« back · www.benzo.org.uk »

Judge's addiction nightmare

Sunday Times, Johannesburg,
November 28, 1999
by Carmel Rickard

'I have learnt the hard way that everyone is fallible: it is a humbling experience,' Bertelsmann says after rebuilding his life.

AN ADVOCATE who will take up his seat as a High Court judge in February has revealed how he became addicted to tranquillisers and started abusing alcohol.

Eberhard Bertelsmann SC, who was once almost driven to suicide by his addiction to Ativan, told the Sunday Times how his problems began in the early '80s - when, faced with increased pressure at work, he consulted a medical specialist who prescribed the drug for him.

Unknown to either of them, it was highly addictive. In the US the drug is always issued with a warning that it should be used for a maximum of three weeks - but the doctor continued to prescribe it for five and a half years. Bertelsmann never exceeded the recommended dose but became seriously addicted without realising it. The label of the Schedule 5 drug has since been changed to include an addiction warning.

The craving turned Bertelsmann into a heavy drinker and he quickly developed a secondary addiction. Though he kept his practice going, his family life was severely affected.

By March 1986 he was lonely, extremely depressed and close to suicide. When he asked his family for help, they found the Elim Clinic and he booked in for three weeks - starting with a hellish 10 days of withdrawal.

The experience changed his life. He took up his legal work with renewed energy and became a senior counsel. His colleagues elected him to the Pretoria Bar Council for nine consecutive terms, four as vicechairman and three as chairman, something he felt signalled their acceptance of and support for him.

His family life blossomed and he became involved with the work of the Elim Clinic, helping other people with addictions.

"I've been on that bus: through my experience I've become a kind of expert on what it's like to be addicted. And I want to show that there is no obstacle or mishap from which you cannot come back if you have faith and support," says Bertelsmann.

Law is acknowledged as a high-risk profession, and any practitioner will have stories of brilliant colleagues who succumbed to various kinds of addiction. "There are many in our profession who have fallen by the wayside because of this," Bertelsmann says.

"But it is possible to come back and make a new life for yourself if you have backing like I received from my wife, family, friends and colleagues."

He says the experience has taught him a different set of values and made it easier to deal with stress. But what would it add to his work as a judge? "I have learnt the hard way that everyone is fallible: it is a humbling experience."

Judge President Bernard Ngoepe, with whom Bertelsmann will be working once he takes up office in February, clearly has no problem with his new colleague's past and gave his blessing to Bertelsmann's decision to speak about it. "Our Bench will be immensely enriched to have someone of his talents and experience sitting with us," Judge Ngoepe said.

Today at 8.15am on Hosanna, SABC2, Bertelsmann will talk about his battle against addiction and the work of the Kempton Park Elim Clinic.

(Judge E. Bertelsmann was a speaker at the Beat The Benzos Conference in London, UK in November 2000.)

Biography of Judge E. Bertelsmann

A NEW LIFE: Eberhard
Bertelsmann has come
out fighting

Eberhard Bertelsmann was born on 21 August 1946 and educated at a German Private School in Windhoek, Namibia (1953-1962) and at the Afrikanns Boys' High School, Pretoria, South Africa (1963-1964). He did his military service in the Tank Regiment at Bloemfontein in 1965.

Between 1966 and 1968 he attended University of Stellenbosch where he received his B.A. in Law. He served on a number of student committees and represented the University at soccer and chess. Between 1969 and 1971, he studied at the University of South Africa where he received his LLB and became a Junior Lecturer with the Faculty of Law.

From November, 1972 to February 2000, Judge Bertelsmann was a public prosecutor and Member of the Pretoria Bar. He has appeared as Counsel in some 75 matters in all courts in South Africa which were reported in the law reports as well as in several commissions of enquiry, i.e., the Harms Commission of Enquiry into Hit Squad Activities of the Apartheid Security Forces, representing members of the present government and other victims.

He became a Senior Counsel (QC) in 1988 and served four terms as Vice Chairman, three terms as Chairman of the Pretoria Bar Counsel (1989-1999). He was a member of the General Council of the Bar of South Africa (1991-1999) and acting Chairman in 1999.

Judge Bertelsmann enjoyed a membership with the International Bar Association, the Commonwealth Lawyers' Association and the International Society for the Improvement of the Criminal Law. He Co-founded and sat as the first Chairman of South Africa's British - South African Law Society and he was the first representative of the General Council of the Bar of South Africa at the Lord Chancellor's Breakfast in 1994.

He has been a delegate and speaker at the General Council of the Bar of South Africa, International Bar Association, Commonwealth Lawyers Association and Society for the Improvement of the Criminal Law at London, Edinburgh, Vancouver, Berlin, New Orleans, Cape Town, Sun City, Paris and Kuala Lumpur (1990-1999). He was an acting Judge of the High Court of South Africa in 1989, 1995, 1998 and 1999 and became a Judge of the High Court in February, 2000.

In 1986, he was treated at the Elim Clinic for dependency on Ativan and Alcohol. From 1993 to the present, he has served as the Director of the Clinic and was the Founder and first Chairman of the association of former patients of the Elim Clinic, known as the Elim Ex-Students' League.

Elim Clinic Web Site

« back · top · www.benzo.org.uk »