'I couldn't face myself sober' - Cheryl Zondi on getting hooked on drugs after Tim Omotoso trial

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Cheryl Zondi is celebrating two years of being sober and is writing a book about her recovery journey
Cheryl Zondi is celebrating two years of being sober and is writing a book about her recovery journey

She seemed to have it all together. 

She gained a lot of admiration from South Africans when she testified in televangelist Timothy Omotoso’s rape and human trafficking trial.

She barely flinched, her voice never shook and she never deviated from her answers, no matter how much the defence lawyer tried to shake her. 

She spoke her truth, detailing the years she spent as a member of Tim Omotoso's church, living at his house. 

When she stepped off the stand, she would often meet people who would tell her how strong she is, but she didn't feel strong. 

It took such a toll on her that after it all, she ended up hooked on drugs. It was months after the case, in late 2018 and early 2019 that she noticed that her drug intake was high. She couldn't bare to think about all that she had been through.

“I had a late reaction and it was only after giving my testimony and the case was over that everything sunk in, that this is what happened to me. While I was on the stand, I didn’t feel brave, and didn’t think that what I was doing was brave. It was just me telling the court what happened so that they can put this guy away. I didn’t think it was a big deal or remarkable and that is why when I got the reaction that I got, I was taken aback, I was shocked that I even shut down my social media pages.”

Over the weekend she shared that she is now celebrating two years of sobriety and that she had to confess to her family, partner, and close friends that she had been drugs, and they never noticed because she knew how to hide it so well.

Read more | Timothy Omotoso denied bail for the third time – these are some of the women who took put him behind bars

“When I decided that I was done with drugs, I decided that I will tell everyone around what I have been going through and they were all shocked that this whole time I was on drugs. And I decided to stop because I felt like I was a hypocrite that people think I am brave, yet I couldn’t face myself when I was sober. There was a lot of conflict in my mind, and I wanted to continue to show up as what people saw me as.”

She says she was expecting to go to court and be able to go back to her life as it was. She didn’t expect anything to change. When things changed, that is when she internalised what people were saying about her.

“All those good words were coming from a good place, and I knew that people were supporting me, and I didn’t want to disappoint them. I was going through the trauma of being in court facing this man and being on the court stand and having to go through all those questions. I had to grieve, but I didn’t. Instead, I had to be okay because I was starting a foundation, making appearances, and people genuinely wanted to know how I was. In my head I didn’t have time for pain, it was delaying me, so I used drugs to get through my day so that I could function and not break down.”

When she first started experimenting with drugs, she says it wasn’t a problem and it was something that would happen occasionally at a social gathering, and she would even forget about it.

She says the feeling she got after taking drugs was happy, very euphoric, focusing on the positive and not the negative.

“It was a no-consequence mindset; it was always the ‘I can do everything’ mindset. And when it wears off, I want to use it again and before I knew it, I was doing this for so many times in a day I even lost count.

Read more | Cheryl Zondi on love, music and no longer being a victim

“There was a time when I felt I couldn’t do this, living and showing up anymore. But I didn’t want to give people an excuse of not making it to an event because I am in pain and my heart is in pain, I felt that was a lame excuse, [not one] a brave person could use.”

She says no one could tell because she is very private in every aspect of her life, especially her struggles. And when she told people they couldn’t believe it, and they wanted to know what triggers her.

Speaking to Drum, Cheryl thanks God that she is much better than she used to be. She says she is at a place where she is trying to be more vulnerable because she spent a lot of time trying to appear as this strong girl, especially on social media after the case.

“Everyone called me strong and brave, so I was trying to continue living up to that image. But now I am at a place where real healing is happening and for me to heal, I need to be vulnerable, real, and be honest about the things that I have been through.”

Cheryl is about to release a book that will give details of what drugs she took. The book is expected to hit the shelves later in the year.

“It was difficult for me to write the book, I crashed a lot of times. At some point it was exhausting and draining. But I think books that matter are books that make you feel something, so the suffering was worth it. The writing wasn’t part of my plan, but I had a passion for writing since grade 11 and 12, I enjoyed writing and I have always written stuff that traumatises people.”

After the trial, while she was going through the thick of her storm, she started to write something, it was two pages, and she left it that. She says she felt like she wanted to write a book but she decided to do so when she was ready to face herself sober.

“Now I am drug-free, and I don’t like the word brave but prefer capable. I had tried to stop myself from going through it all alone and not telling anyone that I am struggling. But I failed, I think two or three times but then I thought of the life that I was living and thought I can’t be an addict because it is not my brand. It wasn’t easy and that is what people who are trying to recover feel like because the first few months, you go through everything you were running away from. I am proud of myself for getting here and I prayed to God.”

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