It is a beautiful thing in the addict community when a recovering addict passes away free from drugs and alcohol. It shows the world that recovery from addiction is possible, and that the cycle of addiction may be broken. Alex Reichman is an incredible example of how freedom from addiction is possible. Alex passed away in late 2016 from natural causes at the age of 47. He managed to change his life despite being in a terrible place and having landed up in the South African prison system because of his addiction. Alex was able to pursue recovery, repair the connections with his family, have a meaningful relationship and friendships, purchase a car, and live a life beyond what he thought was possible. Alex’s transformation aligns closely with the beliefs and vision of The Recovery Foundation; that is, by finding connections with others and by finding a purpose in life, recovery from addiction is possible.
In this piece, we will take a deeper look into Alex’s life by speaking with three people who were incredibly important to him and who witnessed his transformation in recovery: his sponsor, Roberto Ferreira; his girlfriend, Belinda; and his mother, Rowena.
Roberto: Insights from Alex’s Sponsor
Roberto, Director at The Recovery Foundation and Alex’s sponsor, first met Alex by pure fluke. A sponsor is a person who acts as a mentor to another person in a 12-step fellowship. Their relationship began through Hospitals and Institutions service, which is where recovering addicts and members of a 12-step fellowship on the outside of prison help members on the inside by setting up and facilitating meetings in institutions and prisons. Alex was in prison and the 12-step fellowship was searching for people to sponsor inmates. Roberto signed up and was matched with Alex. They spoke mainly through letter writing. This went on for several months. A few weeks before Alex was released on probation, they met face to face for the first time.
Roberto admitted that his first impression of Alex from the letters he wrote was highly inaccurate. He thought he would be dealing with the stereotypical prisoner. This impression changed after their first meeting. Roberto realised that Alex was just another person who had been through stuff – just like him – and who wanted to do better and make something of himself. Alex was human.
Alex had started using drugs in the mid-80s. He used multiple substances and ended up on heroin. He was trapped in the cycle of addiction until, one day, he had a moment of clarity:
“Alex spoke of being in court. The judge had asked him if he would plead guilty or not guilty. In that moment, Alex made the choice to plead guilty to the charges. He was sentenced to nine years imprisonment. During the first few days, he used some marijuana but it did not sit well with him. In another moment of clarity, he decided to give that up. Somehow, in the midst of the chaos and seriousness of his situation, he remembered the telephone number of a recovering addict he had known. Alex never found out how he had remembered it! And it was fortunate that he did as this recovering addict got him to set up a 12-step meeting in the prison. He stayed clean ever since that day,” confirmed Roberto.
Staying clean is no easy feat. Alex took his recovery from addiction very seriously and was termed – as people in a 12-step fellowship would say – a ‘Recovery Nazi’. Alex followed the 12-Step programme of recovery, which has five pillars. This programme upholds the belief that an addict can obtain recovery from addiction if he or she works the five pillars, which are: regular service, developing a relationship with a Higher Power, attending meetings, making use of a sponsor, and doing Stepwork. Stepwork is the answering and discussing of several deep and personal questions in order to change the way the addict thinks and to help him or her create a solid spiritual ground to stand upon. To Alex, Stepwork was paramount and the foundation of his recovery foundation.
When asked to comment on Alex’s change, Roberto relayed that Alex seemed to be an angry person in the beginning of their relationship. But as the years went by, he became more serene and relaxed. What struck Roberto about Alex’s transformation was that: “Even though he had every reason to stay angry, he chose to live a peaceful and serene life as best as possible…He was responsible and didn’t need anyone to chase after him. He knew what needed to be done and did it.”
For Roberto, Alex’s death was bittersweet. “I was really sad and upset that his life ended short after everything he had gone through to get his life back on track. But I was really proud that he passed away clean. That is what every recovering addict wants, to pass away clean. Which is an example that it is possible and that we do recover.”
“Alex’s life and death sends a message of hope to those with substance abuse problems. Even if you lose everything, and you are sitting in a jail cell with nine year’s imprisonment hanging over your head, recovery from addiction is possible. You can get the job, the car and the friends. You can build your life up again.”
Rowena: A Message from Alex’s Mother
The family of an addict are often the most affected by addiction. Family members see the full scale of devastation and harm that addiction causes. They see the son, sister or parent change from their usual selves into impulsive and destructive individuals. When an addict seeks recovery from addiction, the healing process for the family may begin. Rowena, Alex’s mother, speaks to us about how Alex’s behaviour changed over the course of his life and how his recovery transformed their relationship.
Alex was born on 11 November 1968. He was a bright and considerate child. When he was in nursery school, his class would bake on Fridays, and he always kept his baking to take home to his mother. However, this changed when Alex began using drugs. Rowena said that he began acting aggressively and became very moody. Their relationship deteriorated and for the first year that Alex was in prison, Rowena would have nothing to do with him.
