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THABA-BOSIU — It all started as an experiment in 1997.
Pule (not his real name) was just 12.
An experimental sip of the ‘holy waters’ soon turned into a habit.
And by the time Pule reached his mid-teens, the boy was a wreck.
The drinking only intensified when he rolled for tertiary studies in South Africa.
Luckily, in January at the age of 25, Pule realised he badly needed some help if he was to break free from the chains of addiction.
It all started as a way of having fun, Pule says.
“I was young and eager to experiment with new things. Beer was it for me.
“Bit by bit I drank until I could not hold myself anymore. I became an addict,” Pule says.
When he enrolled for his tertiary studies in South Africa, away from the watch of his parents, Pule’s drinking habits got worse.
“I began to drink heavily when I started tertiary. I was alone and free, away from my parents,” he says.
For his drinking exploits, Pule says he thought he was a hero among his peers.
“At varsity you were regarded as one of the coolest guys when you drank like I did.
“I enjoyed all the attention and recognition. But alcohol became my master. I got hooked and could not stop.”
It was in this drunken stupor that he fumbled through his business studies degree. Luckily, he says, he scrapped through.
“I was quite lucky to pass. Only that my drinking got even worse when I was out of university.
“I did not have a job and so my idling mind would always think of alcohol.”
Now Pule says he was home in Maseru.
Although he tried to hide his drinking habit, he says his parents soon discovered his ‘dark side’.
“I could not hide from my parents. My drinking affected them badly. They all pleaded with me to quit but I did not. I just continued to drink.”
Fed up with his drinking, Pule says his parents sent him back to South Africa to assist his sister run her businesses in Johannesburg.
Pule says his parents thought they needed to keep his mind busy and help him stay away from alcohol.
He says he worked six days a week, only resting on Sundays.
The sister also thought this schedule would limit the time her brother spent on booze.
But unbeknown to them, Pule was sneaking out even during working hours for a sip of the ‘holy waters’.
“I would sneak out for a few bottles when I got a chance. Pressure of work was mounting so much on me.
“I would just drink a lot of alcohol to kick out my distress. I would start drinking in the afternoons when I knocked off from work on Saturdays until very late on Sundays.
“I would spend the whole weekend away from home. My sister sent our parents a message that I was not getting any better.
“Then one day my father called and told me to come back home. He had booked for my rehabilitation at the Thaba-Bosiu Rehabilitaion Centre.
“I thought this was a call to change my life. I came and have never looked back until today,” Pule says.
The worst appears to be over for Pule.
Last Friday, Pule was among 18 youngsters who successfully finished a three-month rehabilitation programme at Thaba-Bosiu Rehabilitation Centre.
The centre, which is situated at Thaba-Bosiu, about 20km north of the capital Maseru, admits at least 120 drug addicts every year.
Most of the inmates at the centre are between the ages of 17 and 45.
The centre is run by the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare.
It was a joyous day for parents and friends of the recovering addicts last Friday.
For these inmates, it has been three months since they last touched alcohol or drugs.
For Pule, he says his mind has never been clearer. Now he says he wants to start a new life on a clean slate.
“I have learnt my lesson,” Pule says. “I have done enough damage to myself. It is over now.”
He says he realises that he almost ruined his life through his uncontrolled drinking habit.
“I regret every single day I had touched alcohol either for fun or to drown my sorrows. I realise that I dealt with my emotional issues the wrong way.
“I do not want to disappoint my family and myself again. I believe in myself and I know I will beat this.”
This was a proud moment for Pule’s mother, a deeply devout woman.
Pule’s mother is a member of Lesotho’s Evangelical Church, the country’s biggest denomination after the Catholic Church.
Drinking beer, even in small quantities, is frowned upon within the church.
“The excessive drinking affected all of us in the family. No one had ever had a drinking problem in our family.
“I could no longer go to church wearing my ‘Mother’s Union’ uniform. Sometimes I would pack the uniform in my bag so that I could were it when I got to church.
“I was scared that people would judge me that I was showing up as a devoted Christian when my son was an alcoholic.
“I felt like I had failed to guide my child as a parent,” says the mother who requested anonymity.
“I am so happy. My baby is clean again. We are very proud of him. I just hope and pray that he does not relapse,” she says.
She says her son’s drinking problem had come across as a shock as she and her husband were non-alcoholics.
She says they were aware that “his full recovery depends entirely on the choices he will make when he gets out of this place”.
The Lesotho Times also spoke to 31-year-old Thabo Matsie who was among the team of 18.
Matsie, according to her mother ‘Mathabo, was born with an under-developed brain.
Doctors had told her that her son would be a slow learner due to the condition.
‘Mathabo says she was shocked when she discovered that her son was a drug addict last year.
“I was shocked when neighbours and family members told me that he was smoking dagga. I did not even realise it.
“I started asking for help around and this is how I got to know of this centre. I applied so that he could be assisted.
“The facilitators met him and they thought he was sick. They did not want to admit him. The dagga had destroyed him.
“They threatened to send him back home if they could not see any progress. The dagga abuse had taken a toll on his already weak brain.”
‘Mathabo says she is happy with the progress her son has made over the past three months.
“He is looking good. I am so happy and thankful to the people who have helped my child. He is lively again,” Mathabo says during a ceremony held last Friday to welcome the former addicts.
Letšoara Tšehlo, the youth co-ordinator at Blue Cross, a non-governmental organisation that deals with drug and alcohol abuse, says the abuse of drugs is on the increase in Lesotho.
Tšehlo says many youths are taking drugs and alcohol for recreational purposes.
“Youths think that entertainment is taking alcohol and drugs. One drink leads to the next and before they know it, they become dependent.
“More and more of our youths in Lesotho have become addicts,” Tšehlo says.
“Blue Cross and the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare are concerned with the increasing numbers of drug and alcohol addicts. The practice is rife across the country.
“A recent survey (conducted by Blue Cross) revealed that Butha-Buthe and Quthing are the districts with high numbers of alcohol and drug abusers.”
Tšehlo says they are planning to set up projects aimed at decentralising therapy for drug and alcohol addicts.
“There will be a project in Butha-Buthe where a social worker and a community development worker will counsel people who abuse alcohol and drugs.
“The project will soon spread to other districts. This is to bring services closer to the people.”