By Selina Sheth May. 30, 2016
Moderation is not my key; balance is not in my lexicon. Addiction is an inspiration. And I pray that every obsession gives me a high.
I’ve been an addict all my life. At 15, I was dependent on blue eyeliner and boys for approval. At 28, I was obsessed with my job as a television writer, and having to prove to the entertainment industry that I’m the voice of my generation. At 32, I would consume four books a week and take infinite notes for a novel that I would write one day.
Somewhere between 35 and 39 lies my half-decade of lost time, my customised female pre-midlife crisis, a shadowy blur of people and events that I cannot recall, thanks to my drug of choice at that point: Riviera White. A bottle a day. Maybe another at night.
It’s a ritual that stretches from an hour to 24, sometimes 48; a dull, hazy liberation from the shackles of tiresome social pretence and the boredom of churning out corny soap opera scripts. I knock back a glass, and then I pour another. That’s better. Now I can start to relax and talk to myself. Pick my topic and go on and on, there’s no one to stop me.
When I am flying high on drunk, evangelical righteousness, I make a series of aggressive phone calls to rant at friends, colleagues, ex-lovers, producers of cheques that have bounced, neighbours who’ve pissed me off. I tell them exactly what I think of them until they hang up on me or I hang up on them, whichever comes first.
I pass out and wake up a few hours later to a tidal wave of embarrassment. Did I go too far last night? Or was it afternoon? More irritating than a hangover is the obligation to make amends. So I forget about it for now, draw the curtains, talk to myself and imbibe the Sula in the fridge. This time, I safety-lock my phone.
One day, I discover the Ashtanga primary series, and it’s like graduating from addiction to religion.
Two hours later, that familiar feeling of invincibility kicks in. The force is with me. I can achieve anything, be anyone. And so I vow that starting tomorrow, it will all be different. No more booze. Clean, healthy living; sharp mind and toned body. I make a schedule for the “new me” to follow.
Half way through Day 2, I give up, cave in, and call the guy at Princess Wines. He always delivers with a smile – my only anchor in this uncertain world.
In the life of every drinker, thinker, seeker, or occasional manic depressive (I confess to be all of these) is a high that lasts for about 27 minutes a day. What follows, without warning – like a sharp turn on a mountain road – is a wave of despair, loneliness, and utter panic.
This is when reality pays you a visit, showing up like a snotty cousin. It says, “Hello. You know you’ve lost your way. You’ve missed the boat on family get-togethers, reunions, new trends, work deadlines. Most importantly, don’t you miss yourself? You were smoking hot, now you’re a sluggish mess. You look 50, and you’re nowhere near 40 yet.” I tell reality to fuck off. I haven’t hit rock bottom. Yet.
Known fact: Addicts talk of hitting rock bottom as a turning point in their story. Some drunks wake up on a crowded street in broad daylight, and realise they just missed being run over by a truck and flung into a ditch. For others, the process of self-realisation is slower, less dramatic, and more rational. Then there’s the dull fear of losing family, health, relationships, self-respect and jobs that they’re good at. They are sick of suffocating under a blanket of social disgrace, of the pain that comes with avoiding mirrors and staircases.
In my case, it’s none of the above. One day I merely forget about wine because a new addiction rings my doorbell, moves in, and devours me. Before I know it, I’m celebrating four years of sobriety and a wedding anniversary with my new soul mate: Fitness.
Fitness. It starts as an experiment. One workout only, because the flyer that sails in through the grill on the window promises a free trial. Three months later, I’m clocking two hours of cardio yoga a day. No alcohol, no junk food. Empty bottles evicted and recycled. No more Princess Wines on speed dial (I even deleted the number). Only fruit after 6 pm. I run up four flights of stairs; glide through 108 Surya Namaskars. Everywhere I go, I sip smugly from a flask of hot water. The Sula leaves me frigid. The Riviera is like an ex-wife I can’t be bothered with any more because my new mistress has me on fire.
One day, I discover the Ashtanga primary series, and it’s like graduating from addiction to religion. I fall into worship, like a new-age Scientologist. Group Ashtangi discussions on WhatsApp and Facebook revolve around castor-oil baths (for supple limbs), Mandukamats (no slipping during transition movements), Kino videos (good or no good? You decide).
There are 42 postures in primary, and some people get stuck somewhere around the fourteenth one, from where on it will take them years more, or no time at all because they give up. But I am an addict. I don’t give up. I crack the gateway posture, Marichyasana D, in two months. Then get stuck in the pinnacle pose that is Supta Kurmasana. Ego smashed.
But wait, Garba Pindasana is getting better… and after that, primary is easy, I’m told. But only until drop-backs begin, and then there’s the intermediate series, and my target is to get there by next year, or in roughly 20 years. Practice, practice, practice, all is coming, says guruji.
The symptoms of the old virus are back, the virus of addiction. Only this time it’s pure, in an avatar that is determined and constructive instead of weak, helpless, and shivering. I am a take-no-excuses type of person and it’s a thrill, a cool feeling, like, well, an addiction.
I don’t miss wine. Ashtanga is a drug more potent than cocaine, more exhilarating than heroin, more lethal than tragic first love.
It’s a high to have a jutting clavicle, sharp cheekbones, size 8 jeans, the constant rush of adolescent stamina, the ability to bare headstand on a beach. It’s even better to have all that with the underlying, long-term benefits of yoga: an iron discipline, the ability to deal with pressure without helpless anxiety, that power to not have to justify yourself constantly.
I finally embrace addiction as a good thing. It has led me to this, in a way that moderation and balance would never have. Moderation is not my key; balance is not in my lexicon. These are oxymorons, mistaken assumptions like “social drinking” and “gentle exercise”. The truth is you have to go rogue. Make addiction your friend, your inspiration. Because for an addict, it can only be all or nothing. The addict always makes that one choice: the extremity of electric success (or blackout failure) over the low-wattage bulb of routine mediocrity.
All I pray for is that the next obsession – if or when it hits – is even greater.
Selina Sheth has worked as a broadcast journalist, a network commissioning executive, a screenwriter and a content editor. She is an obsessive reader and a dedicated student of Hatha and Ashtanga yoga.