But Alex’s recovery from addiction changed that. As it became obvious that Alex was making serious changes in his life, their relationship changed. Rowena was able to have a relationship with her son again. It took some time to build the trust but their bond developed. Alex became more like the youngster he once was – a considerate and helpful individual.
For Rowena, if readers could take one message from Alex’s transformation and recovery story, it would be that “he was an inspiration and good example to everyone he came into contact with.”
Belinda: Alex’s girlfriend – Until we meet again
Belinda met Alex in March roughly three years ago. They met at a 12-step meeting. Belinda having heard that he had been in prison, asked Alex to share at a meeting she helped facilitate. He was reserved but agreed to do service. He attended another meeting at which Belinda facilitated and they began to hang out together. She started to get to know him better, and they spent a lot of time laughing together. Asides from laughing together in recovery, they also shared similarities from their addictions as they used the same drugs and frequented the same places.
They talked and talked and eventually decided to try a relationship together. “What I liked about him and what my children liked about him was that he never got in other people’s spaces. We could kid around with each other, and he was warm and kind. He treated me like a lady. He loved and supported me. I liked his humility and honesty. We had so much in common. We could identify with each other and were relaxed in each other’s company,” shared Belinda.
Because of the hard work Alex put into his recovery, he could be there for Belinda and stand up for her. They could also forgive each other after they got into a fight. They were good to each other in their relationship.
“I told him how important boundaries were. He woke me up in the morning and made me coffee because I’m not good in the morning. He had so much strength and did so much for me, from doing the cooking to buying me pretty things and him being kind to my children. My family loved him,” recounted Belinda.
Belinda and Alex spoke often about their lives in addiction and from what he shared, it was evident that Alex had suffered. The sharing of their history and hurt strengthened their bond and their relationship. They had abused their bodies with sex and drugs so together they learned to love each other’s bodies. “It was about comfort and love in our relationship. He had always used and so had I and so we knew about isolation and about our new found love together,” said Belinda.
Alex told Belinda about his life in prison and about the rehabilitation centres he had been to. He told her about the people in the prison and the system he was subject to – about his arrest and his life as an addict mule. She had also had experiences with the Narcotics Bureau and so their experiences and stories blended in with each other. They shared a common story and a common understanding.
Their shared understanding led them to help each other in their own separate recoveries. Belinda sought to motivate Alex in his recovery from addiction by encouraging him to read the literature. She saw him change while they were dating.
“He learnt to smile and hug instead of being angry. Alex could see that his kind heart could be used positively instead of being distrusting of others. He built faith in his Higher Power. I saw him trying and doing so well. Yet he still had time for others who were struggling. He was such a character. Once he felt comfortable and loved, he could be his exciting and loving self,” disclosed Belinda.
“Alex loved going to restaurants and taking me out as his girlfriend. I think I fitted his idea of the kind of woman he could be loved by. I miss his presence. He enjoyed his food because he had been in prison for so long so restaurant food was special for him. We also used to go shopping together and did stuff with my family… He was helpful around the house and cleaned the pool. He liked keeping busy.”
Alex changed from being moody and aggressive in his addiction to being a kind and strong partner in recovery. Alex was a true man who treated people the way they should be treated, even though he had suffered so much as an addict. He tried hard and grew as a person when he had people who believed in him. That is why the 12-step programme encourages addicts to be of service to others and to trust people.
“Alex’s passing was a shock and has left me missing his good and giving presence. I was lost and devastated. Knowing he had passed away clean has made me proud of him, but by the same token, his recovery was strong and I know he would never leave me unless his Higher Power had wanted to take him… We both believed that our Higher Powers would take us when they wanted.”
“When we spoke of this eventuality, Alex took it lightly and I feel there is serenity in that. He said the Aliens would come and get him when the time was right.”
“Alex is still in my heart and taught me a lot about humility and happiness. I hope to meet up with Alex again,” asserted Belinda.
Recovery from addiction is possible
The overwhelming message carried through these individuals’ experiences with Alex is that recovery from addiction is possible. By establishing connections, finding a purpose and helping others, an addict can make the transition from hopeless to hopeful, from powerless to empowered, and from unhappy to happy.
Roberto Ferreira, Director at The Recovery Foundation, is dedicating his challenge for 2018 to Alex Reichman to showcase that addicts can and do recover!
Roberto is pushing himself to new limits as this year he has challenged himself to complete the following races for the cause of addiction:
- Dischem Ride for Sight 116km Cycle
- Deloittes Pretoria Marathon 42.2km
- Cape Town Cycle Tour 109km
- Two Oceans Ultra Marathon 56km
- Comrades Marathon 90km
- Tshwane Cycle Challenge 95km
- 947 Cycle Challenge 95km
Please support Roberto in his endeavour to celebrate Alex’s life by backing The Recovery Foundation as he takes on these strenuous challenges! You can help those who have lost hope and have stopped dreaming.
Follow this link to find out more and to donate to the cause of helping others recover from addiction.
Written by Ink Addict: Writer and Supporter of The Recovery Foundation