Addiction Recovery Reflections: The New Lightness of Being.

What a year 2017 has been. It certainly ended off with a metaphorical bang: for five edge-of-your-seat days, the ANC 54 Conference took place, and the entire country sat to embrace the tumultuous leadership battle’s climax. Obviously, I have my own views, but this isn’t a political blog so no expounding here. I will say this: I spent days with my ear almost literally glued to my Bluetooth speaker, while doing other work (but unable to focus), as I pictured the energy and tension of the Nasrec centre during the conference. It became as addictive as crack. That’s politics for you. Like Hunter S. Thompson, a very famous fellow addict, once said: Politics is the art of controlling your environment. And our environment’s future depended on the outcome.

My father was up from Durban to visit the family, but mainly to help manage the grandkids while my sister, exhausted from chemo therapy, rested.

addiction recovery, Addiction Recovery Reflections: The New Lightness of Being., We went to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi, but I could barely concentrate. This was the day when the new ANC president was to be announced. My dad said, while we were eating popcorn awaiting our movie, the announcement would probably come out at 7pm. We would be in the middle of lightsabre duels at the time. My stomach was gnawing itself into a frenzy. Would the Cabal win? I fretted. What happens then? Munch, munch. More popcorn.

When the movie ended at approximately 19:48, I turned on my cellphone. “Cereal won,” said my cousin in a WhatsApp message.

Then I looked at the Top Six. It looked like an even balance between the Light Side of the Force and the Dark Side. Fits with the movie I just saw, I thought. But, just like The Last Jedi ended, there is hope.

For most of the year, my therapist has listened to me going on about this. About my anxiety related to who wins the race. Over and over. But then, Houghton House’s team of counsellors are only too happy to help you deal with your life issues. After all, for many addicts coming out of Houghton’s excellent rehab, these issues can lead them back to active addiction – picking up drugs and drinking alcohol again because their:

  • Boss embarrassed them in the boardroom.
  • Spouse left them for the postperson. (After inventing a time machine and travelling back to when we had a functioning postal service.)
  • Teenage pooch is now at that rebellious age and constantly sh1ts on the upholstery.
  • Physical Education impromptu soccer team picked them last, even after the guy in the wheelchair.

My issues are wide and varied.

Their multitude is so great, if they were converted into bitcoin stock, I’d have enough money to buy Tokyo. This is why I’m grateful for the continued assistance of Houghton House in my recovery – the extended treatment programmes they offer really do go a long way.

It was the year, as mentioned in my previous blog post, of scattered madness. The War of the WormsTM really brought out my crazy side. That’s when I thought my cats had tapeworms. As a result, I am now on a first name basis with all 40 staff members of the Bryanston Veterinary Hospital. (Interestingly enough, Harold, on the board of directors, told me his nephew went crazy after he contracted syphilis in Thailand. That was just before we parted ways at the Bryanston Country Club, as I’m forbidden to play the 19th Hole.) (Sh1t, maybe I got syphilis from my student days at Rhodes?) (I’m sure it’s just good old bipolar, disco damage, and anxiety issues mating with frakking phobia.) (Maybe I should juuuuust check Google anyway.) (Oh no! I have syphilis! And every other disease known to man! Including kuru, which normally only infects cannibals from Papua New Guinea!)

It was a year of dealing with life-on-life-terms problems, like trying to find a job, without losing hope. It can be tough out there, in the current wasteland of an economy we call South Africa. I resigned from my position at an advertising agency when I decided to come into treatment. It’s not the easiest thing to do, especially when you’re winning with management. Although my head of department was faintly evil, almost in a James Bond villain kind of way. There was always a dastardly plot afoot to rid the company of someone she didn’t like. I won’t go into detail. But she did have a large white Persian cat she stroked while issuing execution orders. Executing campaign ads, to clarify. I miss that cat. Muffins.

