By: Sobantu Mzwakali
Image by: Erik Mclean on unsplash
On New Year’s Eve I thought I had an epiphany and achieved absolute happiness and contentment; turns out I drank a bottle of cheap whisky – betraying my commitment to sobriety. I woke up hungover on the first day of the year! As the Irish say, “How you begin a new year is how you spend it.”
New Year’s Eve is typically the only time of the year when you’re encouraged to get shitfaced and make promises you probably won’t keep.
Many people make resolutions to lose weight, to quit smoking, to spend more time with their families amongst other things, but let’s face it, most resolutions are just admissions of the things we screwed up in the past year.
Yes, resolutions are a priceless map of personal aspirations. We sit down to list our shortcomings, and vow that next year we shall be more productive, svelte, and generally excellent people – vows we will almost certainly not keep.
We are now officially a few weeks into the New Year, that moment when our resolutions start to lose their luster. Our eyes-on-the-prize tunnel vision is obscured by reality, and we realise that our lofty goals are far more difficult than we first imagined. Losing weight, running a marathon, writing the Great African Novel… who knew they were all so hard?
On that famous Irish saying: “How you begin a new year is how you spend it.” I have never understood if this relates to the moments leading up to the apocalyptic countdown to midnight or the first day of the year.
However, going back, I spent the last four months of 2018 clean – without alcohol and cigarettes. But it was on New Year’s Eve when I failed to fight temptation as I watched friends sip from a bottle of cheap whisky and the countless cigarettes lingering in the air like a sad jazz trumpet melody.
That night I was struck by the horrifying news that my uncle had committed suicide and eventually I succumbed to the urge and started smoking angrily, in a feeble attempt to assuage the loss. And if sipping that cheap whisky didn’t feel right, in that moment it felt therapeutic — a fleeting escape from the pain. Even if it can be labelled as destructive behaviour, I would rather flirt with death than face heartache.
I remember when I was eight, living with my grandparents in Allanridge, a small town in Free State. It was here that I had my first drink, a sip stolen from the bottle of Castle Lager my uncle had left on the table. Zakade, my uncle, had gone outside to smoke and laughed when he saw me through the kitchen window.
Who do I blame now, for my battle with tobacco and alcohol? I don’t know. Maybe habits are like an ink which stains our hands as children and eventually spatters across the rest of our lives. – Sobantu
It took me two hands to lift the bottle, the way I once held the bottle of milk my mother fed me. It is the same day that I grew to love smoking. I did not take up to smoking instantly, but it eventually became a wonderful crutch for me over the years.
I first fell in love with the sound of my uncle’s lighter snapping open. I loved his trips outside the house to sit on the stoep where he would carefully blow the smoke in the air, as if he was holding on to the short-lived bliss away from the aches of life he was struggling to elude. There was a sense of ritual: Slide a cigarette from the pack, tap it a few times against the lighter, the flame, and the sizzle. Inhale. Exhale. Repeat.
When I was ten, I moved to Welkom, a small gold mining city in the Free State, to live with my mother, Nomvula. She would sit me under the local tavern’s table with a book to read. I would listen to their voices and watch their feet and the way they moved. It felt good to be under there. I would marvel at the queer movements that were largely influenced by alcohol and smoking.
I must have been fourteen, seated under the midnight moon when I first smoked half a pack of cigarettes and threw up on my shoes. We were supposed to be home before midnight and that night, hell rose.
And when I was thirteen, me and my childhood friend, Siyathemba, knew nothing about women or politics, but we would hustle old men outside taverns on New Year’s Eve to buy us the drinks we were too young to buy ourselves.
More accurately, I began to drink and smoke heavily (and seriously) when I moved to Cape Town in 2016.
So, who do I blame now, for my battle with tobacco and alcohol? I don’t know. Maybe habits are like an ink which stains our hands as children and eventually spatters across the rest of our lives.
With that said, my uncle’s death is not the reason I relapsed, it was merely an unfortunate happenstance that set off my habit again.
The night of the relapse, following the countdown to midnight, I once again found myself, as I often do, drinking and smoking, recording how I will spend the year. The following morning was spent on the front steps of my aunt’s house, hungover and still smoking.
The previous night, after the clock struck midnight when friends and family planted synchronised kisses on each of my cheeks, I had resolved to quit, for good, both smoking and drinking. How quickly (overnight, in fact) I had failed in my New Year’s resolution. I took another drag of my cigarette and thought, maybe this year will be one of broken promises.
So, here’s to drunken nights and hangover mornings, broken promises, fattened livers and lung cancer, and to 2019.
Sobantu Mzwakali hails from the Free State and is currently based in Cape Town. He is an aspiring author and his writing have appeared in various publications, like the CounterPunch, Daily Maverick and Brittle Paper.
Twitter: @SobantuMzwakali Blog: Sobantumzwakaliblog.wordpress.com