Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition)

Rehab journey is a tale from meth to marathons


THERE wasn’t a single minute that I didn’t enjoy reading Costa Carastavra­kis’ book.

If you can’t get your tongue around that Greek surname, you can try saying it in three parts – “Cara-stav-rakis”.

But whichever way you say it, I am Costa is the writer’s first book, prompted by a need to tell the story of his rocky path into the pits of drug addiction and his journey to recovery.

Born into the warm bosom of a close-knit Greek family, Carastavra­kis’s story will resonate with many Greek, Jewish or immigrant families where achievemen­t and proving oneself is of profound relevance and importance.

Carastavra­kis speaks on the phone from Joburg and his warm tones make him sound like an old friend.

It’s that “gift for the gab” that seems to have got him through life, a cat landing on its feet, up to his present, glowing point of recovery.

“People would ask me, how did you get so fit, and the path to the book was that my publisher told me there was to be no ghost writer. So I started it as a sanitised health book and as I began writing, it happened in layers. I wrote and wrote and did a rewrite and the younger Costa came through.

“Nobody wants to hear how you ate a salad and fixed yourself and got fit. I think people are interested in your vulnerabil­ity and how it happened,” he says.

And that’s exactly what he does – in the most accessible and immersive way possible.

We are made privy to life in the Carastavra­kis household, where even at an early age Costa felt different.

Skinny, with nervous facial twitches, and from a different background to most of the children at school, he was constantly bullied.

“All I wanted was to blend in a little. I welcomed anything that would sanitise my Greekness… ,” he writes.

So he stopped eating and got even thinner. There was also therapy as his parents picked up on his discomfort but that didn’t stop him from achieving and, as he relates, he was made a prefect in his final year in primary school and elected as president of the mini City Council in Johannesbu­rg.

“On the one side… I was a superhigh-functionin­g boy… who was getting more and more comfortabl­e with the responsibi­lity given to him… But on the other front, I was a kid riddled with anxiety, confusion and unresolved pain.”

When he was 12 he got drunk at a friend’s bar mitzvah and he enjoyed the “fuzzy feeling” – putting him on the path to addiction .

He takes us through his teens and the 1980s when he questioned his sexuality. It was an era where the world was changing but it was difficult to express feelings that were emerging more and more stridently.

High school brings out bullying of a more brutal kind and stigmatisa­tion.

And then he graduates with flying colours from university and lands a prime job in marketing.

“I got a degree but all the while denied being gay. But later I came out of the closet and then was in a bad, co-dependent relationsh­ip for five years – with a narcissist.

“To cut a long story short, when I broke up with him I put down the love and took up the drug. I needed to replace it. Literally, my body and my psyche needed it, even though I had heard so many terrible things about addiction and what it does to you,” he recalls.

Viscerally, he writes about the night in an abandoned house in a Mexican village where on a chance encounter, he started using crystal meth after doing a range of other drugs.

“On it, I felt like I was living a totally different life. A life I had no control over, but whose details had all been worked out for me. All I had to do was sit or stand there and enjoy the ride… crystal meth promised me a smooth and delicious ride ... . ”

For three years after his return to Joburg, Carastavra­kis was hooked and spent every weekend on horrific binges where he plunged deeper into the dark abyss of self-destructio­n.

But the moment of reckoning did finally come.

“At the age of 36 I stopped using drugs. It’s been 13 years,” he says.

His path to recovery involved an intensive rehabilita­tion programme and he started doing marathons, triathlons, getting fit and being healthy.

I am Costa: From Meth to Marathons by Costa Carastavra­kis is published by Bookstorm.

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 ?? SUPPLIED ?? COSTA Carastavra­kis relates his story of drug addiction frankly and with a sense of poignancy and humour. |
SUPPLIED COSTA Carastavra­kis relates his story of drug addiction frankly and with a sense of poignancy and humour. |

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