Chiquita was 7 years old when she first began to drink and 12 years old when she first smoked pot. She was 17 when she started using heroin. She has been in and out of institutions, had several suicide attempts, suffered through depression and abuse, and been on several types of medication but nothing seemed to be able to free her from drug addiction hell. Until, eight months ago, on 13 July 2017, something changed in Chiquita, which lead her to change her entire life. She saw that she could recover from addiction and committed with her all into doing just that. With the help of The Recovery Foundation and the supportive people in her life, Chiquita has achieved recovery from addiction.
This is her story of what drug addiction was like, what changed and what life is like now.
Chiquita’s addiction history
Chiquita’s addiction history started at a young age. Her home life was unstable and unhealthy. At the age of four years old, she became a victim of regular sexual abuse. She was exposed to wild, alcohol-fuelled parties where she was expected to clear away empty bottles and the party wreckage, and also to pour drinks for guests. At the tender age of seven years old, Chiquita tried some of the leftovers of the drinks she was pouring, and got drunk. That evening, she noticed that the sexual abuse didn’t hurt as it normally did. She carried on drinking so she didn’t have to feel pain anymore.
During her childhood, Chiquita moved around a lot. When she was 12, she stayed with her mother and her mother’s boyfriend. He would constantly leave his marijuana roaches laying around. She saw the effect that pot had on him and decided she wanted it too. She smoked the roaches. It was not long before he realised what was happening and instead of trying to help her, he made an arrangement with her that she would exchange favours in return for him giving her pot. Six months later, Chiquita told her mother and was kicked out as a result. She stayed on the street for two weeks before returning to her mother.
The drinking and drugging overflowed into Chiquita’s school life. She was kicked out of several schools and struggling to cope at home as her mother was physically and emotionally abusive. Chiquita braved the abuse until her mom turned on her little brother, at which point, she reported her so she could protect her younger brother.
A silver lining appeared when Chiquita turned 15 years old. Her dad arrived on the scene. She moved in with him in September 2011. For a while, things went really well. “I felt like I had a functional family for the first time,” asserted Chiquita. But unfortunately, this couldn’t last. Drug addiction hell reared its ugly head and sabotaged her situation. She began drinking again, and her dad and step mom realised she had a problem. It was around this time that Chiquita attempted suicide for the first time. Her father and step mom sent her to a clinic to try and sort out the problem, and deal with her out-of-control behaviour because they didn’t know how to handle it.
From there, Chiquita was referred to a long-term treatment. She was in and out of clinics and treatment institutions, saw several psychiatrists and was chronically suicidal. There seemed to be no hope.
“I hated life, I hated myself, I wanted to die,” stated Chiquita.
Until last year, when things started to turn around. When she committed to recovery. Change started to happen.
“I saw doctors, I was in and out of mental institutions and on medication for a long time but nothing ever helped,” explained Chiquita. “When I found recovery and actually worked it, something happened. The doctors couldn’t believe the improvement and even took me off my tablets”
The Turning Point
As the writer of this article and as someone who knew Chiquita before she committed to recovery, I can tell you myself what a remarkable change there has been in this young woman. For the purpose of writing this piece, I went to interview Chiquita. I met with a humble, dedicated and brave woman. So different from the person I knew before. I couldn’t wait to find out more about her transformation.
Sitting with Chiquita, I asked her what she remembers most about her drug using history. She replied saying that she hated the person she became when she used drugs.
“I didn’t care about anything or anyone else except myself. I used. I manipulated. I cheated and stole from everybody. I was really violent, always fighting. I’m shocked at how I really didn’t care. These things make me cringe now,” she admitted. “The worst part was feeling that drugs seemed to fix everything but also that it screwed you up at the same time. It was scary because I couldn’t stop. I was powerless.”
Chiquita had no healthy relationships – she felt she had nothing. She only had her drugs. Nothing else mattered enough for her to have a relationship with. Her family couldn’t cope with her as she was always high. She continued using and alienated them. She didn’t have real friends and didn’t see the point of friends.
She tried recovery once before, but at that point in time, her heart was not in it. She felt forced into it, and wasn’t ready to change. She relapsed and re-entered addiction hell. I asked: “What clicked for you this time around?”
“I reached a really bad rock bottom. I was prostituting myself for drugs and I couldn’t cope anymore. I knew what I was doing to my dad and at that point, I cared about having a relationship with him.”
