would go and have a shower there. My clothes where not clean though. Andrea had a mother who stayed in Yellowwood Park with his step dad who didn’t want him there because he stole from them every chance he got. His mom, though, was still concerned about him and wanted him to get a job. He took me to go see her a couple times and we would go there during the day when he believed that his step dad was not there. His mom would feed us and he would bath on occasions and we would then leave. I remember seeing her cry once or twice when we left. She liked me for some reason and she asked me to help him.
There we go, I now believed I had a purpose – to help this guy get a job and clean up. So we attempted to stop smoking Rocks (crack). We drank more and we started smoking sugars on occasion. I would just sweat and vomit nearly every time I smoked it, so I was reluctant to do it. I preferred getting drunk (in attempt to drown my sorrows). He came up with an idea I jumped at and was so keen to do. He said we should go to Cape Town and I got psyched up. He said we could hitch a ride from truck drivers. I believed him. He kept smoking sugars and I started getting frustrated with him a lot because of this. I would constantly encourage him that we should look for a job or start our journey to Cape Town. I believed I was going to start a new life in Cape Town and I would be away from all this shame and guilt.
Towards the end of our relationship we become like a husband and wife just arguing a lot. We started sleeping at a shelter on Point Road and there was more sugars being sold around there than anything else. One day he left in the morning with another guy whom he had become friends with overnight, and he told me I should meet him back there at 17:00. So I walked around town alone the whole day. I went to the beach and had a swim (bath) and after a long day of not being able to do what he did because I was shy and scared when he wasn’t there, I eventually came back to the shelter that evening and he wasn’t there. I got shattered. I had no mission and my dream to go with him to Cape Town was gone. I spent another day walking around Durban, and when I came back to the shelter in the afternoon I saw him, but from our conversation I got that he was in a hurry with that new friend of his, and he just wasn’t interested in how I was or how I had spent my days. I knew then that I should try making my way to Cape Town by myself.
I somehow hustled and somehow got some money, because I remember that I bought some bread, juice and fruit. And so I was off. I headed towards where the old airport was and walking on that road I hitched. I had a little bag with that bread and stuff and a little bible and a shirt and a pair of pants. I walked for ages with no trucker giving me a lift. I got to Toti and went towards the beach for a break. With determination to get to the Cape I again went towards the highway for another session of scorching heat. To my luck this time a truck driver stopped and he said he was going to stop somewhere by Park Rynie. I accepted the lift, and although he wanted some money I told him I had none; he graciously took me anyway. It was getting dark when we arrived so I slept on the beach somewhere by Park Rynie. I had a very soul searching session at the beach (every time I’m at the beach alone I have a God moment).
The next day I ate the last of the little bit of bread I had and I then knew I had a problem. So I continued walking along the train tracks on the beach down the South Coast, I vegetated on a beach the whole morning, and around midday I started trying to get back to the highway. On my way I walked past a house which had no fence and I heard the maid laughing out loud while a gentleman was talking to her. The house door was open although the gate was closed but not locked. On the left hand side of the door there was a bicycle just leaning against the wall. Long story short, I stole that bicycle in such a way that I qualified myself as a professional bike thief. Yes, believe it or not at that moment I thought I was brilliant in terms of how I stole the bike 007-style. It is sickening to think that I got a rush and a proud moment in my head about orchestrating a criminal activity. I surely see now that it’s not something to be proud of.
Well then another journey started. I tried going to the local pawn shop to sell the bike but due to the long process it took I had no better idea than to cycle all the way back to Durban which I did. I went to my dealer, sold the bike for R500, bought R300 worth of crack, and then bought a bunny chow and beers with the rest. That evening I found myself sitting at the beach with this distinct thought that I had lost my mind. My legs were finished, and I had tried to go to Cape Town but only got as far as an area by the South Coast and was back in Durban with no plan. Realising my insanity I decided to pray for help. I asked God what to do (sitting on a beach again) and I remember sensing/hearing that I should go to an old friend’s house. This guy was a police officer and I believed he would help me.
That was the 1st day of the end of my homelessness; the hard journey back home began. My “run away from home and world as I had known it” (homelessness) had come to an end, a harsh, dark, sad and twisted evil time of around 2 and a half months. Honestly, I’m glad I made it out alive.
My friend gave me a caravan to sleep in and he fed me and I could have a bath at his place. He was an alcoholic and he did smoke weed, so that part didn’t help, but at least I could cover myself with a blanket and was clean all the time. He encouraged me to go home and tell my mom where I was, and I eventually did. I got my clothes and had decent stuff to wear. My habits hadn’t changed drastically, but I eventually got a job as a waiter at a nearby Spur because of my history in hospitality. The job didn’t last long. I just spent the money on alcohol and drugs, and would not pitch up to work. My mom eventually convinced me to come back home; she was so worried about me. She never gave up. I could see her spirit crying out for my life to come into order, and I could see the hurt she went through because of me was supressed by the relentless hope and love she had for me. Even though I had lost hope in myself. She really has gone through a lot because of me and I would not be who I am and where I am if God did not use her to be there for me the way he did. I was her son, nobody else’s, and I thank God she never fully gave up. Thinking about her and what she went through makes me what to cry again.
Well my behaviour still didn’t change, but at least I was back at home. A failure filled with shame and guilt, but I was back home. My sisters didn’t want to see me or help me, but at least I was back home.
This article was about my homeless phase, which ended there. But to leave it there would leave you wondering… so I eventually reconciled with my mother, and my sisters and moved home. I stayed clean and drug free and now 5 years after this episode my life is starting to impact others and has meaning and purpose.