Rebecca Davis on her week in an isolated cottage, sober

When Rebecca Davis decided to quit drinking, she made it her mission to find 'alternative' options to stay sane in an insane world. Here's Part V of our conversation with her about this arduous odyssey

21 May 2019 - 15:20 By Mila de Villiers
Rebecca Davis, author of 'Self-Helpless'.
Rebecca Davis, author of 'Self-Helpless'.
Image: Leila Dougan

Think "Rebecca Davis".

Adjectives including "South Africa's very best white" (merci for that one, Marianne Thamm), "award-winning journalist" and "the woman who puts the 'wit' in Twitter" ought to be conjured.

But "self-help author"? If "nah, bru" is your initial response, not to worry. This born cynic would agree hands down.

Self-Helpless, Davis's latest contribution to the local literary scene, chronicling her year-long "journey" of immersing herself in the world of auras, chakras, sweat lodges, mindfulness and (much) more, was sparked when she resolved to undertake "one of the most difficult things I've ever done": quit drinking.

'Self-Helpless: A Cynic's Search for Sanity'.
'Self-Helpless: A Cynic's Search for Sanity'.
Image: Pan Macmillan

Intrigued as to why the struggle was so onerous? Take a look at the facts:

The former Rhodent (all together now: "eat, sleep, mare, repeat!") discovered alcohol at 18 and pursued her newfound hobby with such a "passionate intensity" that by the time she reached 34, she calculated that she had spent roughly 9,984 hours of her 16 years as an imbiber, well, drinking.

Abstaining from the demon drink made Davis question How. The. Hell. Do sober people cope with an increasingly insane world? (And, as she writes, there's plenty to worry about - giraffes are facing extinction, Day Zero remains a shaky reality, the world is running out of sand ... Things are even bleaker now than in '87, R.E.M.)

Cue the alternative-method quest to stay sane inside insanity.

Keen to hear how that went down? Take a deep breath ... Hold for three ... Exhale ... Aaaaand read:

A week of solitude sans a phone? Ja, you're gonna feel pretty alone

One of the "alternative" methods of preserving prudence Davis attempted was a vow of silence, which saw her spending a week in an isolated cottage.

In a wood.

Without her phone.

Or books.

Scary, ?

"It was the one time in my journey that Haji, my wife, vetoed me doing something," Davis says, nodding her head in slight reverie of the memory.

"I wanted to go on a silent retreat to this monastery where they'd informed me that nobody would be around because it was holidays. Except for monks. Which I though basically was a very reassuring idea!"

Haji thought otherwise ...

"The idea of me, alone, a sole woman ... I think she was thinking of Opus Dei, something Dan Brown-like," Davis grins.

"So, I ended up going instead to this retreat centre which had a specific retreat cottage and it was extremely creepy, and ja..."

She pauses for a moment before specifying that it wasn't the absence of company that weighed on her but "having no diversion, no distraction".

"I think it's Terry Eagleton, the cultural critic, who said that the reason we create human culture - art, literature, etc - is as a way to buffer us from the horrors of the reality of life," Davis explains. 

"We act as if the arts are just such elevated forms - and they are, but they're also just a way of distracting you from life," she stresses.

"And what I realised, being alone in this wood, was that ..."

Davis has a fixed expression on her face as she considers said realisation ...

"When we talk about being alone," she ultimately conveys, "when we say, 'Ah, gosh, I could really use some me-time', we mean in the company of entertainment, high-quality entertainment. We mean with Netflix; we mean with podcasts; we mean with books," she lists.

"When you strip away all that stuff and your sole entertainment is ..." [cue Dramatic Pause] "your mind," she delivers, her eyes widening to Chihuahua-esque calibre. "I mean, it's quite scary," she grimaces. 

As she was working on her book at the time, she "had something to do, at least", but if she hadn't been busying herself with meeting her deadline, she maintains that "there's something about being left to your own devices in that way that really exposes the degree to which we become dependent constantly on being entertained."

"And it can't end well, frankly," she says with a furrowed brow. "I mean all of us, this whole society, just constantly determined to be distracted and entertained. To distract us from WHAT?" comes the exasperated proclamation.

What indeed ...

Stay tuned for Part VI: Mindfulness vs mobiles