Heritage.

It’s almost the end of Heritage Day, here in South Africa. People are talking about what defines the South African heritage. Arguments blaze about the informal name, National Braai Day, which in my opinion, is another holiday sellout owned by Woolworths, Checkers and Pick ’n Pay.

What defines our heritage, as South Africans? Is it the hundreds of South African icons, brands, events, attitudes? Most of these are the clever construct of the ad industry (yes, braais, rugby, soccer and cricket included) so I am unsure as to what our REAL heritage is. My white guilt forces an answer I’m not prepared to put down in a blog. My gay rebelliousness shouts inside my head, “REALLY, Dave? Really? White guilt? What a cop-out!”

Maybe one of my other voices should take centre stage for heritage day, and not on behalf of all of South Africa, but in a one-night only, one-man show… my 39-year-old self. (You thought I was going to say my addict’s voice, right?)

I have written tens of thousands of words – if not hundreds of thousands of words – on my addiction and recovery. I am 39 years old – is my addiction my heritage? My reputation? My legacy?

Recently, I spoke at Allan Gray’s diversity project, and again the week after that, I did a share at my Narcotics Anonymous meeting. In preparing for my talks, I had an epiphany about this ‘addiction as part of my history’ question. It’s this:

My heritage bore my addiction. ‘Heritage’ is defined in the dictionary as ‘something that belongs to a person by reason of birth.’ Now, before you get all fractious and conclude I am saying my addiction was a genetic disorder, or that my parentals were addicts and their parents, before them, addicts too – no. No, I am not saying this at all. Bear with me – it goes like this:

I am the youngest of four children. The last by quite a long way – and I was a sickly child. My constant health crises brought lots of attention, concern and outpourings of love and lots and lots of parental and sibling affection – I was quite spoiled. I was (still am) a deeply sensitive soul. And…a very imaginative one – forever away with the fairies in a dream world. A place of make believe. Pisces kids are like that. It’s how we’re built.

Two significant events in my early years – my parents’ divorce when I was 6, and the death of my father when I was 13, forced a cold, hard reality on me. When my folks divorced, I remember my aunt came to stay. She helped my mum through it all. My sister and brothers took great pains to distract me, so I wouldn’t upset my mum, with my own emotional distress. We never talked about it. It wasn’t a nasty divorce – in fact, it was more like we suddenly were a family with two homes, and after a couple of years, extra siblings and a spare mum. Lots of love poured down on me – the poor child from the broken home. I was loved. I didn’t want for anything. But we never talked about the divorce…or why my folks got divorced.

Then my dad died. I’ll remember the morning that phone call came for the rest of my life. My mum – she could barely break the news, through her tears – really took a knock. James, the younger of my two older brothers, took me aside and did the best an 18-year-old could to comfort me, and explain my dad was in a better place. I cried. For about 20 minutes. And then I shut down. Refused to deal with it. I stopped crying, because tears wouldn’t bring my dad back. I shut down my emotions because they just made everything ugly, and painful. (This bit is important. Make a note!) I simply ignored the pain, and carried on with my life. My family rallied around me to help me cope – but I didn’t need them. I was fine. We didn’t talk about dad’s death.

See the pattern? My beautiful, loving family always went out of their way to shield me from the pain and difficulties of life. I love them, for that. I love that they loved me so much, they only wanted me to see and feel the good in life. But you see where that goes wrong, don’t you?

After I left school, I came out the closet, which was no biggie. My family knew, despite my firm belief I hid it well. There was no drama. Until I moved in with a guy I met in a nightclub. Then all hell broke loose. My family were fine with me being gay – just not moving in with some complete stranger. Away from their protective shield of love. Out into the big, wide world. A big, wide ADULT and very REAL world. I didn’t care about their concerns. I just stamped my foot, got my way (as usual) and moved out.

Reality came soon. I was raped, by my boyfriend, and some other guy that was at his party, a few nights into the start of our relationship. I’ll save the gory details for another blog, sometime. But before this happened, I had also started experimenting with drugs, at the local rave club. It’s such a gay cliché I almost find that harder to write than the confession of the rape.

