I met Costa socially a few years ago at the gay men’s resort near Brits in the North West Province. I was doing a lot of yoga at the time and Costa joined in once or twice in my early morning sessions next to the sparkling swimming pool. One thing made Costa different from all the other guys who would party till late at the bar: Costa does not take alcohol. This didn’t stop him from partying and having fun, in fact he was the life of the party and very popular, but completely sober.
I admired this, seeing him smiling serenely in a crowd of drunk men. I saw him a few times here at what we call ‘the farm’, but little did I know the long road of destruction that led him to this moment. Neither did I know he was in recovery the time I first met him.
We are not friends, but because of GaySA Radio have kept in touch over time, mainly through Facebook. Then a few weeks ago I got a message from Costa saying he had written a book and could he send me a copy? I was flabbergasted, never expecting this. Costa has written a book? Yes! Send me a copy immediately!
It duly arrived and I have just finished reading it. I am interviewing Costa when he comes to Cape Town on his book tour, but I thought I’d better put my impressions of the book down before I chat to him about it.
So what is it about? It is an honest and courageous account of Constantinos Carastavrakis growing up Greek and gay in Johannesburg. He tells the story of his life, his childhood of identity confusion, his rise as a successful businessman, the glamorous life of parties and travel, but at the same time slowly being sucked into the dark depths of addiction.
Costa tells his story honestly and because of this, it is an easy read. His personality and sense of humour shine throughout the writing. I honestly do not know him well, we just chatted a few times, but all the time while reading the book I could hear his voice narrating it to me in my head. This is an authentic telling of a harrowing tale, that includes hijacking, rape, and some disturbing moments of a wonderful man sunk to the pits of drug despair. The image he conjures up when writing about a night in Mexico will haunt me for some time to come.
This eventually leads him to receive the ‘gift of desperation’, a turning point from which point he slowly had to extricate himself from the alcohol and drug web that he had spun around himself. It is a tale of struggle and eventual triumph, even if those triumphs were not always witnessed (by for instance marathon race officials!)
I really loved reading this book, it sucked me in and was at times laugh-out-loud funny. I found it inspirational without being syrupy or melodramatic. I believe that writing this book was part of his healing process, a very practical way of putting his past behind him. It is something he has done with aplomb, grace and style. And in the process of baring himself in this way for the world to see, he has empowered both himself and us. His example shows that overcoming addiction is possible and his ongoing example proves it.
With so much drug use in our communities and stories of chemsex rife, this book comes at the right time. It opens our eyes to the real consequences of slipping down this spiral of despair. It also shows there is a whole support system out there ready to help you when you have made the decision to change. That decision remains yours to make, and depends entirely on which point you need to reach so as to receive the ‘gift of desperation’.
Published by Bookstorm and retailing for R 280, I AM COSTA – From meth to marathons by Costa Carastavrakis is a must-read and is available at all leading bookstores now.