Journey to hell and back to exile

17 May 2010 - 00:49 By Melinda Ferguson

In her new book Melinda Ferguson describes her post-addiction life. In this extract from Hooked: Secrets and Highs of a Sober Addict, she describes how relationships were affected by writing her drug memoir Smacked.

Look, memoir is hard, because it's all about remembering, dredging up the past, the way you, the writer, remember it.

I've had my fair share of flack from writing Smacked, my story, with people - especially some in my family - saying: "That is not what happened there, I never did that!; Our mother didn't have a drinking problem, she just enjoyed herself. How can you taint the family name? How can you do this to us? Haven't you caused enough pain and mayhem already?"

My oldest sister was one of those whose mantra after my book came out was: "How can you do this to the family . How can you do this to mommy's memory?"

My sister hated that I had written about our mother's drinking, about our family's secrets. I argued that it had been important for me to write about the alcoholic household we emerged from in an attempt to understand the disease of addiction.

My sister's concern, meanwhile, was what people would think. I tried to explain that after weighing up the good and the bad, maybe 10 people would be pissed off with me because of the way I remembered things, but for the most part the majority of people who bought and read the book would never have known our mother and would not be offended by things in the same way as she, my sister, was.

She did not get this. She was too angry. So I apologised, but inside I was glad that I had done what I had done.

You know, I have grown to believe that if you are going to write your version of the truth, you will invariably upset somebody. But you can't stop writing a book just because of someone's issues.

Families are weird. Well, I always experienced mine to be. Meal times, supposedly a joyous time of "coming together and sharing", were when I felt it most acutely. Sitting together, sharing a meal, yet feeling no connection to the lumps of flesh and blood who sat beside me.

From a very early age I looked at this group of people who surrounded me, people who were called my "family", and I thought: How the f*** did I land up here?

Addicts often speak of that feeling of "not belonging", of alienation, especially from one's own flesh and blood. From the time I can remember I felt like a changeling, an orphan, a misfit, an exile.

It's strange because looking back I see now that writing my book, in many ways, sealed my exile. I have withdrawn from the circle (maybe I've been expelled), and to be honest, I have never felt lighter and less burdened. There is no longer a pretence of union. Now, in reality, it's just me. I have some friends, my sons, my colleagues, but that's all, and truly it makes me feel light, unburdened and free, rather than lonely and depressed.

There was an incident that happened shortly after the publishing of Smacked which probably sealed the whole "exiled from family" development in my life. It was a month or two after our mother died and my siblings and I were meeting to divide her spoils. I found the whole idea unsavoury, but I still should have known the minute I walked in that I was walking into a trap. That the only place I was going, was straight up against the lounge wall, into the firing line.

The rage and anger seethed heavy and low that Sunday afternoon. You could almost taste it, feel the bile of resentments heavy in the hearts of my siblings.

"We don't think it's right that you be here," my middle sister started.

"Yes, we don't think mommy would have wanted you to have her things, since you pawned the tea set and God knows what else," my oldest sister interjected.

It felt like they had met before, had planned the strategy and now it was time for attack.

"She died of cancer, why do you think she got cancer?" my oldest sister continued. "It was because of you, you disgusting junkie. You can't have this stuff; you'll probably go and pawn it to the Nigerians."

I stood there, pinned like an insect by their insults. I couldn't move or speak. After all this time, after all my efforts at making amends, my "sorrys", this onslaught had caught me off guard. It shocked me. It didn't matter that I had been clean and sober for six years when this happened. My sobriety counted for nothing in the eyes of my clan.

"Time will heal everything," they tell you.


Not always.

The passing of time meant nothing here. They had not forgiven me. They blamed me for our mother's illness and her death. Not only was I a junkie, I was now a murderer too.

Feelings of anger, hopelessness and pain all but swamped me as I stood there.

In the addict's world feelings like these are never good. Feelings are what addicts struggle with most. Feelings are what we hide from. Not being able to handle our feelings is a primary reason for getting trashed - to change our state of mind.

One of my favourite sayings is: "This too shall pass". It's similar to "Time will heal everything", but it doesn't promise resolution and healing. It does, however, guarantee the passing of time and inadvertently some kind of change.

But right then, in that protracted moment, none of it was passing.

  • Hooked: Secrets and Highs of a Sober Addict is available for R220