“I’ve looked at your blood pressure and your organs and everything is fine. There is no disease.”
The traditional healer agreed with the Doctor on that score.
“When did you take my blood pressure?” I ask the Healer, incredulously.
“When you blew on the bones.”
When I entered, she asked me to light a candle and then blow three times into a hare-skinned bag, filled with a variety of bones and stones. I don’t know why, but when I lit the candle, a terrible sadness came over me and I suppressed a tear.
“Being a traditional healer is a calling,” Francina explains. My mother was a healer and her father before her. “My mother could heal a broken arm with only African Potato. She used a stick (as a splint) and wrapped it in cloth. In a few weeks the arm was healthy.”
The powerful immune boosting qualities of African potato has since been scientifically proven, even though poor Manto Tshabalala-Msimang was ridiculed when she suggested it could help with AIDS. Many other African remedies have also proven to work.
She sketches a picture of her mother in a rural area. “My mother was like the local nurse. Our kitchen was the hospital.”
Back then, there were no clinics or medical facilities for black people, so they had to cope with health and injury any way they could. No wonder there is such a strong trust and reliance on the tradition of African healing. Traditional healers have exposure to generations of handed down knowledge, not only of medicine, but of the human condition.
She inspects the collection of bones and trinkets on the mat of the floor.
I look at them, trying to discern a pattern.
“You experienced a great loss recently.” She says.
“Yes,” I reply. “Which bones told you that?”
“It wasn’t in the bones. I saw it when you blew out the candle.”
Francina then moves on to a discussion about money and my future.
“You are not rich.” She says, pointing to an old R1. She says she knows this because the R1 coin is overturned. She points at a collection of objects next to the two shells. “You have a bright future.”
She scours them bones some more and notices something.
“You have something wrong with your stomach?” she asks, pointing to her abdominal region.
“Yes,” I confess. “My digestion is terrible. I eat too much rubbish and drink too many diet drinks.”
“Switch to green and red Sparletta” she advises. “It’s a very nice soft drink.”
“Ag no,” I thought. “And you were doing so well.”
A lot of what Francina does is ‘cold reading’. It’s a technique similar to what ‘mystics’ and ‘fortune tellers’ use. They ask question in a way that you answer them and then they turn your answer into an insight that they claim they suggested.
“You have recently divorced.”
“These two shells. Look. The big one is you. It is on top of the brown one. It shows a closeness with a partner. Have you recently split from a lover or boyfriend?”
“Miskien the shells show me that you will soon meet a lover who will be very good for you. A nice and generous person, like you.”
Nice! Before I start dating, I am going to ask that person to throw an old R1 coin and see which way it falls.
There was a lot of cold reading and there are a lot of charlAtans out there abusing people’s naivety, but I believe Francina believes that her gift is real. I trusted her, because I wanted to trust her. I suppose it is like when people go for a Tarot reading. Or believe horoscopes. Or believe in Nostradamus. Or Ancestors. Or God. They all believe that there is a pattern and a blueprint to the universe and that some people are gifted in interpreting or reading it, sometimes with the help of objects. If you rubbish one, you have to rubbish all of them.
So I was honest.
“Francina, that sadness you saw when I blew the candle was not for the loss of someone else. It was a sense of loss for a part of myself. A part of me is gone. I am experiencing a great battle with depression and alcohol and I am here to seek the courage to face the battle and express whatever talent I have. ”
Francina looks startled. She was not prepared for such heavy stuff, I think. She took my hand, and with great empathy, gave me this advice:
“Don’t give up. I can’t tell you to just leave it (booze) because you obviously can’t just leave it. You must pray to God to support you.”
“I don’t pray. I don’t believe in God.”
“Miskien …..So I want you to take that bottle and put it on the shelf. And ask it: “Hey wena, I want you to leave me alone. I don’t want you in my life anymore. But you musn’t be angry. And talk to it, till it doesn’t follow you any more.”
I left with great gratitude for her earnestness and some muti, which I must drink every night.
“I’ve looked at your blood pressure, thyroid, kidney and liver results. You’re not ill.”
“Are you sure you have the right person’s results?!” I pronounce incredulously. “The way I drink I am sure my liver is about to explode and my pancreas are about to send out an SOS.”
The doctor looks at me deadpan. A humourless type of fellow. One of those traditional Oompies with grey hair, glasses and a broomstick up his bum that he only takes out when he beats you with it.
“Well, then you have either very good genes or you must make your parents very proud, because your liver is fine. I do see elevated enzyme levels in your liver functions, but it is not diseased. If you cut down by half, your body won’t even notice it.”
“And my kidneys and pancreas. I am sure I have diabetes.”
“Impossible! I can eat 3 Pick ‘n Pay cake slices in a row, two of which don’t even make it to the till!”
The doctor looks at me sternly.
“Listen to me. It is not too late. You can still change this. Lose some weight and cut down alcohol by half. If you find you can’t cut down, you’ll have to give up completely.”
