Desiree-Anne Martin has conquered substance abuse, alcoholism and a whole lot more and lived to tell the story. She recently opened up to The Weight She Carries about how she chose life in the face of a slow but certain death. This is her story in her own words.
“My name is Desiree-Anne Martin, l was born in 1976. The first few years of my life l lived in an impoverished suburb of Capetown called Oceanview. When l was five years old, we moved to Fairways. It was a really nice area with manicured lawns and beautiful houses.
To say that my family was dysfunctional is a gross understatement, there was a dichotomy, a division within the family. We were conditioned to pretend that everything was okay all of the time. A perfect family to the outside world, but in reality, everything on the inside was rotten. Alcoholism, addiction, gambling addiction, co-dependency, domestic violence as well as infidelity riddled our family.
The entire framework of our family was built on secrets and lies. And that was the message that l was sent as a child – that l could never talk about it, ever. As a result, when l was sexually abused as a child l kept it a secret because l wanted to be seen as a good girl. I tried to be a good girl most of my childhood. Excelling at academics, sports and even cultural activities and l thought that getting validation and attention was the same as receiving love.
As an adolescent, l realised that it was not working and so l turned to negative attention. I went against every single rule, institution and authority figure, and had no idea why l was rebelling. I just felt the need to rebel and get into trouble. I would get into fights with my mother who was over critical at times, hitch hike and go to various nightclubs yet l was under age at the time.
There was so much pain inside of me and no one taught me how to regulate and control my emotions, at one moment l would be in absolute hysterics and another time l would be deeply sad.
I am a survivor of child sexual abuse. The perpetrator was a male friend of the family that l infact loved and adored, so when the abuse began, it caused huge conflict within me and l was also told to keep it a secret. Because that was already a family blueprint, l kept quiet. I also believe that childhood trauma forms a blueprint on its own that forms our sexual identity, experiences, relation to sex and intimacy and it forces us into faulty belief systems such as the one that l had…that if someone had sex with me [it] meant that they loved me.
I pursued toxic relationships with very broken people because l believed that my love was big enough to fix and save anyone. I was very delusional at the time but l had grown up experiencing my mother’s codependency towards my father despite his deplorable behaviour towards her.
The two distinct rules l came away with were: you don’t ever leave no matter how bad it gets and your love can fix and change people. I attempted to do that and failed dismally at it.
At age 17, l became an addict. My first addiction was to over-the-counter slimming tablets. I had bad hair, I was too short. I basically thought I was a beast with eczema scars and braces as well. I thought I was revolting and disgusting because I wanted the boys to like me. I thought that if I lost weight, they would like me. At some point, I ended up taking up to 10 pills a day just to achieve my goal.
I had made a vow to never take alcohol because of my father’s alcoholism but in my matric year [final year of high school] I met a boy and liked him. That’s how I broke my vow. I bought cheap wine and as I drank, it felt like coming home. Suddenly, it all made sense. Alcohol was the elixir that turned me into the person I wanted to be. I couldn’t be sober any more, and my alcoholism took off.
I began dabbling in other drugs but I focused primarily on my eating disorder which now had led to purging and just getting wasted on booze. I just lost my judgement at this time, which led to a lot of sexual experiences that now as I look back, regardless that it was consensual, I was not in a position to say no even though I was thinking no.
Later on in my life as my addiction progressed, I became an intravenous heroine addict. After a few years of being an IV heroin addict, I made the decision that l was tired of lying, stealing, defrauding and cheating. I made the realization that all I had to bargain with was my vagina.
I began trading sex for drugs or for money and the money went to drugs to support my habit. I basically became a sex worker to support my addiction.
The sexual experiences led me to numb out and compartmentalize. I realized through therapy and working on myself that the trauma that I had experienced had seeped into my blood cells and had poisoned my body.
I made the decision to come into recovery, but a few weeks later, relapsed. And when I attempted to exchange sex for drugs, I was raped. I never told anybody about the rape. I remember very clearly after using the heroine, asking myself [if] I want to live like the walking dead and inevitably die a long and horrible death, or did l want live. I chose to live.
I recommitted to recovery. I was ashamed of the sexual activities I had engaged in but it was there that I discovered the power of speaking your truth, which is a mantra I hold close to my heart.
As I began to share my truth with other people, they did not respond with any sort of judgement, blaming or shaming, they just listened and accepted me and supported me through the pain.
Amazing women and men came forward who loved me before l learned to love myself. But the process of working through the trauma did take a long time, the climax being the publishing of my book called “We don’t ever talk about it. Ever.” It is very honest and very raw.
In this book, I recount every single detail of my life and unpack all the secrets and lies that have kept me sick for so long. It has been incredibly painful and cathartic, and of course I was worried of what people would think of me and how they would respond to me just putting myself out there. But I was hugely surprised [by] the response, it was overwhelmingly positive.
People from all walks of life resonated with it on various levels and that had always been my hope. I mean, I wrote the book for myself because I was finally compelled to tell the truth, but I also held on to the hope that if it resonated with and gave hope to just one person, then I was doing the right thing.”
Desiree-Ann is a published author of a book entitled “We don’t ever talk about. Ever!” She is also an Addiction and General Counselor and also a shareholder at Prospect Hill Recovery Practice.