Perhaps it started in her second year of university, when her friends locked her in her room to keep her from drinking even more or long before that when she climbed into a pool fully clothed at fifteen years old. Maybe it started on that day in January when Savanna Roering was walking the dogs with her mom in a quiet suburb on the outskirts of Johannesburg.
“I don’t know if it was maybe the oxygen going to my brain but I felt more desperate and it was getting harder to deny things to myself. I can’t really call rehab my decision. I knew I needed help though.”
Rock bottom is a strange concept. It implies that once you’ve hit the bottom, there’s nowhere left to go but up- to survive or remain in the darkness forever. The darkness was literal. A few drinks down and she was lost in what the rehabilitation centre termed “psychosis.”
“Psychosis is something I’m inherently prone to, because I experienced it with two of my main substances of choice. It’s just your mind losing touch with reality.” This removal from reality was once exactly what Savanna wanted because reality was full of people judging her; it was a place where the perpetual fear of failure and disappointment haunted her. “I had this warped sense of pride,” she explains, “If I never open myself to getting hurt, I never get hurt. My life’s mission for a long time was not to feel anything at all.” All she had to do to escape was indulge in alcohol and marijuana.
Sitting in front of me now on her bed, she looks at me with dark brown eyes, this twenty-one-year-old Fine Art student with an explosively creative mind. Her room is lined with images meant to inspire, to capture, and to set alight some sort of creative fire within- it seems to work. Above her bed is a watercolour painting of a bearded man, a portrait she did for an assignment. The artwork of dripping purples and blues tells a subtle story about a girl who was once too afraid to be proud of herself. Now she sleeps beneath it, and a dream catcher which she made herself.
Savanna started studying Journalism at Rhodes University in 2013. She chose Journalism because an aptitude test suggested it. In hindsight, she wonders, “Did I answer those questions in the test properly or how I would have liked to have seen myself?” A year later, she made the switch to Fine Art, something she had always wanted but was too afraid to pursue something others might have judged her for choosing. The need to control what she wanted and how she went about obtaining it was driven by the fear of what other people thought of her:
“I think it started when I started caring too much about what people thought. It ruined me. Before I went to high-school and all that social bullshit started, before I completely bought into it, I was so free and open-minded.”
She talks about the person she used to be as though it were someone else, as though she were split in half. The person she is now is more like she was as a child, confident and able to do things on a whim. The person she used to be found herself neglecting relationships, locked herself away from the world and turned to substances to numb herself. These two people inhabit the same body. Savanna talks about never forgetting who she was, or what she did because that would make it easy to fall back into the same bad habits she has tried to break and replace with good ones. “I think that my default is self-destruct,” she admits.
She talks about the person she used to be as though it were someone else, as though she were split in half. The person she is now is more like she was as a child, confident and able to do things on a whim. The person she was neglected relationships locked herself away from the world and turned to substances to numb herself. These two people inhabit the same body, however. Savanna talks about never forgetting who she was, or what she did because that would make it easy to fall back into the same bad habits she has tried to break and replace with good ones. “I think that my default is self-destruct,” she admits.
Forgiving herself is a slow process, just as recovering from her addiction in every aspect has been. She is reluctant to call her recovery something to be proud of: she does not feel that living by your won principles is an achievement as much as it is a breath of fresh air. The ideas of waking up in the morning and having a healthy routine, being able to exercise and eat healthily, have become the safety net she needs to remain consistent in her progress.
Her relationship with her family is a lot more honest now, she explains. For a long time, it was difficult to see that her substance abuse was affecting the people whom she loved in a negative way. “In rehab I realised that my parents were terrified of me, terrified to be honest with me because of how I would react.” Leaning against a wall is a painting she made of herself as a child and her father. It reminds me of what she said about feeling like her childhood self again, and being able to lean on her family- all tied together with an incredible artistic talent that she has.
Before, she used to rely on marijuana to aid the creative process. It would take her on a journey which she has now realised she doesn’t need to take to get lost in her work. Leaning over a new piece that she’s working on, she explains that she used to approach art in a “paint-by-numbers” way, instead of just trusting herself to let go and believe that it will work out without the aid of any mind-altering substances. She looks down at the unfinished work, smiles triumphantly and says, “I feel like now the magic can happen because I let it.”