Not too long ago he was a drug addict tottering on the edge of a dark, crime-filled precipice. Today, in his early 30s, he is a published author and anti-abuse activist.
Thando had a happy childhood. His mom, Francis, although raising him as a single parent, created a stable, nurturing environment for her son. A creative person who juggled study, work and motherhood, she sent Thando to a good Model C school and planted a love of reading and writing deep within him.
Then tragedy struck. When he was just 10 years old, Thando’s mom died after being involved in a car accident. Thando was in the car at the time, and the image of her fighting for her life on the roadside is one he cannot forget.
He stayed for a while in Margate with family members but says he was a troublesome and unruly youth and when he was 15, he was sent to Johannesburg to live with his older brother.
Books helped dull the pain and transport him to magical worlds but in high school, he was introduced to dagga and found another way to forget his ‘sad reality’. He became addicted to alcohol and marijuana and dropped out of high school.
Despite his addiction, Thando managed to maintain the facade of normalcy, studying photography and then working as a photojournalist. Drugs are demanding companions, however, and expensive to keep. As a working professional, he had more money to feed his bad habits and soon, the course of his life was being dictated by his addiction. By then, he was hooked on methcathinone, which is commonly known as cat.
“I quit working and went on various self-finding paths and trying to get clean on my own. After committing a crime, I realised that I needed professional help if I was to turn my life around.
“I was tired of not being able to trust myself, tired of apologising and not being in control. I could not live without drugs but they no longer gave me a high. I had no happiness, only ruined relationships and mounting debt.”
In February 2017, he arrived at Wedge Gardens treatment centre in Whitney Gardens, outside of Johannesburg.
“Their holistic approach worked for me,” he says, explaining that Wedge Gardens did not only treat the root causes of his addiction, but armed him with the skills needed to deal with relapse triggers and helped him strengthen his life skills.
“Mental wellness is essential when it comes to beating addiction. Often, rehab centres focus on the physical effects and neglect the emotional scars.
“We must remember that drug addiction and substance abuse are a symptom of a problem. They are a mental health issue of which little awareness is raised, while there is also limited access and visibility of mental health wellness facilities in our communities.”
In July, he and another recovering addict registered the Bam-Francis Foundation, a non-profit company that seeks to provide creative solutions to address alcoholism and drug dependence.
Their catchphrase is ‘pioneering change’ and that is what Thando seeks to do every time he gives a motivational talk. He hopes too that his newly-published book will give tangible proof that there is life after addiction.
“I started the book, which is a collection of poetry, before I went to Wedge Gardens but because I was in active addiction, I could never get it finished. My mom was a poet and poetry was my way of reaching out to her so finishing the book was a priority when I left Wedge Gardens.”
Uno Flatu: In one Breath was published by the foundation, which Thando says aims to publish the work of other recovering addicts and to produce additional resource material in the future. The book was launched at Wedge Gardens on December 7.
The Troyeville resident has this advice for recovering addicts: “Put as much effort into your recovery as you did your addiction.”
* Wedge Gardens can be reached at 011 430 0320. You can also ‘like’ Wedge Gardens on Facebook (www.facebook.com/WedgeGardensTreatmentCentre) or follow them on Twitter (@WedgeGardens)
* The Bam-Francis Foundation can be found on Facebook: bamfrancisfoundation