Tribe Sober – Inspiring an Alcohol-free Life!
My guest this week has an extraordinary story of recovery to share – she’s gone from a homeless heroin addict living on the streets of Jo’burg to a highly respected public figure here in SA. Melinda Ferguson is an award-winning South African journalist and author of bestselling memoirs Smacked, Hooked and Crashed. She is also a publisher and runs writing courses to help people find their voice.
In this Episode
- Growing up in an alcoholic household, Melinda took to booze at an early age – describing it as a “piece of heaven”.
- As she got older, she rejected alcohol as she hated to see her mother drinking so turned towards hard drugs, taking her first hit of heroin at the age of 24.
- As a film maker she managed to stay relatively functional for a couple of years – she always had it in mind that she would be able to stop whenever she wanted to.
- I think a lot of us drinkers are like that – thinking we could stop anytime, its only when we actually try to quit or even to cut down that we realise we have become dependent.
- When she became pregnant, Melinda realized that she was hooked and couldn’t stop – continuing to use throughout her two pregnancies – always planning to stop “tomorrow” but of course tomorrow never came.
- Her two babies were taken away from her, but even then she couldn’t stop using.
- Rock bottom came for Melinda when she found herself living on the streets as an addict.
- Her family removed her from that situation and moved her to a “homeless farm” which happened to be full of alcoholics – so that’s when alcohol re-appeared in her life.
- When she was discovered drinking and smoking dagga she was asked to leave – this was a real wake up call – about to be made homeless from a farm for the homeless was her “desperation awakening” as she calls it.
- She finally accepted that she had a problem and would have to stop using drugs.
- The only place she had to go was back “home” with her mom – where she had to cope with alcohol in the house and seeing her mom and stepdad drinking every evening.
- At this point in her life she had no money, no car, no decent clothes but she did have AA/NA meeting to go to every night which kept her on track.
- At these meetings she “surrendered” – finally acknowledging that she needed help – something that we agreed was the hardest thing of all.
- Melinda had got to the stage when “enough is enough” – I also remember getting to that stage where I thought “I can’t do this any more”.
- That’s not a bad thing and makes me think of a quote from JK Rowling “my rock bottom became the foundation for the rest of my life”.
- With hindsight, she can see that her surrender was actually her strength – not her weakness.
- Year 1 of her recovery was extremely difficult – just a matter of getting through each day until her evening AA/NA meeting – she felt very depressed and was barely functional.
- After 2 years in recovery, she sensed what she calls an awakening of the spirit and by 5 years she was reconnecting with herself and getting results.
- We talked about the length of time people spend “in recovery” and agreed that we have to be patient – it also varies a lot – someone with a drinking problem who was able to hold down a job and a relationship is likely to recover more quickly than someone who has hit rock bottom due to hard drugs. It all depends on how much you have “messed up” as Melinda put it!
- Have a listen to Tribe Sober podcast episode 61 (released in September 2021) – I’m talking to rehab doctor Dr Dawn who explains that in the rehabs they have a rule of thumb that it takes a month of recovery for every year that we’ve been using.
- Realising that she was in it for the long haul helped Melinda and she stopped being so hard on herself. She stopped comparing herself with others and began to internalize and feel good about her achievements, however small they seemed.
- After getting clean, Melinda moved in with a very heavy drinker – said it felt “normal” – she believes that whatever trauma we suffer as a child we become programmed to find that “normal” when we are adults – and of course she grew up with an alcoholic mom, so living with a drinker felt like “home”.
- She believes that many alcoholics come from alcoholic families but also believes that we can change the pattern – as she has with her sons who are in their early 20’s and don’t drink.
- We talked about her writing – Melinda always wrote during her recovery and her first book Smacked was an accumulation of those writings.
- The success of Smacked took her out of feeling like a failure and gave her back her pride – she realized that she could learn to love herself.
- She took us through the themes of each of her 3 books – Smacked, Hooked and Crashed – do get hold of them, I promise you will love them.
- Melinda is such a talented writer and I love the way she describes journaling as “meeting yourself on the page” – this is exactly what we need to be doing to process our emotions as we go through recovery – like her I believe it’s one of the most therapeutic things you can do.
- To quote Melinda again “Your secret self emerges – a self that might not be revealed otherwise”.
- We talked about the book by Julia Cameron called The Artists Way – she suggests that we write our Morning Pages when we wake up in the morning – just to get your creativity going.
- The good news is that you get some personal coaching from Melinda by enrolling in one of her online writing courses – I’ve done one and can really recommend it – just drop her a line at email@example.com – I’ll put it in the show notes.
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