TIME IS LIMITED
It’s been just over six months of sobriety for Raees Adams (18) and he is still taking it one day at a time.
Raees was born in Cape Town and grew up in Athlone, living with his parents and a brother who is five years older than he is.
“Growing up, my mom and dad seemed fine to me. Over the last three or four years, they started to argue a bit about small, little things. They are actually getting divorced now.
My general relationship with my father is close. When we talk, it’s about sports.
“I have the strongest relationship with my brother. Since we were children we have had a love-hate relationship. We used to play together for hours, but we would also fight a lot. Our fights were big, we really hurt each other. I was quite short tempered, and I knew his weak point and I would always hit him on his nose. He would bleed easily. We stopped fighting when I was 14. We began talking every night and we would ask each other, ‘how was your day?’ We would have deep conversations – philosophical ones – and he would share his own experiences with me. We don’t see each other much because he works shifts, but when we do see each other we still talk for hours. My relationship with my mom is quite fine. I’m always hugging and kissing her. It’s a general mother and son relationship.”
Both his parents worked in the finance sector and Raees recalls his father being deployed in Swaziland for a year-and-a-half to set up a branch of the company he worked for.
“I was 10 years old and my dad moved to Swaziland for work reasons. I kept crying and telling everyone how much I missed my dad. So, he invited us to spend three months with him. It was a very nice place and a great experience.
“We lived in a holiday house where there was a hiking trail. We would do the hike every week. The house was very spacious and had a big garden. Nature had a relaxing effect on me.
“I remember people being very friendly. I wanted to be a chef at that time and my dad convinced the Holiday Inn to allow me to join them on one evening. I helped the chefs to prepare for a big dinner. I loved the experience but over the years I realised that being a chef was not what I really wanted.”
Raees enjoyed primary school.
“I had quite a lot of friends. I am extroverted. It comes naturally. I talk to people in a nice manner and naturally, we become friends. I never really liked academics. I always found lectures in school to be boring and I struggle to pay attention.”
In high school, Raees first encountered drugs.
“In Grade 8, I caught on to a bit of nonsense. I used to see Grade 12 learners smoking weed and laughing. It seemed like a lot of fun. I researched on the internet about weed but everyone had a different view on the matter, so I decided to try it out and find answers for myself.
“I asked some of the Grade 12’s where I could buy weed. They introduced me to a student who trafficked. My first joint cost R10. My parents used to give me R50 on Fridays for food, so I used some of the money to buy it. I was still a bit anxious to do it, so I joined the Grade 12’s. We all took some puffs. It really relaxed me.
“I was hooked immediately. I used to be anxious about speaking with groups of people or completing orals, but weed took all the anxiety away.
“The second time I smoked, I was once again with Grade 12’s. There was a term ‘souter’ that was used in a colloquial manner to alert you if someone was coming. They began saying the word and moving away, I was convinced they were joking and wanting to take the piss out of me. So, I carried on. Next thing I had a teacher touching my shoulder and asking me what I was doing.
“They called my mother. She was very angry with me. She took me to SANCA for testing and counselling. I stopped for four weeks because they would test me every time I went for counselling. But as soon as I went back to school I began smoking again from time to time.
“I was regarded by my peers as a naughty boy. The first Grade 8 to smoke weed with Grade 12’s. It made me very popular amongst the girls and I really enjoyed the attention.
“In the same year, my grandmother passed away. I couldn’t believe she was gone. I always thought my grandmother would live a very long time. We had a strong relationship. I would go to her for the whole school holidays. We would talk, cook and go to watch movies together. I couldn’t stop crying at her funeral. I never slept that night.
“I felt like life was unfair. My granny followed religion well and she was always good to other people. Why would God take her away? For the next few days I couldn’t stop having negative thoughts and emotions. I hated the feeling, I just wanted to stop it.
“I went to school the next day and I asked my friend, ‘why don’t we smoke a joint, because I’m going through a bit of trouble’. And that’s when things spiralled out of control. I kept smoking weed almost every day. My brother knew about it. At that time, he was also smoking weed. It never affected my grades. I would still focus on my tests. My social behaviour was normal. I was talkative and happy, just as I normally am.
Raees did stop for a little while.
“Halfway through Grade 10, I stopped smoking for half the year. I started seeing a psychologist. My mom had found a rolled joint in my room. She was angry with me. She said, ‘I’m not going to send you to rehab. I’m going to send you to a psychologist to talk about it.’ It actually helped me.
