Daniela Beukman (47), a mom of a now teenage girl, fought her way out of a harrowing heroin addiction, that left her living on the streets of Cape Town for close to two decades.
“It began when I was around 17 years old. I mingled with older kids and started to drink and smoke weed. It was a gradual descent from ages 18 to 23, where experimentation with various party drugs became the norm.”
Heroin for the first time
At 23, she used heroin for the first time – a substance that irrevocably altered her life. For the next 20 years, Daniela struggled with addiction, spending time in rehabs, relapsing, living on the streets of Cape Town and even spent time in Pollsmoor prison.
“My descent into heroin addiction was relentless. I metamorphized into someone unrecognisable, even to myself. I stole from my family to fuel my habit; they didn’t have much as it were. I shoplifted and got caught. That’s how I ended up in prison several times. My poor mother landed up in hospital with a stroke of dealing with all the stress.” Her mother eventually kicked her out of the house. Every time she’d try to get clean, she’d go back but her life would veer off course.
Daniela believes that enabling a drug addict is one of the reasons why addicts stay trapped. “It sounds harsh, I said in a radio interview you shouldn’t give people standing at robot’s money. But I know what happens on the streets. When I started standing at the robots, I was much younger and I still looked okay. People would feel sorry for me. In those days, I easily made R500 – R1000 a day. A man once handed me R2000 and another took me to the shop to buy groceries. It all just goes back to your dealer for your fix.”
She says addicts play on the guilt you feel when you see them standing there. “You give money because you want to ease your own conscience. But you are just one of many feeling sorry for that person. When you get caught shoplifting, you have to go to prison. It’s terrible. You get withdrawals. You are locked in a cell with only 80 beds but there’s 120 women. Only one toilet. There are no programmes for recovery, so when you get out, you just use again. It was easier to stand at a robot and receive money from strangers.”
Short recovery during pregnancy
Daniela got married during this time and had a baby girl when she was 33 years old. “I miraculously stayed off drugs whilst I was pregnant and even for a while after that. However, my addiction was difficult to resist and I ended up using again. It wasn’t even the need to take drugs, it would start with alcohol. I always thought I’d be fine but I never was. My mom took my daughter from me when she was just four years old. I knew my daughter was in better care with my mom. The lifestyle I lived was not conducive to raising a toddler. My husband and I separated for a very long time. The very sad thing is, even though I would sit on the curb and cry about my child, I didn’t want her to see me like that. I didn’t want her to be embarrassed by me. My dad was an alcoholic and I remember how embarrassed I was. Even though I was in the throes of an addiction, I still knew the damage I was inflicting on her.”
A glimmer of hope
Daniela sought refuse in places like Milnerton and even stayed in Joe Slovo for a while. A glimmer of hope emerged when the owner of Hope Again Wellness Centre heard that Daniela was once again back on the streets. “Frikkie Hefer, the owner, is an amazing person. I knew him from before and he sent someone to come and find me. She said: ‘Frikkie wants you to get on a bus and go to Potchefstroom to rehab’. It took me two days to make the decision. I was asking myself am I ready to do this? I knew the work that lay ahead of me and that I would have to get honest with myself.” She got on the bus and after enduring nine gruelling days of physical withdrawal and sleepless nights, she wanted to flee. “I wanted to run from my own worst enemy: myself.”
Spark of potential
However, fate had other plans. The staff at the wellness centre refused to let her escape, recognizing the spark of potential within her, even when she herself couldn’t see it. After an emotional and arduous four-hour struggle, Daniela made the life-altering choice to remain—a decision that would irrevocably redefine her path.” I had to get honest with myself. I’m not a kid anymore. I knew if I didn’t get real about this. I was going to die. My girl was going to grow up without me.”
She engaged in an internal battle, wrestling with God who adamantly refused to let her go. In her moment of vulnerability, she made a solemn promise to herself and to a higher power. She implored God for the strength and wisdom to navigate her recovery journey, vowing complete surrender.
Show up for yourself
“There was no-one else to blame but myself. I had to own up. People think you are healed after rehab but it’s a continues path. Every day I choose to stay humble, choose to have my quiet time with God, make my bed, do the best you can. When you start neglecting the small things, it can go downhill fast. I still speak to my sponsor. I will have to be accountable for the rest of my life.”
Birth of a new purpose
This marked the definitive end of her former life and the birth of a new, purpose-driven existence. She regained full custody of her daughter and now have a loving relationship with her family. Her relationship with her husband repaired and the three of them now life a simple, happy life. “It wasn’t all smooth sailing. I know my daughter harboured anger in her. There were so many ‘firsts’ I missed. We now have a very transparent relationship. She would ask me questions and I am very honest with her. She will go and buy me a little present and tell me she is proud of me but I am the one who is proud of her. She saved my life!”
Transformative potential of intentional recovery
Throughout her journey, Daniela has discovered the transformative potential of intentional recovery. Her experiences have forged her into a stronger, wiser, and more resilient individual. “I know there is nothing I can do to fix my past, but I can fix my future. I understand that focusing on the people I hurt will not be conducive to my recovery even though I must take accountability. I had to train my thoughts and emotions to become a better person. I still make mistakes every day but my daughter is doing well. I am so proud of her. Through God’s grace I was protected on the streets. I was never hurt. It’s a miracle.”
Daniela now works for a branch of Rubber Roofs, which is part of franchises all over South Africa that belongs to Hefer. “I started doing social media and now I am the operational manager in Durban. I take each day as it comes with gratitude and determination and I hope my story can inspire others. Not everyone lives to tell the tale. The one word I hang on to, is hope.”
Listen to the interview here: