‘Sex, Drugs and Meditation’ is ABC radio journalist Mary-Lou Stephens’ first book. Her memoir has an unusual structure. A ten-day silent meditation retreat provides the frame and the backdrop to her story.
Mary-Lou’s decision to take the retreat is driven by a re-structure at the radio station where she works. Enter Elliott Purvis, her sociopathic boss. While radio has given Mary-Lou a haven and a purpose, she realises she may have to abandon it. Can she find a way within herself to deal with Purvis’s intimidation and bullying? Hence the silent retreat. For a woman who makes her living from talking, this is a challenge indeed. But the author has demons that she must confront as middle-age approaches.
Throughout the ten days that Mary-Lou meditates, in a range of agonising positions, her mind, and the story, flashes back to different scenes in her life. Her childhood was fraught with unpredictability. As the youngest of six children with an obsessively religious mother, Mary-Lou had to fight for attention. Her ongoing addictions to food, alcohol and drugs stem from these early beginnings.
The story charts Mary-Lou’s journey from actor to singer to radio host and the different addictions that plague this path. It follows her through a number of twelve step programs and the realisation, during the ten days, that she needs to let go of her anger and grief around a man in her past.
‘Sex, Drugs and Meditation’ is both humorous and moving. Mary-Lou’s deductions about her fellow meditators, fuelled by the silence, are found to be way off mark. Her observations on her own contortions – both mental and physical – and the ways people survive the retreat are often wryly funny.
While I’m not sure that I’ll be rushing along to the next Vipassana retreat, I found Mary-Lou’s account honest, entertaining and, in the end, uplifting. This book will strongly resonate with anyone who has experienced addiction. The message is clear and hopeful – people can change. I hear a sequel is in the wings, so stay tuned.
This is my eighth review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013.