The results were miraculous to me. Even if I cut down by half, I drink more than most people. I was shocked. I suppose deep down I wanted a shocking result. I wanted the doctor to say: “You are going to die tomorrow if you don’t stop.” At least I would have been shocked into making a big change – or just die, hopefully soon.
“I can’t help you with your psychological problems,” the doctor says, handing me my results. “This is a health facility, not a rehab centre. When you walk out of here and if we pass each other in hallways, it will be like we have never met.”
I walk out, dazed.
“I am healthy,” I think. “What a fuck up. I just can’t seem to catch a break…”
The psychiatrist looks at me as if she’s spotted the Loch Ness Monster in her swimming pool.
“You are a fascinating person. Very fascinating indeed. Miraculous even for you to be so highly functioning.”
We had spoken about stuff you don’t need to know and I had just given her my ‘demons’.
“I can’t deal with my demons anymore, I’m here to give them to you to see if you can do anything with them,” I said, rolling my invisible demons into a ball and throwing them in her direction.
“I can’t do anything with your ‘demons’,” she says laughing at the term. “ You are the only one who can.” she said and hands them back to me. I sheepishly take my demons back and stack them in a neat row on the sofa next to me. I cut to the quick. And I don’t know why, but with the doctor and the Healer, I behaved with dignity. Somehow, with the shrink I swore a lot.
“This demon here,” I said, pointing to a demon on the sofa. “This big one. It’s booze. These other ones are eating and procrastination and anxiety. But this big one is a bastard of a demon.”
“You’re an alcoholic?”
“No, I am a fucked up dronkie.”
“I don’t think you should be referring to yourself in those terms.”
“I don’t think I should bullshit myself either.”
“Have you tried the AA?”
“I don’t believe in the disease theory of ‘addiction’. It’s stupid. I believe I chose this demon. I have made a choice. It is a choice that shields me from the terror of living my true potential. That demon was sitting innocently at the side of the road when I grabbed it from behind and chained it to my ankle, thereafter pretending the demon is slowing me down.”
“What an image!” says the shrink. “But there is a lot of evidence suggesting it is not a choice, but chemicals in your brain misfiring, but I agree nobody really understands it completely.”
I stare at my poor demon on the sofa.
“From my research into this,” I offer, “Addiction, whatever the fuck that is, is not about the substance, but the cage you are in.”
“They did this experiment with rats. The results seem to mimic experiments with Vietnam vets and people in hospital who were prescribed heavy doses of morphine for a long time, but when they leave hospital/war, they simply stop. If it was the morphine that was physically addictive, this would not happen. The rats who were living in cages without stimulus, chose the drugs, but the rats living in a cage with a healthy diet, enough stimulus and good vibes chose the water, even when the drugs were equally accessible.”
“I have not heard of that research,” says the doctor.
“Go look it up. My inner rat is telling me I don’t have the courage to change my cage.”
“What an extraordinary insight.”
“Unfortunately, knowing who I am does not mean I can change who I am.”
“People can change. If you believe your problem drinking is a learned behavior, you can unlearn it or replace it with a healthier demon.”
I shake my head. My poor No1 Demon is shivering on the sofa at the thought of being axed.
“My poor demon has been with me for so long. It has done such good work. It has shielded me from reality – not a bad thing. It has been my escape when I needed it and my inspiration at times. What if we look at it in a different way? What if the anxiety caused by the constant conflict with the demon can be resolved by simply to stop fighting it and accepting it? I accept myself as a person with demons. Like other people have dogs and cats. And I play with them and have a jol!”
The psychiatrist frowned, but saw my point: “Maybe that is the solution. You must talk to your demon. But be kind to it. It sounds like your demons have protected you. Over time, maybe you can part ways. It can help to externalize internal problems and give it form.”
“You’ll be surprised that the Traditional Healer gave me that exact same advice just now. She used different words, but you are saying the exact same thing.”
We talked about other stuff you guys don’t need to know about.
She stopped steering in a direction telling me to simply quit.
“Maybe you should stop calling it a ‘demon’ and call it your ‘angel’ or ‘spirit’ and try to not talk about yourself in those derogatory terms. Try some self-compassionate meditation. Consider some anti-depressives and anxiety medicine.”
“No offence, but I’d rather try the green and red Sparletta with the muti first and see what happens. I don’t trust the stuff you guys prescribe. Also, I’ve heard the green Sparletta works wonders with a hangover.”
So now, at night, I talk to my booze.
Sometimes, I call it ‘demon’, sometimes I call it ‘friend’ and sometimes I call it ‘wena’.
I mix some muti, Sparletta and vodka and we have a conversation. Last night I contemplated on my journey with these 3 specialists. I thank the doctor for the gift of ‘time’. I thank the shrink for not being judgmental. Mostly, I thank Francina for her authenticity, compassion and insight – and the Sparletta.