So, drugs – this wonderful new, feel-good thing. It spoke directly to that little Dave, that young child, who spent so much time away, in his own head. It felt good. And then the rape. Well, I didn’t think it was rape – I just thought it was sexual adventure gone wrong. Rape, and my boyfriend’s constant infidelity – these very adult, very real situations that made me feel pain, made me feel ugly, unworthy. And I stayed in that relationship for over a year – coming home to find yet another stranger in bed with him. Being made to sleep on the couch while they were busy. I thought I had no option but to stay – you see, because when my family told me I couldn’t move in, I did anyway. In my head, I had made a choice, and excluded my family. I felt that I had made this bed – and now I had to watch my boyfriend fuck other people in it. Forgive my language – but that’s what it was – in his own words: “Dave,” he said, when I finally found the spine to talk to him about it; “Dave, I fuck them – but I make love to YOU!”

Bastard. But that’s how it was. It killed me, inside. But the drugs – they made me happy. So I took more. And more. And then, after that – I had some more. Until eventually, he couldn’t handle my drug use, and made me choose between him and the drugs. I chose the drugs. I still think this was the lesser of two evils. I moved out.

The next 18 years I spent learning how to manage this double life: the responsible adult, going to work and the junkie, killing all his real emotions and replacing them with a chemical façade that ranged between apathy, arrogance and false happiness. I refused to deal with what had happened in that time together. (Did you make a note when I told you to? Do you see the pattern?) The abuse in the relationship echoes the death of my father, and my parents divorce in its traumatic effect on me. The drugs replaced my family in consoling and coping with life, with hiding the pain and the reality. Are you beginning to understand why my addiction is my heritage.

My addiction is my heritage. But it’s not my future.

I hit rock bottom on January 23, 2012. And I started to get help. It hasn’t been easy, and I fell off the wagon a couple of times, most recently on April 16, 2012 – and that’s where my healing and recovery really kicked off. I have done this recovery in the first-person confessional space on my blog and on social media. And through that space, I have been granted the support of the Narcotics Anonymous meetings, the myriad of people, recovering addicts and mentors who send messages of support. I have reconnected with my family – because my addiction belongs to us all.

My addiction is my family’s heritage. But it is not our future.

My new life – Life2.0 I like to call it – calls on me DAILY, to face reality. To take accountability. To face my fears, to deal with the pain of the past and the tribulations of the present – and to own them, disarm them – and to find the real, happy space, in reality.

This will be my legacy. My reformed reputation. It’s the story I will leave to my nieces and nephews, and all the people who follow my story. It will be a message of hope to other recovering addicts, and survivors of rape, and people too scared to feel their emotions.

It will be the story of my life. Life2.0 – the life I was always meant to lead.

My heritage.

© Dave Luis 2013. All Rights Reserved.

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7 thoughts on “Heritage.

  1. … I shut down my emotions because they just made everything ugly, and painful….

    I’ve probably read this piece three times now and thats the single most tragically beautiful sentence. A smile forms on my face but to mask the sad I feel inside.

    It’s important that just as the country remembers its past and vows never to repeat it. That your journey be the same for you and all who trek it with you. That we never lose sight of the road, hurt and tears experienced but use them instead as driving forces to motivate our future to never be like that.

    And sure your story may be the rose coloured, fairy tale we’d like to read. It is raw and real and needs a voice to speak to others who are willing to listen.

    It goes without saying that much pride is felt from the sidelines at this your heritage and to have seen it blossom into something so positive.

    Keep sharing, keep living life 2.0 and being the person you were always meant to be! May others take this heritage and learn from it so they do not need to experience it for not all reach this goal post in the journey.

    1. Thank you Ryan!

      It has been quite a revelation unpacking, comprehending and reconstituting what heritage and legacy mean in a very personal way. More so, that my heritage is not my baggage, but the foundation on which to build a new, meaningful legacy to leave behind. When I die, I will still die an addict – but instead of dying an active addict, I will die a recovered addict, and my life – which at one point was meaningless to me, will have had meaning, to me. Beyond that, my hope is that in turning this around, others can find the pivot in their own lives.

    1. Thank you. Words like these remind me to tell the story with humility. Words like these confirm that I AM telling it with humility, and that the other characters in the story of my life are contributors, not attackers, nor some sort of evil to be hated, blamed or accused. We all walk our own path that we must account for.

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