‘It draws you in – and takes you out’

Clayton Toerien and Denver Dreyer of Northpine discuss the drug addiction support group programmes at the Lofdal Centre in Kraaifontein.

Denver Dreyer was living a dream. He had a high-paying job with an international airline that gave him ample opportunities to travel. When he wasn’t working, he partied.

And then it all went pear-shaped.

Denver, of Northpine, said that while he was living the dream, he was also living the high life: he experimented with drugs, first tik and then later heroin.

Then in 2010 the high life, consumed his dream life. Within a few years, he was on the streets, committing crime to feed his addiction and scrounging for food in bins.

Most addicts say they needed to hit “rock-bottom” before they decided to give up drugs but Denver hit rock bottom and stayed there.

He says it was his mother’s unconditional love that eventually, gradually, painstakingly pulled him out of darkness, as well as the dedicated social workers who work in the drug rehabilitation field.

“Looking back on my life, I clearly see the love of a parent. My mom refused to give up. She’d go look for me, and I don’t advise this to moms, but she used to go and look for me there, at the merchant and make a scene. ‘No, Mrs Dreyer, we didn’t see your son,’” Denver says, laughing.

“She’d phone every single Cash Converters and say: ‘If he sells anything there, you let me know.’ And then I’d come there and they’d say, ‘You are banned from here.’

‘But I didn’t do anything.’

‘No, but your mother called.’”

And when she couldn’t curb his habits out of the home, she brought whatever help she could into it.

“For a parent, there is nothing worse than seeing someone with so much potential and someone they’ve invested so much time in, give up on life. My mom tried everything. She had prayer meetings in the house, she had church people come here, the cops, whatever. She went ballistic, actually.

“I can also see the intervention of a string of social workers. Organisations like Badisa Kraaifontein and Sanca. These groups are doing a great job. The social worker from Badisa would come here, but I was so dysfunctional. I would say 11 o’clock, but I wouldn’t be here. But she kept coming back.

“Because of that type of care and intervention and the rehab programme, that helped me.”

Denver has managed to rebuild his life and now runs a mentorship programme that helps youth avoid the lure of drugs.

“For the last two years, I’ve used my story as a motivation for others. My life has been turned around for good, and now I am an asset to my community. I am the co-founder, with my brother Brandon, of iDEA, the Independent Drug Education Agency. Our aim is to provide the community with skills and knowledge to make sound choices in life and adequately inform them of the dangers of drug use.”

Denver learned of the dangers the hard way. His slow descent into debilitating addiction started at a party where he felt he needed to celebrate his new job. It was in 2006.

“It was December 28. I can remember the day, the hour, everything.

“I was working for an airline and I was waiting four months for my resident’s visa and passport. And in that time I encountered this drug called tik. I was at a party at a friend’s house and I was very anti-drugs at the time but there was this curiosity. There was this drug and everybody is raving about it. That was the first time I tried and the high lasted for about five days.”

The experiment set him off on a chase for the fake euphoria the drug gave.

“Years later, while learning about the psychology of addiction, I learned that you will never be able to get that first high again. The first high is like an explosion. It’s like an initiation. It says, ‘This is where you belong.’ You get the greatest emotions ever. So I had a mind-blowing experience, but, at that point, I didn’t know that that introduction to tik was going to completely destroy my life, which it did, eight years later.”

While Denver says it is possible to go from being a recreational user to a full-blown addict in a few months, the process took much longer for him.

“When I was still in that experimental phase, I would only use when I go to parties or around a certain group of friends. But all of that changed because later on I started craving the drug every single day. It was like an activating switch that just turned on.”

Eventually the drug started affecting every area of his life.

“The more you use a drug, or anything that alters your natural state of thinking, the more you deviate from the person that you are, to the person that the drug wants you to be.”

Denver started working less and less and partied more and more.

“I was partying till late at night or I was partying for three or four days continuously, without sleeping. The comedown was so intense, that it robbed you of your motivation – that normal get-up-and-go attitude that you need to embrace life and embrace the responsibilities of life.”

Surprisingly, Denver was still able to hang on to his job for some time.

“I became less and less interested in my job. There was a time when I flew 21 times, from Doha, Qatar, to Cape Town, to come and drug here – and eventually I lost that high-paying job.”

Things deteriorated fast after that.

“So I came back to Cape Town and instead of picking up the pieces, I continued with my drugging. But now I was faced with the problem that I had this insatiable desire to drug, but no money.”

Denver then turned to crime to support his addiction.

“I became a criminal, willing to do anything. Up until 2010, I I had no court cases. I’d never been on the inside of a police cell in all my life. I had never had a run-in with the law, but from 2010 until the end of 2014, I had 34 cases and that was just when I was caught.”

Denver says that at this point he was “spinning out of control”.

“It pushed me to a place where I no longer had the power or will to want to live anymore.”

But then, after two weeks in jail while on trial for a petty crime, the court sent Denver to rehab.

“It was almost three years ago when my recovery started. I was there for three months, but the first two weeks I was so reluctant because I felt like I was forced to be there, but eventually I started seeing the light.

“And so I thought, ‘You know what? I’m going to give this a try.’ And it was there that I started to understand the nature and psychology of addiction.”

Denver says the experience has taught him about the strength of the human spirit and that is why he runs a support group for addicts in Kraaifontein.

“I was gone, I was far gone. I think the next step for me was death because I was in prison, I was in an institution. But the human spirit is a faculty that we all have, and, if nurtured correctly, it can rise up from the ashes of drug addiction. Today I’m a living testimony of that.”

But more than helping those who are already addicted, Denver hopes to stop vulnerable people from experimenting with drugs through the education programmes he runs at schools.

“In my whole journey, this entire time, I’ve never met a successful drug addict. I know people who are social drinkers, but, in my vast experience, I’ve never met a guy who can take a hit from lolly and put it down and say, ‘No I’m done.’ It draws you in and before you know it, it takes you out.”