I had a three-month window before starting my new job, so I took off to India. My contract entitled me to a miserable fifteen-day vacation for the first five years of employment. I did not fully grasp the grim prospect and the brutal grinding that my soul was about to undergo by embracing the corporate life.
Although I had done my fair share of backpacking in Latin America, nothing prepared me for India. I landed in New Delhi in late March to scorching heat and a shared YMCA bedroom with fan. My health deteriorated rapidly. I managed to crawl through Agra and Varanasi to Kolkata. I was feverish and with uncontrollable bouts of diarrhea. I was also determined not to go home. I read Forster’s A Passage to India at Varanasi’s burning gaths, where I wrote a poem about unrequited love. I arrived in squalid Kolkata in desperate shape and collapsed in a ten-rupee bed in a dormitory of the Salvation Army. An Irish guy sleeping next to me, who must have been the embodiment of my Spirit Guide, gave me Lomotil mixed with a purifying tablet in a glass of tap water, and said, “You look like you are going to die. Either you go to Bangkok or you go home. Make up your mind, and I will take you to the airport in the morning.”
Bangkok it was. It changed my life forever. A few nights later I was half drunk at an infamous Pat Pong bar watching Thai boxing and sharing beers with a flamboyant katoei — they don’t like to be called ladyboys. She introduced me to Khao San Road, the Valhalla of the backpacking world, where I learned about the best routes to sneak into Myanmar without a visa and how to trek in the Karakoram without being shot by the rebels. I read London’s The Call of the Wild and started wondering whether by accepting that job I had mortgaged my life at a cheap premium.
There was no debauchery in that memorable first stay in Bangkok, with the exception of a little ganja and a puff of opium. Most importantly, I sat at temples. I made long distances on the overcrowded motorboats that run the Chao Phraya river in Bangkok, only to sit at temples. And I sat, in awe first and in precarious meditation later. The heat, the noise, the promise of nocturnal hedonism, all melted down when I sat. But I still came back to Buenos Aires and took that poison pill of a job. I had to get seriously sick before finding the antidote.
I returned to Bangkok several times. Each sojourn reflected the state of my decaying morals. More bars, more clubs, the occasional massage, a permanent relationship with a dealer, purchasing expensive furniture that I shipped home, returning to Khao San to sit at a bar and wonder when had I taken the wrong turn. I never stopped sitting at Wat Chana Songkhram, a minor temple near Khao San. Wat Chana saw me in different robes along the years. I had a residue of hope that within those walls my desire to be one with God or with a fully realized guru could manifest itself, if I could just sit long enough.
This time I was booked for a week at the Shangri-La, courtesy of Benedetta’s credit card. Luxury accommodation was another mistake, but I did not want to disappoint her by declining the generous offer. There is no need to go back to old patterns. The massage was the trigger. I booked an Ayurvedic oil and herb compress massage at a celebrated spa. As I entered a dimly lit room, I was welcomed by a masseur who invited me to take a shower while he prepared the oils. I came out of that shower with a fierce desire to demolish everything that my recovery had painstakingly put together over the last two years, ten months, and thirteen days.
One thing led to another. Had we come to Bangkok to confront our darkest fears and illusions? A few hours later I was dressed as a hippie ready to be eaten alive by the incessant human tide that is Khao San Road on Friday nights. I mingled with the young and hallucinated backpackers, discovering the cool side of the world, feeling invincible, immortal, with enough energy to spin the universe. Coming back from full moon parties, having handed their passports to shady tour operators that would get them visas to Myanmar, knowing that they might not get their passports back, toying with the idea of never, ever going back home. I can get a gig as a DJ in Kho Phangan for the season and travel for the rest of the year. I can buy gems in Sri Lanka, sell them in Singapore and travel for the rest of the decade. I can bring a suitcase of bhul bhuliya pills to Mumbai and travel for the rest of my life. I can write a novel about my life in a Thai prison. Anything is better than coming back to Leeds, Birmingham, Lubbock, Bethesda, Canberra. My brain exploded with possibilities. There was a six-year-old black B-boy dancing on break beats and performing stabbed windmills into a back spin, and I wondered: how could his dance reproduce my thoughts so accurately?
One thing led to another. What was your most recent episode of acting-out behavior? What precipitated it? Identify your feelings and thought patterns before, during, and after the incident. What attempts did you make to try to stop the behavior? Question twelve of “The First Step to Recovery” guide was ablaze like a billboard the length of Khao San. I said the serenity prayer again and again. The loudspeakers were madly sending waves of reggae, rock, and house. I fell deeper into the throbbing heart of Khao San. A grilled scorpion, a soup that smelled of cinnamon and star anise, Cinderella-snorting-coke t-shirts, fake driver’s licenses, a hill tribe woman in traditional clothes selling handicrafts, a foot massage in a bowl with fish, a tattoo parlor that reeked of incense.
What precipitated it? Was it surviving a shipwreck in Siberia? Or was it risking death, prison, and being summarily ordered to leave a country? Perhaps the lavish duty-free shops at Hong Kong Airport? Identify your feelings and thought patterns before, during, and after the incident. I was feeling empty but trying to be content. I was trusting. However, a relapse is the result of a chain of minor decisions. I was not paying attention to them: not writing to my sponsor, not going back home after the shipwreck, believing that Benedetta was the Mother of God, indulging in luxury, vanity, and an empty lifestyle. Not facing my fear to be abandoned and my feelings of inadequacy, anger, and loneliness. Denying my feelings and sinking into isolation. The growing feeling of failure, guilt, and frustration.
*What attempts did you make to try to stop the behavior? *I was out in Khao San. I did not know how it happened. I bumped into a guy near the tattoo parlor, we smiled, and he said something in Khmer. I knew this routine. I kept walking, and five pills of yaa baa landed in my right hand. A few baht banknotes slipped out of my pocket, and then we were gone. It was the eternal flux of energy down Khao San, the ethics of the trade, trusting the accuracy of bad karma. The pills in my palm burned like a stigma. I feared that my sweating palm would dissolve the meth and the caffeine. Holding the potentiality of the gift that yaa baa brings was so powerful. What if I swallowed the five of them — would I become the Christ? Pol-Pot? The Buddha? Was I the new shaman-messiah?
“You okay my friend?” said a motorsai, a motorcycle-taxi driver. He touched my elbow and smiled at me. “Need water? Can I take you somewhere?”
Could it really be that Irkutsk was only two days ago? “Yes please, my friend. Silom. DJ Station. How much?” Oh no. Not again. Not after all this time. Was DJ Station what I was craving? To be suffocatingly packed in this legendary club, to feel “Alive” inside my skull, to have all the energy that yaa baa could give me, to dance and sweat like mad until I disintegrated into the fleeting, hot, humid night among the young, the invincible, the immortal?
From Shaman Express, Beretta Rousseau, 2015. Chap. 3 “Awake”
 Ram Dass, Be Here Now. New Mexico: Hanuman Foundation, 1978
 One of his students asked Buddha, ‘Are you the messiah?’ ‘No,’ answered Buddha. ‘Then are you a healer?’ ‘No,’ Buddha replied. ‘Then are you a teacher?’ the student persisted. ‘No, I am not a teacher.’ ‘Then what are you?’ asked the student, exasperated. ‘I am awake,’ Buddha replied.
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