Finding hope

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After struggling with depression and addiction for many years, Nikita Schmeltzer has turned her life around and found her true purpose in motherhood.

Nikita is the proud owner of The Artisan Hair Studio in Salt Rock, a space she has created with love. “At my shop, I want to serve people,” she says. “I want people to feel good about themselves, to feel valued and appreciated.” She opened the salon at the end of last year, and being able to run her own business represents a huge milestone for her, having been through recovery for substance abuse and dealing with profound childhood trauma.

Nikita spent the early years of her childhood in an unstable home, and when she was just 14 years old, was admitted to rehab for depression. Although she thrived at school, doing particularly well at art and sport, she says she never really felt like she belonged. After school, while studying hairstyling, she began using cocaine and became increasingly wrapped up in the world of drugs and alcohol. “I was in a very vulnerable place at the time and my life spiralled, “she explains. “I realise now that I hadn’t worked through my childhood issues.”

It was at this time that Nikita fell pregnant, and with her dad’s help, she returned to her family home in Kokstad. Becoming a single mom wasn’t easy, but it shifted the course of her life completely. “Today I have a beautiful 11-year-old daughter,” she says. “She’s my saving grace. If it wasn’t for her, I probably wouldn’t have made it. I believe God sent her to me through that pain to save me.”

Nikita slowly but surely started to rebuild her life. “When that little girl was born, I took one look at her and everything changed,” she says. “Bringing up a child by myself has been so humbling and rewarding.” She opened a small salon in Kokstad and met her husband Chesney, who provided her with the love and support she needed. When Chesney was offered a job in Australia, Nikita and her daughter joined him, but when they returned home to renew their visas in 2020, they found themselves stuck in South Africa because of Covid-19 restrictions. Lockdown, along with financial and emotional stress took a toll on the couple and both of them turned to substances. Chesney booked himself into a rehab facility near Ballito, and this was a turning point for Nikita. “I was left to cope by myself when I actually needed just as much healing and help,” she admits.

Having hit rock bottom emotionally, she drove to Grace Family Church, where she eventually reached out for help. There, she joined Project Exodus, a recovery programme, and has been part of the group ever since. “My healing journey started there,” she says. “Through Project Exodus, I realised that the drugs and the drinking were never the problem. The true problems are trauma, emotional abuse and abandonment issues. I had a lot of things to work through. I’m still on a journey of healing, but now I have the coping skills.” Nikita credits her faith, as well as the support of her husband, dad and step-mom for her success in turning her life around.

Nikita and Chesney have been in recovery for over two years. In November last year, with Chesney’s encouragement, Nikita opened her new salon. “It’s a new chapter of hope and restoration,” she says. “I hope when people visit, they feel the true joy that I’m trying to reflect.” Through her work, she’s found a sense of community and is motivated by the people she meets and connects with every day.

Having been through her own journey of healing, Nikita urges others to reach out to others who might be struggling. “If we see people suffering, we need to ask if they’re ok,” she says. “We don’t know what people are going through behind closed doors. If we’ve got the capability to help someone, we should do it.”

It’s also important to her that she breaks the cycle of trauma and addiction for her daughter. “We can’t raise strong women if we don’t heal ourselves first,” she says. “It’s hard to face our wounds but we have to open them up to find freedom.”

Details: The Artisan Hair Studio; Salt Rock Centre, Salt Rock; 074 923 9543
IG: @the_artisan_hairstudio; Grace Recovery Ballito;
[email protected]

Photograph: KELLY PRETORIUS

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