By the end of the relapse, she felt that she could feel the damage she had done to her organs. She felt that they were closing down. But, for the first time, she wasn’t suicidal and didn’t want to die. She wanted to stop. She threw her drugs out the window. Locked herself in a room and went into withdrawal. The withdrawals were so bad she couldn’t walk. She was found by her family and they sent for an ambulance. This is when she realised she needed help and that she couldn’t beat this drug addiction hell on her own.
Chiquita reached out to a friend who she knew had got clean from a 12-step programme of recovery. She was ready to try recovery again and make it stick. Her friend recommended she speak to Roberto Ferreira, Director at The Recovery Foundation to find out more about recovery and treatment.
Roberto helped Chiquita get into a rehabilitation centre in Boksburg. Chiquita remembered how he stayed with her on the phone while she was on her way there to make sure she got there safely. He assured her it would be alright and she would get better. She got to the rehab and a few weeks later, Roberto visited her.
“He gave me a hug and told me how proud he was of me,” smiled Chiquita. His act of kindness made Chiquita realise that recovery felt good and that she wanted to keep going. She stayed in the rehab over her 21st birthday. Instead of feeling resentful, she was happy that she turned 21 while in treatment with support around her, otherwise she may have gone out and used.
“It became a reality that I couldn’t do this without other people, and I needed help,” said Chiquita.
Chiquita achieved freedom from addiction by following a 12-step programme and with the help of a treatment facility. She was given medication for her withdrawals and mood stabilisers. She continues to work the 12-step programme as part of her recovery.
When asked what has changed since she committed to recovery, Chiquita laughed:
“Everything! Literally, I can’t think of anything in my life that has stayed the same.”
She gets to see her dad monthly and chats to him on the phone regularly. He has told her how much he cares and that he is proud of her. After not seeing her family for so long, she now goes for lunches with them. Other people see the change in her. And now, she sees the change. She is a more positive person and no longer needs to go to therapy three times a week.
“I’m happy for the first time in my life I wake up and say thank you for being alive! I was really ungrateful before. Now I’m grateful to be grateful! I feel better inside, I’ve never felt this good before”
“My wildest dreams about my life didn’t even have dreams like this. It’s this amazing thing that I never want to lose. I have so many things now that I never had. I’ve never been this happy ever. I never want to lose this feeling!”
Chiquita has changed from being scared of people to going up and giving them hugs. She is comfortable with others and thrives in her 12-step fellowship. It doesn’t take a bag of heroin to allow her to feel ok with herself anymore.
She has real and strong relationships with others. She has people she considers to be good friends in her life.
“I can phone them day or night and they’ll be there. They trust me enough to open up to me and want to call me, not because they want something, but to spend time with me and chat to me,” shared Chiquita.
She explained how she has a strong and healthy relationship with Emma, her sponsor, role model and friend. A sponsor is a person in recovery who is clean for a good period of time and helps to guide those with less clean time through the 12-step programme. Emma helps Chiquita stay motivated in her recovery, always coming from a loving and caring space. Their relationship is characterised by unconditional love and support.
“She is a great sponsor who kicks my bum into gear when I need it,” laughed Chiquita.
Renate was another strong female role model in Chiquita’s life from her first attempt at recovery. Renate was a caring and brilliant woman who cared about Chiquita deeply. Renate passed away in July last year after a fight with cancer but Chiquita still looks up to her and her example, and lives in a way that would make her proud. She does the work and ‘walks the talk’, just like Renate did.
Chiquita also believes that the newcomers in recovery help her stay motivated.
“Everyone who works a strong recovery programme and wants to change is a role model to me. Everyone has a lesson to teach me,” asserts Chiquita.
As part of her recovery programme, Chiquita regularly attends recovery meetings, which are safe spaces where addicts share their experience, strength and hope with one another, and help each other stay clean. She does service and gives of herself to others. She wants to give back. She does Stepwork, although not as regularly as she should, she admits. Stepwork is written and oral work that helps an addict come to terms with difficult parts of themselves, and gets them to work on themselves with the guidance of a sponsor. She also believes in a God of her own understanding and tries to uphold spiritual principles in her life. She believes that “every day not picking up is a strength”.
In closing, I asked Chiquita what message she would want to pass on to people struggling with drug addiction hell, and to family members of those struggling with substance abuse problems.
To the families, she states: “No one chooses to be an addict. We often need help and love more than others.”
To those battling with substance abuse problems: “There is help and you can stop. There is always hope.”
– Written by Ink Addict, a supporter of, and writer for The Recovery Foundation.