Today marks four years since I last touched drugs or alcohol.
I wish that I was writing a piece that celebrated my victory and affirmed that I had all the answers to beating addiction, but I am not.
Truth is, I wrote a piece 2 years ago today saying the battle was far from won, and today as I write nothing has changed.
In fact not only has nothing changed, nothing has changed since April 16, 2014.
I am confined to a wheelchair because I am so overweight and unfit that a small accident that would have been a minor inconvenience in a healthier, stronger person, has rendered me useless and unable to do anything.
Yes, I may never touch drugs again (that battle has been won) but my focus on self-care and planning for the future is as undeveloped and for the most part absent as it was at the height of my addiction.
There is no point writing a searing and inspirational post of how I beat drugs, when there is so much I am not getting right. There is nothing to be gained from opening up in a vulnerable piece about how I need help. No value in a life listicle, defining achievements and work yet to be done.
In short, these words are meaningless without action to change my situation.
So yes, today I celebrate four years of drug-free living, and I acknowledge that milestone, and the hard work it took to achieve. I acknowledge the love and support of everyone who helped me to get to this point. I respect the wishes of those who had to walk away.
It’s everybody’s favourite catch phrase from Pitch Perfect, but some days, ‘make good choices’ is a lifeline.
Today was one of those days. Today was a day where my temper threatened to overwhelm and consume me.
So I made a good choice.
I cleared out of the maelstrom. I walked away. Seething, boiling and on the brink of exploding.
But walking away only delayed what I knew would come. That flood of confusion at all this…emotion. I detest it. Ironic, no? I have a strong emotion about strong emotions.
Have you seen Equilibrium? The 2002 film, in which Christian Bale lives in a world where emotion is outlawed. Emotion is kept out of the human population with a daily dose of strong medication. A lot like my old life: have a feeling, apply cocaine. Feeling gone.
So today I knew that that default reaction would rise up in me again as the rush of anger drowned all my other senses. And it did, in a big way.
So I made a good choice. Again.
I acknowledged the monster, and disarmed it. I faced it down by admitting it was there, and KNOWING why it was there, and knowing HOW I was going to get through it. Just one second at a time.
Then a minute.
Followed by an hour. And another. And another…
At the end of three hours, I was clear. Calm. And had produced a load of work for tomorrow. Which should take the edge off tomorrow, a little.
Today marks 39 months’ clean and mostly serene living.
I want to tell you how I felt when you sent that message. But I won’t.
I want to tell you about the real emotion I had. But I won’t.
I want to tell you never to contact me again. But I won’t.
I want to block you from ever being able to get in contact with me. But I won’t.
I want to write a thousand words about the damage and the hurt and the codependency. But I won’t.
You’re not welcome here, anymore. But I won’t shut the door, because you’re not important enough for me to buy into that kind of drama ever again.
This – us – whatever it was (more than a friendship, too little for a relationship) – was a mess.
I am not closing the door on you, but my therapy is. It’s slowly prying loose that death grip you held on my heart and my wallet. It’s disarming you, reducing you from the charming monster I used to love, to a simple man, broken by his own demons. Nothing more. Nothing less.
I’ve already written too much. You don’t have a front seat in my life, anymore.
I’m moving on. I’m setting you free, to do whatever you want to do. Go. So I can be free of you.
Yes, yes – I hear your “I don’t live to eat, I eat to live” mantra, but I do live to eat. And I’m in therapy because I won’t allow myself to have emotions. (Essentially, this means I only have to make this a listicle of one item, but in case you need more convincing, let me carry on…)
Putting Descartes before the horse: I eat, therefore I have an emotion – not the other way around.
Point one aside, I eat when I am happy, sad, tired, angry, bored, busy, excited, anxious – essentially, whenever I am awake. This does not fit in with the traditional view of an emotional eater, who – according to Hollywood and trashy glamour magazines – only eats when they are sad.
I am in complete control and can stop overeating any time I like. ANY time, you hear me? I just don’t feel like it, right now.
My third therapy session today was not as difficult as my second one; we talked about loss, and death and fear and anxiety.
It is easier to talk about these as an adult than to imagine myself as a child – I mean actually picture myself – my face – as I am told my dad is leaving; my dad is dead; my mum is sick; my mum is dead; my stepmum is sick, my stepmum is dead. It is easier to intellectualise that death happens, than to picture the soft, innocent eyes of my childhood self melt into tears as my world collapsed around me.
