I am a middle-aged professional, who has struggled for nearly a decade with a dependency on alcohol. I could be described as a “functioning alcoholic”, a consistent drinker, rather than a binge drinker, with only my closest relatives and friends having any idea about this affliction I have been living with. I have previously been through a short rehabilitation, and I was sober for almost four years. Addiction is a very cunning adversary, and in my case, I persuaded myself that I was “cured” and could resume drinking moderately. All went well for some months, but both the frequency and volume of my consumption gradually increased to the point where both my partner and I realised that I was back where I started.
My research on the internet led me to discover the drug Naltrexone, and ARCA in Durban, which is currently the only facility in South Africa that uses a unique in-patient combination of both medication and psycho-social therapy to treat alcohol and drug-dependent people. I decided to give it a go, and would like to share my wonderful experience with anyone who is looking for a feasible way out of the terrible nightmare of addition.
ABOUT ARCA AND ITS PROGRAMME
ARCA’s Durban facility is situated in a peaceful residential area – a large house with a lovely garden and swimming pool. It is staffed by a highly professional and caring multi-disciplinary team that includes a medical doctor, nursing staff, social workers and psychologists. The first three to four days of one’s stay involves a detoxification, during which one’s system is flushed of toxins and stabilised. This essentially spares one from virtually all the nasty symptoms of alcohol and drug withdrawal. I spent most of the three days in detox in a state of peaceful sleep, under the caring and watchful eye of Sister Val and her colleagues.
From day four onwards one joins a programme that includes daily group sessions with both a social worker and psychologist, individual consultations, and time for relaxation. Other activities include fitness sessions with a professional trainer, as well as art (which is great fun irrespective of how lacking one is in talent)! These crucially important activities help prepare you for a new and meaningful life when the residential phase of the programme is over.
Your fellow participants are of all ages and from all walks of life, but all have one thing in common: addiction to either alcohol or drugs, or both. The communal facilities, which are basic, but adequate, reinforce a sense of community amongst residents.
During one’s stay, you are introduced to the medications that will become part of your daily regime for the year ahead, and which will play a major role in helping to maintain sobriety once one returns to one’s normal life. I am not going to elaborate on the benefits of Naltrexone or Baclofen: there is a wealth of information on these drugs available on the internet, and the necessary information is provided to programme participants while at ARCA. Needless to say, they really work!
The normal length of stay is 21 days, but is tailored to suit individual needs. The programme does not end after the residential phase, and participants and their families are strongly encouraged to attend regular support group sessions. In my own view this is a crucial tool in maintaining sobriety – there are no “quick-fixes” to addiction!
PREPARING FOR THE ARCA EXPERIENCE
For me, perhaps the most important thing was the will to do something about my problem. If one is not motivated and willing to confront one’s addiction, I would not recommend attending the programme. The medical director and founder of ARCA in South Africa, Dr Naidoo, makes it very clear from the outset that one must have a minimum level of motivation.
ARCA caters for a very diverse cross-section of society. Do not expect an exclusive hideaway where one can cut oneself off from the world around you. You will share a room with up to five others and live at close quarters. You will eat at a communal dining table. The food is perfectly adequate, but do not expect gourmet cuisine!
Cellphones, iPads and laptops are not allowed in the residence and one is actively discouraged from bringing electronic devices. At specified times of day, one may collect one’s phone from safekeeping in the office and make calls. Visitors are allowed after the initial detox period, but not on Sundays. Any money you bring with you is kept in safe-keeping.
While at ARCA, you will be among other people who are also fighting addiction. In my view, being an active participant in a mutually supportive group is very therapeutic. Be aware that both you and your fellow participants may be highly vulnerable, and it is important to avoid “glamourising” one’s former alcohol and drug habits in conversations. Always remember the misery and suffering that one’s addiction has brought upon oneself as well as our families and friends.
Come with an open mind, and a resolve to beat the scourge of addition!
SOME OTHER PRACTICAL ADVICE
Things to bring with you:
- Casual clothing
- Snacks, sweets, soft drinks etc.
- If you smoke, sufficient cigarettes
- Reading material
- Prescription medication (which is handed in and dispensed in accordance with medical instructions)
What NOT to bring:
- A negative attitude – ARCA gives you the opportunity to change your life for the better. Embrace this opportunity!
- Any medication that has not been specifically prescribed; alcohol; and/or any drugs. You and your baggage WILL be thoroughly searched.
- Coffee. Tea is readily available and juices are served with meals.
ARCA offers people suffering from addiction a practical and sustainable path to recovery, and the opportunity to restore one’s life to one of happiness, satisfaction and quality. Of course, this requires motivation and effort, but the unique combination of medication, therapy and a truly caring environment makes this a lot easier. The ARCA experience can truly transform your life!