‘Recovery cannot be bought’


Recovery is a journey that cannot be bought, says Joseph Citto, a recovery assistant at the Lentegeur Rehabilitation Centre in Mitchell’s Plain.

The 64-year-old father of two is among a team of volunteers organising the annual Recovery Walk Cape Town (RWCT) taking place on Saturday September 30 at Lentegeur Psychiatric Hospital, from 9.30am to 3.30pm. The RWCT celebrates people in recovery from addiction and mental illness.

As a recovering drug addict himself, Mr Citto knew that when his own children began struggling with addiction that it was time for him to take control of his life. “I think I was a father and husband for about 10 years. I didn’t take responsibility so I got divorced and from the day I left the house, my life just spiralled,” says Mr Citto.

The turning point came seven years ago when his sister stopped enabling his addiction and he began opening up about his depression.

Today the difficult road to recovery has brought his family closer. His children, his wife and Mr Citto himself all attend their respective support groups for recovering addicts and their families. The support group meetings are important to him, ensuring that his alcohol dependency doesn’t draw him back to his drug addiction.

A year ago Mr Citto started working at the rehab where he has seen first-hand how addiction crosses the class and economic divide. He explains how parents who struggle with their own heartache and pain, try to “buy” their children’s recovery.

“Sometimes the parents are more in denial than the addict themselves. This guy stole everything in the house and people still pay R1 500 a month, which is not a lot for a rehab but people in our community can’t afford it. So they take their pension money and they come with bags of chips and cigarettes. It doesn’t mean he is in recovery, you must spoil him now,” explains Mr Citto.

Despite the harsh reality of addiction plaguing Cape Flats communities, there is still a huge stigma. However, according to Mr Citto sometimes it seems more socially accepted to be an addict than to speak openly about struggling with other mental illnesses like anxiety and depression.

“Addiction is a family problem. Every addict affects 14 people around them. Every recovering addict affects 50 people. So if that one person comes right, they are actually a beacon of hope for a lot of people,” says Mr Citto.

It is this message of hope inspiring Mr Citto’s involvement with the RWCT where he co-ordinates volunteers for the day’s festivities.

Recovery Walks internationally have been encouraging open recovery for over 30 years. The first RWCT ran successfully in 2014 and has grown to attract over 700 people. In 2019 under severe lockdown restrictions, it successfully held a Recovery Drive, taking the message of recovery to seven areas throughout Cape Town.

Sober spaces in the community are few and so the Recovery Walk Cape Town is a perfect occasion to enjoy with friends and family. Mr Citto says: “We treat the event as a family day. There’s a recovery walk, music, an open mic, we play games and have fun with a nice outing,” he says.

• Recovery Walk Cape Town (RWCT) is an independent group collaborating with like-minded organisations. Last year it collaborated with The Spring Foundation, Lentegeur Hospital’s Ward 81 and the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG).

The Recovery Walk is an inclusive, clean and sober event where people living with an addiction or mental illness have a space to be open about their recovery. To get involved or for any further details, call 079 239 3134, email: recoverywalkcapetown@gmail.com or visit www.recoverywalk.co.za or follow them on Facebook and Instagram.