My dad died when I was 13; my mother when I was 32 and my stepmum when I was 33 – but today, talking about these deaths in safety of my therapist’s room, I felt each one of these with the same raw horror that hit me when I heard dad had just left home when I was 6. That gut-wrenching, stabbing ache that rips the breath straight out my throat – I felt it over and over again, pounding at my head: “He’s gone. He’s dead. She’s sick. She’s dead. She’s gone. She’s dead.”
It punched me, over and over – yet the tears wouldn’t come. Not one. Years of fighting the tears – of fighting back the emotion have made me one hell of an expert at keeping that flood at bay. I left therapy and went to Mandy’s book launch, all calm and happy to see Mandy. I felt love, seeing Mandy. I felt good.
I drove home. I ate dinner. I showered. I got into bed. I watched the YouTube video of NASA’s 1.5-billion pixel image of space…and the flood gates opened as that video scanned the myriad stars and constellations. Such aching, exquisite beauty – it broke through and unleashed…well, not a flood of tears, no. But some. Some precious few tears rolled down my cheek before my default setting shut me down completely.
I was sent a letter in 2007, from myself in 2014, written by my brilliant mate, Cath Jenkin. It goes like this:
“Dear Dave from like 2007,
I’d like you to meet my friend, Dave from 2014.
See, Dave, my 2014 friend Dave got shot with a life tumble and rolled with it. He fucking rolled with it so much he made it look like he was ice-skating.
This is why, Dave from 2007, you couldn’t last. I’m sorry about that, but the way you chose to skid rather than glide just wasn’t sustainable. You were fun to watch though, but this 2014 Dave? 2014 Dave is good to be around. His energy is so infectious I can feel it right the fuck up the coastline.
So, sorry 2007 Dave. But don’t worry – 2014 Dave has got this. You hang in there buddy, cause it’s one heck of a ride. Good thing you’ve got 2014 Dave driving, because he’s got this shit taped.”
If you know me at all, you’ll know how change scares the living daylights out of me – and yet – it shouldn’t. Every time I’ve been faced with major, unplanned changes, life has actually gotten far better.
There were the redundancies in ’99 – I applied for and got a better job at a higher level.
There was sudden relocation to London, for work – I learned how to live on my own. In London. That’s pretty decent!
There was the company closure and being forced to leave the UK – I ended up working in a great new job and redefining my space and my career and my passion, back in Jozi.
There was losing my job, my money and all my possessions as I hit rock-bottom after 18 years of addiction – and I found, instead, a way to heal and talk about healing – and as a result, stepped into a dream job in Stellenbosch, when I thought my career was over.
There was the realisation that I had been raped when I was 21 – I learned what forgiveness is, and how to talk about being a rape survivor – and I went on to talk at Rhodes University, the first man invited to share at the Silent Protest Against Sexual Violence.
Then there was the company downsizing – and because I have never believed in burning my bridges, through my network of former colleagues and bosses, I stepped into a new job less than 24 hours after taking a severance package.
It was this seamless changeover, and the eventual calm* I handled it with that prompted Cath to write the letter to the old me, from the new me.
If I look at the list above – everything on the left – all the change that happened – was steeped in fear and anxiety and panic. And what resulted – everything on the right in italics means I never had to fear a thing. And yet we do – change represents a threat. I understand this – because losing a job does not guarantee you another. Losing a parent – well, how does life get better after that? (It does you know, when that parent was suffering with a terminal illness – they are no longer in pain, and in time, you will feel the relief for them, and have only good memories…)
The reality is that not all change is good change – let’s agree to that. But the fact is that I feared ALL change. And that turned my life into a living hell – because in not ONE instance above, did I have any measure of control of the wider situation – there was nothing I could do to prevent the change from happening. No – not even the addiction and its drama – because it was addiction and not merely a habit. Addiction is a loss of control. You’ll do well to remember that.
That fear of change is crippling. It reduced me to a quivering mess more often than not, and – more often than not – there was no need to. Life goes on. Sometimes on a different path. Sometimes on the same path, just differently. But it’s all good because it’s ALL growth and life lessons. Even the painful ones. Especially the painful ones.
I’m not one for new year’s resolutions, but going forward, I resolve to do more of that ‘not fearing’ thing that Cath wrote about in her letter to me, from me. I’ll meet change head-on, and face it. There may be fear and uncertainty – but I will deal with it. Because it all works out, in the end.
*I confess to having major panic the day before the restructure – because I am human, after all!