My good pal Cyril wrote an article a few months back detailing what it was like to be a drug addict travelling in Peru, which you can check out here. Now, having gone travelling outside of Canada for the first time since getting clean and sober, he tells us what it’s like as a recovering drug addict in South East Asia. Read on for his story.
Addicted in Asia
Cyril here again, back from Asia with sobriety in tact. I was both surprised and comforted in my travels, first by the relative ease with which I remained abstinent and secondly by the fulfillment I was able to achieve without alternative aid. This having been said, it was certainly no trivial task to stick to my guns overseas. I intend herein to briefly describe the triggers I encountered, as well as the solutions I found, while backpacking throughout the South East Asian Islands alongside my beautiful Queen, Taylor.
Fifteen hours after entering Calgary International Airport we had finally arrived at our preliminary destination: Manila, Philippines. We would spend three nights in the city before embarking to Malaysia. As we strolled through Manila International I recall thinking how normal I felt. Not as though I was again at home in this foreign country, yet rather as though nothing had changed since we left Canada. Taylor and I approached the main doors with our luggage-cart; they automatically slid apart and we stepped outside. The temperature hike was brilliantly immediate. Coming from fifteen hours of air conditioned planes and airports it was quite a shock to be so abruptly assaulted by the hot humidity. Even more so a surprise, considering it was just after midnight and the darkness outside had spoken of a chill to our unsuspecting bodies.
As the wall of sticky moisture rolled over us I was stricken by a much less natural phenomena as I was taken back to Peru four years ago, stepping out into the dense night air and flagging down the van that would drive me through all that chaos and out into paradise. Disoriented and confused I began noticing inconsistencies in my environment and slowly began realizing more and more what was actually happening in this present time and space. Flagging down a taxi, we jumped in and provided the address of our hotel as I continued coming to. The taxi took us a short ways past the lively downtown section and into a much darker, much more suspicious looking neighbourhood. Hiding amongst this neighbourhood was in fact our hotel. The taxi dropped us off and left.
We entered the hotel and requested to check in, to which we were told that we could not check in until the next afternoon (even though we had cleared a special request when booking to be able to check in at such an hour). The clerk insisted that the best she could do is charge us $5CDN/hour to do an early check in, check us in early to another room, and then move us to our room when it was time. $5/hour for 13 hours is $65CDN. Our room only cost us $25CDN/night to begin with. We refused to pay for early check in and instead asked to rent the other room on a separate bill, costing us $25 for the night. The pro to this situation is that we were sober and therefore this desperate attempt to punk us for cash was quickly caught onto and circumnavigated. The con to this situation is that it would be cheaper and easier to go down the road to a bar and drink for the next 13 hours.
After striking this deal we discovered we did not have enough cash to pay the (now two) safety deposits and were thus forced to seek out an ATM. We brought our bags with us for obvious reasons and went out into the dark and desolate third-world city streets. As we walked I was ever vigilant for thieves and rapists, which normally I would not be so hyper-aware but the thought of two white tourists with four big bags of gear wandering around deserted streets looking lost happened to stoke my paranoia. I was especially glad I was not intoxicated at this point, as were I drunk I would be no good in a fight, and were I lit then likely I would have unnecessarily engaged the few lone souls we passed on our journey as a result of my gritty-paranoia. As it turns out we encountered a large posse of young Philippino men who were slightly intoxicated and in an extremely reverent and joyful mood, so at a small prompt they were willing to guide us to a nearby ATM and bid us fair travels as they continued on their way. The following few days progressed rather smoothly as Taylor and I travelled by foot around the city of Manila, seeking out many beautiful sights and activities.
Next up was Malaysia. Malaysia was all around very pleasant after we retrieved our money. When we first arrived all the ATMs on the supposed global network were rejecting both of our cards. After a day and a half of desperation we found one that yielded to us, after which we were able to go and meet up with some family members of mine who I had never met before. My Aunt, Uncle, and three Cousins welcomed us into their home for the week as we ventured out to journey and explore.
Thailand was our final destination. After having spent just shy of two weeks in 35 – 45 degree (Celsius) weather and not being able to swim in the nearby water bodies due to industrial pollution, when we arrived on the island of Phuket with a different fresh, clean beach every 300 yards along the coast, we tucked in for a long haul. And it was not even a week after our arrival upon this blissful little island that the triggers began to reign. I first noticed them shortly after Taylor and I were returning from visiting the cinema in a neighbouring village. It was about 22:00 and the streets were absolutely alive. The sun had gone down, and with it the temperature, and the tourists flocked about like schools of anxious fish. Darting from restaurant to bar to street merchant and on. I began to become flooded with the remembrance that there are in fact two very distinct worlds in all places, but especially vividly in tourist hot spots. It was like the whole island was a giant transformer because where shops had stood in the daytime there suddenly stood open-faced bars with bands in each one. Where a decrepit back-alley once was now there was a small sub-street of brilliant little vendor stands.
It was in taking this all in, and being reminded of this ‘Other Place’, which came to be only after my (now) typical bedtime, that I was stricken by some strange sort of fear. How could I come so far across the world without sampling the nightlife they had to offer? As I dwelt upon this stagnant curiosity our day-to-day activities began to feel dull. I spoke with Taylor about how I was feeling and tried to convey this abstract sensation of neglect. She had a difficult time grasping what I was talking about and it took me a few tries to convey to her that I was not ‘not having fun’ but rather I felt as though there was an intensity of enjoyment which I was no longer privy to and I was in a mood that made me very sensitive to what I was missing out on: the nightlife, the shameless day-drunkenness, the pages upon pages of fantastically creative alcoholic beverages every time we went out to dinner. I was being seduced by the most cunning enemy of life: Addiction. Even 3 years after the fact, my brain is still out to get me. It took in everything that was going on whilst Taylor and I travelled across the world on vacation, it identified an assemblage of vulnerabilities, and then at the opportune moment it struck. It began trying to exploit the vulnerabilities in my situation, and in my environment, and it justified to me the exploitation of them. A million stories, excuses, and ways I could go about it crashed about in my mind. After years of dormancy the beast struck again as though it had never been away. I am blessed to have been equipped for such an attack with the many tools, tips, and tricks of the trade (of sobriety). I am also quite blessed to have had such a beautiful, and wondrous personal support with me as is my Queen. It is difficult to say if I would have survived the seduction of my mind had she not been with me. It is difficult because she is such a selfless and un-erring support that I find I cannot disentangle her external support from my own internal steadfastness.
So now we are back in Canada and I am so very glad to be home. It was a life-changing 38 days abroad with my loving partner and I suspect there will be many more adventures together from here on out. As the moment stands however, I am too excited to be back to think about being anywhere else. I start my third year of undergrad this Fall, I am working in the field of addictions recovery until then, and all the time in between tasks, chores, and entertainment I get to spend in Comfort Coop- Taylor and I’s new home. I bid thee farewell travellers, may peace and safety be upon you always.
Cyril C. House
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