Out with the new, in with the old - because that's what works

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 VII of our conversation with her about this arduous odyssey

30 May 2019 - 14:13
By Mila de Villiers, pan macmillan AND Pan Macmillan
Rebecca Davis, author of 'Self-Helpless'.
Image: Leila Dougan Rebecca Davis, author of 'Self-Helpless'.

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

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, imbibing.

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:

Soz, sweat lodges and shrooms trips - it's the old stuff that works

When Davis began her sober journey to sanity her ultimate hope was that she would find "some kind of weekly half-hour practice ideally undertaken in very comforting, up-market surrounds that would kind of transform me", she explains with a self-deprecating smile. 

As Davis is an inhabitant of the Mother City - aka Mzansi's mecca of wholesomeness - these surrounds weren't hard to come by. 

Sangomas and auras aside, Davis undertook two weekend-long trips as means to  abstemiously align her chakras.

One of these trips saw her visiting a sweat lodge; this yurt-esque hut is similar to saunas, yet one is expected to remain in this pseudo-furnace for up to several hours and sweat it all out (and I mean all) in order to purify the mind, body and soul. *Insert WhatsApp's fire emoji here*

Davis's written account of the agony she experienced in the lodge is tangible and she left feeling tortured rather than cleansed. 

Her other trip was one of a psychedelic nature... 

Davis's wife, Haji Mohamed Dawjee, reluctantly accompanied her to a venue outside Cape Town for a Sacred Mushroom Ceremony. (Basically, a guided shrooms trip.) The couple, along with a group of strangers, were gifted with a portion of magic mushrooms by the owners of said venue.

Post-ingestion, the Motley crew spent the eve in sleeping bags (in a communal room), and were encouraged to just enjoy the hallucinatory effect courtesy of Psilocybin paddastoele. And enjoy Davis did. In fact, she had such a pleasantly soothing trip that she convinced Haji to relive the experience in their flat back home in Sea Point. Haji agreed. Begrudgingly. (Fortunately for Haji, Davis had a bad trip and they vowed to #NeverAgain.) 

Out of all the practices she tried (and paid for), not one was indispensable to her mental health, Davis resolutely acknowledges.

"We're desperate for magical, quick solutions," she elucidates, "but the thing is what I found, ultimately, is it's the old stuff that works.

"The boring stuff," Davis continues. "The stuff your mom told you." (Here's looking at you, exercise, sleeping, and gratitude.) 

She furthers that it's "quite nice that the gimmicky, expensive stuff doesn't work", and is convinced that they actually have less impact than "some of the stuff we've always known about".  

The fact that some of the most shoplifted books in South Africa are international self-help titles such as The Secret and Rich Man, Poor Man is "such a statement!" she fervidly exclaims.

"It shows the extent to which people are desperate for solutions, while literally even lacking the financial means to address that. And again there's something quite ... praiseworthy about it," Davis reasons. "You know - you're in a fix and you're taking a proactive step to get out of it.

"Even if that step is theft-related," comes the nonchalant afterthought.

Stay tuned for Part VIII:  Check yourself, you narcissist, you ...