Dave Luis: Why I had to travel all the way to home & back to find out where I really belong

Sometimes, the place you thought was home, turns out to be the place where you no longer fit in, and your real home turns out to be a place where strangers welcome you to a shared journey of friendship, understanding, and human connection.

By Dave Luis

After 17 months of living and working in Dubai, it was finally time to take some well-deserved leave, and go home to South Africa for a couple of weeks. Boy, was I looking forward to it – seeing my friends again, revelling in my favourite faces and places, and being served up some good old South African food. I was so ready for this! What I was completely unprepared for, was the shock of realising just how disconnected I had become from a sense of what home was.

South Africa is home. Cape Town is home. Right? This much is obvious, and on my harder days in Dubai, I kept telling myself “Ah well, no matter – if it all goes belly up, I can just come home to South Africa.”

Because Dubai is not home, not by a long shot. Dubai is a transient make-or-break city. You’re there to make money and add career kudos to your CV. I am constantly reminded that Dubai is just a resort with an ever-present expiry date. It’s not your forever home. I was really looking forward to being home in South Africa.

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Except I didn’t feel like I’d come home. From day 1 in Cape Town, I was a stranger – an alien – in my own home town. The city had moved on. Familiar places weren’t. Nothing felt like home. It was as if the minute I moved to Dubai, the vacuum left behind was instantly filled up and there was no space left for me.

I started to chase that sense of home, relentlessly. Coastal road trips to Betty’s Bay. Long walks on Signal Hill. A trip home to Pretoria, where I was born, and then on visit to my brothers in Tzaneen, and my cousins in Durban. Nothing. Nada. Nothing felt like home, like I belonged. At best, I was a tourist in a country I’d been born in years ago.

I felt lost. I turned to food, The Great Comforter. There were more Wimpy breakfasts than is strictly good for you, and more ice cream, more sushi and pizza, more excuses to eat my feelings.

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Travelling around SA became one extended lunch break. I was meeting friends and new faces, trying to find a sense of home in the only thing that still felt familiar, still felt like home – food. I was covering all those feelings of – what? – that I had been discarded by my home country? – with layers and layers of food.

And so it went, for three weeks. Feelings. Food. More feelings, more food. And then – on one of my last days before flying back to Dubai, something changed. I went to listen to a friend share their journey of recovery at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. That meeting space is sacred, and hearing all the personal stories being shared, I was forced to look inward and really face these feelings I’d been overwhelmed by on this trip ‘home’.

Although I’d been clean and sober for seven years, it had been several years since I’d attended a Narcotics Anonymous meeting for my own journey of recovery, and sitting in there in my friend’s AA meeting, I had – for the first time since coming home – a sense of being somewhere where I fit, where I belonged.

It was a beautiful epiphany: I hadn’t finished my recovery journey – not by a long shot. And this sense of home was completely within my grasp, through meetings and people like this.

Landing back in Dubai a few days later, I looked up the local Narcotics Anonymous meeting, fully expecting there to be no such thing in a region with such a hard stance on drugs. But there it was, a page dedicated to the daily NA meetings here in my adopted home town. And look – one just down the road from where I lived.

The following Monday evening I walked into a room filled with strangers from all over the world. Strangers who looked me in the eye and wrapped me in warm hugs, like I was a long-lost brother finally come home. A prodigal son returned to the fold.

As I sat there, listening to these strangers taking stock and reflecting on their lives in recovery, I knew then that home is not South Africa or Cape Town – it’s not a physical space. It’s a human connection. Home is my friends. Home is my NA group in Dubai, every Monday night.

My name is Dave, and I am an addict. Welcome home.