It was a year of not picking up drugs, no matter what. Not always easy. One of the toughest things to beat in early recovery is the dreaded Craving. It’s an insidious thought that crawls into your head, even when you’re doing everything right. If you’re a non-addict, think about it like this. You’ve gone 14 hours without eating anything, and you’ve just had a workout. Maybe a jog around your neighbourhood. (If you’re in Johannesburg, that jog would involve occasional dashes and 100 metre sprints to dodge muggers.) You’re back at home. You weigh yourself on the scale. Decide you’re only going to eat salad for dinner. The only thing in the fridge is a pizza with enough greasy meat toppings to stop a geriatric’s heart. You’re starving. Suddenly, you can imagine how good that pizza, with melted cheese from a microwave warm up, would taste in your mouth. You know you should go to your car, drive all the way to the shops. But pizza…

That craving. Right there. That’s what it’s like in early recovery, when you even have a brief thought of your drug of choice. But your drug isn’t in the fridge. It could be in Antarctica for all you care. In that moment, if you give in to the craving, you’d have it by nightfall. A lot of addicts, sadly, do. I did, a few relapses ago. However, it’s possible to beat. Going to a rehab like Houghton House certainly helps, because of the tools taught there (don’t read that as: tools teaching there), and the enforced diet of no drugs for four weeks. I had that metaphorical craving for pizza a lot over the past 12 months, especially the first couple. But I resisted. Recovery’s foundational layer is about not picking up, no matter what.

This year, I have also stopped literal pizza. For fear of developing a waistline large enough to generate its own gravitational field. I’m also fighting the good fight against sugar. I’ve mainly been good, actually. Cut out chocolate, ice lollies, sweets. Chips, too! Coke has been switched for Coke Zero. And you know what, it’s actually an easy adjustment. I’ve been trying to score some of the other sugar though. So, if you know someone nice, maybe you have a pretty friend, sister, niece, daughter, mom, and don’t think she’ll mind a half-creepy guy (I don’t have a basement, so I gain points there), let me know. Send an email to I’m not picky, just as long as she’s not allergic to cats. And is a former gymnast. (I dated one once. Changed me forever.)

It’s been a year of art, creativity, and writing. Pushing myself to learn photo manipulation. By trial and error. The most frustrating way to learn anything. And it’s like recovery. Even when you’re not enjoying it, you’ve got to just carry on. I’ll tell you one thing that’s great about it: it took hours and hours, and frustration after frustration, but I was finally able to superimpose two images successfully. A fantastic outcome, because the next day, my New Age hippy friend Wendell Ferndale received an email containing a picture of him banging a dolphin. It came along with a request for $10000 wired to a Zurich bank account. Selling crystal trinkets is lucrative for some.

(I’m writing this while holidaying in the French Riviera. Coincidentally.)

This was a year of heartbreak, on learning my sister has pancreatic cancer. It brought us together as a family, though. And my stepmom really reached out to me. We hadn’t been talking for a while, after my last two relapses. But she can see how I’m really trying to get this right this time. My youngest sister, her daughter, hadn’t spoken to me in years, so heartbroken was she over my last two disappointments. But she also reached out, in fact needed help with a varsity project. It gave us the opportunity to get closer. My other sister, the one with cancer, is so thin at the moment. It’s devastating. But all through that, I haven’t picked up.

There’s never a reason to pick up.

Unless its morphine and you’ve just lost your entire left arm to Conan the Barbarian’s greatsword. Well, some addicts might say, NOT EVEN THEN! And they have a point. After Conan is finished with them, I’ll give them two panados for the pain. But, as my arm lies twitching on the ground, I’m sure as heck taking the morphine.

Because if I ever do end up back in active addiction, I know there’s a place I can go to get back on track.

Houghton House.

Without them, I certainly wouldn’t have had much of a year at all.

(The addict in me is now wondering where I can find loin-clothed barbarians wielding greatswords, so I can go and insult their mothers. Time to do some step work.)