“The psychologist diagnosed me with functional ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder) and also told me that I have an addictive personality. I began using Ritalin for a few months, but the medication was not working for me. It’s a boring thing. What Ritalin does is, the minute you sit down, you are glued to your chair for the next five to six hours. Whenever, I was on Ritalin I would close myself off. You stop focusing on the external world and you get focused on what you are busy with now. I hated it. But it also had some good sides, for example, my father could put on the TV loud and it wouldn’t bother me. It was good for studying. They changed my medication to something milder – Neucon – until I finished matric.
“We had never suspected that I had ADHD. It was true that I struggled to focus on the things I found boring, like school, but when I was interested in things, I could be very focused. I also had a terribly short memory. I would forget requests easily because I would not pay proper attention when people were asking me things.
“The psychologist told me that I had to make a conscious decision to let go of drugs. She gave me tips to stay sober, like taking it hour by hour and day by day. But I returned to weed fast. I had a few drivers that made me continue, I had gotten past losing my grandmother but I hadn’t gotten past the feeling of being high and the feeling of not being anxious. Weed also made me think deeply and be more vulnerable. It felt like my mind was unlocked and I liked that.
Raees continued using weed and observed his brother’s addiction to another substance.
“It all started once again with curiosity. My brother and I began watching a series called Narcos. It was about the rise of the cocaine trade in Colombia and the life of drug lord Pablo Escobar. We had long discussions about why people could get so hooked to cocaine. My brother decided to try it. I recall falling asleep many nights and when I would awake my brother would still be awake from the entire night.
“Towards the end of Grade 11, my grandpa got sick. I was in Grade 12 when I started to visit him a lot more. By then, my brother was addicted to cocaine. He became quite disruptive at home, always creating trouble. Picking arguments and swearing a lot at my parents. He was close to losing his job and he decided to ask his manager for assistance. He was sent to a rehab.
“My grandpa died of cancer and my cousin had a massive car accident shortly afterwards. It was a very stressful situation for all of us. One night, after my cousin’s accident, I had a dream. There was a black hole and inside it was my grandfather. I was walking to him and I couldn’t get to him. The dream freaked me out, it was so real. I began being afraid of having the dream again, so I remembered that my brother never dreamt when he was doing cocaine. So, I did cocaine to stay awake.”
No-one knew about his new drug of choice.
“I would say I’m going clubbing with friends and my mother would give me money. I would call the dealer. I would sniff it alone. I didn’t want people to know about it at all. I stopped sleeping.
“When it came to my school work I was suffering. I was bunking class. I wasn’t doing my work at all. I started drinking with my friends. I’d go to the toilet and sniff. I would do cocaine twice a week. Whenever I got money that’s all I would buy. Cocaine made me feel more alive than weed. I was still relaxed but in a more awake manner. Every time I sniffed, I would feel numb from my nose and the feeling would extend all over my face. And afterwards, I would feel a blast all over my body. It was an amazing feeling. I never felt out of control because if I did not have money to buy it, I would not get mad.”
Raees carried on to experiment with other drugs.
“I was in a downward spiral. I did psychedelic drugs with my friends. We would go trainspotting and I would take mushrooms, LSD, weed and drink alcohol. I used to black out for hours but it was a strange blackout. All of what I could remember was dark, but I knew my body had continued moving. I used to ask people what had happened but no one could give me a real answer. This happened several times.
“The final straw was when I started blacking out at parties. The last time, I was driving home in a car with a friend and I had a blackout. I woke up walking on the street. I called my friend and asked him what had happened. He told me I had asked him to drop me at the shop. I touched my pockets and felt that I had bought a bar of chocolate. I couldn’t remember any of what had happened.
“For the first time, I realised I was out of control. I felt vulnerable and worried that I could end up dead.
“I realised that I could no longer distinguish between being high or sober. Because I was always high, it began feeling as if I was sober.
“I went home and I told my parents I needed help. My mom was crying because she had gone through this with my brother. I told her I didn’t want to go to rehab and that I’d rather see a psychologist.
“I managed to pass Grade 12 very well. I studied on my own. I recorded all my exam materials and I listened to them as if they were music. It assisted me to memorise well what I needed.
“I’ve been clean for six to seven months. I take it day by day. It’s easy for me at the moment. I can sleep now. I feel much better. I am more at ease with things. My anxiety has disappeared, or maybe I have learnt how to manage it better.”
When asked to conclude, Raees said: “My life experiences have made me realise that death is inevitable and that we will all die sooner or later. When this concept stopped being an abstract thing and became a certainty things shifted for me. I just knew – I don’t want to waste my time any longer. Time is limited, and I want to live my remaining time to the best of my ability.”
Raees is a Life Choices Academy student.