The decision to move Desiree-Anne Martin from an all-girl school to doing matric at a co-ed school seemed like a fairly ordinary one to Desiree-Anne Martin’s parents, but in fact it would change her life forever and spiral her into a world of depression and addiction.
“I was 17 years old and now that I was surrounded by boys I suddenly saw myself as fat and ugly, so I started taking slimming tablets because I thought that losing weight would address my awkwardness, shyness and self-consciousness,” she says.
In a addition to having a low self-esteem about her appearance, Desiree was exposed to addiction at an early age by her father who was a gambling addict, alcoholic, and administered corporal punishment regularly.
While taking slimming pills, she also discovered alcohol which made her feel the complete opposite of her shyness and awkwardness.
“Suddenly I had courage, I felt like I was funnier, smarter, sexier. I became the person I wanted to be not the person I really was. It also took all my pain away,” she adds.
Becoming an addict as a teen
From then on it was one bad decision after another.
completing matric in 1994 she found a job as a waitress and saved enough money to move to the UK, where she had been promised a new life by a man who was in South Africa for a short visit. It was there that she was introduced to what was a growing ‘rave’ culture and she became addicted to LSD, Speed, Ecstasy and Cocaine. But, she struggled to support her addiction.
It was in 1999 when her visa expired that she decided to return home to Cape Town and unfortunately, although she thought at the time it was good luck, she discovered former friends and family members who had also developed drug addiction.
“I was so happy to have finally come home and fit right into that lifestyle. I took on waitressing jobs and admin jobs to make money and fund my habits. I lived a double life.
A dangerous birthday
It was on her 23rd birthday in the year 2000 that her new boyfriend gave her her first taste of Heroin and she immediately felt her pain and the trauma she had experienced as a child slip away.
“I felt like I was back in my mother’s womb. I felt safe, and like nothing could harm me.
Sex work in Mowbray
When her boyfriend was arrested, he decided to quit drugs and go for rehabilitation.
It was then that she felt alone and struggled to finance her addiction without his support. She became resourceful by committing petty theft, but after running out of things to steal and sell, she found herself without money again.
“I realised that the only thing I had left to sell was my vagina. I was staying with my mother at the time and she would lock me in the flat while she went to work. Every day I would escape and sell my body at Mowbray taxi rank,” she says. “This went on for two years, I was not afraid for my life, I had drugs to numb me, I thought I was invincible.”
“A friend of mine who had been sober for five years invited me to a Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meeting. I attended because I was looking for my ex-boyfriend. After a while I found him, but our relationship was never going to work because he had quit drugs and I was still getting high.”
Her friend would become her savior, as he continued to pick her up and take her to NA meetings, until she began to realise from hearing other people’s stories, that it is possible to break the chains of addiction and live a normal life. It was also around the same time that she was raped by her drug dealer. That increased her resolve to quit.
“It was a difficult journey, drugs were my best friend and recovery meant I had to let go of everything that I knew,” she says. “It was very difficult in the beginning because I had to change everything about my life – who I hang out with and where I go. The transition wasn’t easy.”
Success in life
It was while she was in rehab that she was offered a job to work as a receptionist.
From then on she became the centre co-ordinator and did distance learning on becoming a counsellor. Today, Desiree is studying towards a post graduate degree in addiction counselling. She is also a mother of two and married to a man she says has been incredibly loving and supportive. What began as a horror story as a teenager, has now lead to her writing her first book titled “We Don’t Talk About It. Ever” at the age of 41.
“I felt compelled to tell the truth about certain things that people would rather sweep under the carpet, things like addiction, sex work, abuse and mental issues. I also talk about recovery and that life continues. I wanted to offer hope to others, because despite everything that I have experienced, my life turned out well, and I’m thriving.”
Storytelling has become an integral part of Desiree’s recovery and success, and she has a few more stories to tell as she plans to write more books in the future.