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One strong mom

Kelly Pretorius is a strong woman. She is also a dedicated wife and determined mother. Having stood by her husband after discovering he was a drug addict, she is now driven by a passion to shine a light on addiction and help other North Coast families find their way through.

“I remember walking towards the rehab centre with my three-year-old in my arms. I was seven months pregnant with our second child and I kept thinking, ‘how is this my life?’”.
That was nine years ago. Kelly and her husband Barry now have three children, aged 11, 8 and 17 months, and they have never been happier. “Making the decision to stay with him was the best thing I have ever done. If you could see the husband and the father he is now …”

Kelly, who was born and raised in Johannesburg, had no idea her husband was a drug addict. The signs were there, of course, but having never had any experience with drugs, she was none the wiser. Until one day she was.
“I met Barry just after I left school and was completely swept up by him. He was such a fun, outgoing guy. He was always the life of the party and we had a whirlwind romance.”
Barry proposed when Kelly was 21 years old and they were married the following year. Six months later they fell pregnant with their first child. That was when things started to go wrong.

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“His business started falling apart and money was disappearing. There was a huge amount of financial stress. He would go out often and come home very late. I had never been around drugs though, so that never crossed my mind.”

Things started to look up a little when their daughter was born and they started a new business. But then Kelly’s mom, who had been diagnosed with colon cancer, passed away. “I was absolutely devastated,” says Kelly, who was just 25 years old at the time. A year later she fell pregnant with her son and things started going downhill again.

“Money kept going missing and Barry couldn’t explain. He became defensive and aggressive when I asked. I thought perhaps he was gambling, or even having an affair. But then I started doing some research online and drug addiction came up. I couldn’t believe it. I tried to figure it all out on my own. I didn’t want anyone else to know.”
One night, after he was pulled over by the police, everything came to a head and the truth came pouring out. After Barry went into rehab, Kelly says, things got worse before they got better.

“That first year was hard. He went into rehab for three months and then had a three-month outpatient programme. I had no job, no money, a toddler and a newborn. He was an addict and that meant a lot of ‘selfish’ tendencies.”
Kelly came to understand that Barry’s drug problem started when he was a child. “What started with a bit of marijuana as a 12-year-old, ended up being a 30-year-old man in rehab from a cocaine, CAT and heroin addiction. It was really hard for me to hear all his stories, but I wanted to know and understand.”

Having been raised by a Christian family, Kelly says she always believed that marriage was forever. “I prayed, trying to understand whether I should stay or leave. The answer that came to me though, was simply to ‘wait”.
And so she did. It wasn’t an easy road to walk, but Kelly is incredibly grateful that she decided to support her husband – both for herself and her children. “He is the most serving husband and hands-on father.”

When Barry had been ‘clean’ for eighteen months, he phoned a radio station and made a public dedication, thanking his wife for standing by him. The radio station called the couple back on air to tell their story. That was when Kelly started sharing their story with everyone they met, speaking at churches, AA meetings, public rallies and rehabs.

“So many people go through this, with wives and girlfriends hiding it and trying to handle it all alone, just like I did. Although most people are really supportive, there are those nasty ones who say that I should have known and that I’m ‘looking for attention’ by speaking out now. But I don’t care what they say, because I know that by sharing our story, I am helping others.”

When Barry and Kelly moved to Ballito in 2019, they joined the Grace Family Church. During the first lockdown they started a new juice shot business called Rooted. “Like it did for many people, Covid reminded us of the importance of our health and having a strong immune system. We saw a gap in the market and decided to start a business together. It’s strange, but even after everything we have been through, losing two businesses and literally millions of Rands, we work incredibly well together,” she says.

As a result of sharing their story, Barry and Kelly recently started a recovery and support group, called Project Exodus, at Grace Family Church in Ballito. “I have such a heart for helping others who are going through what we did. No one should carry that load alone. I want to shine a light on addiction in this area. It is a disease that affects the whole family.”
Details: Grace Recovery, Grace Family Church, Ballito Campus, [email protected], 074 923 9543.

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