Sometimes Pulling a Geographic is the Best Idea Ever
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Sometimes Pulling a Geographic is the Best Idea Ever


pulling a geographicI swear, LA was the problem. Though I was born and raised in the city, the past year I’ve constantly bitched that the city was crushing my soul.

We natives often piss and moan that the people who flock to LA—the transplants, as we call them—are narcissists coming to fulfill their dreams, a herd of superficial men and women who flake, are fake and don’t give a shit about anyone but themselves.

This isn’t entirely true—I’ve met loads of transplants who are lovely and sincere people, and plenty of natives who are dicks.

But I’ve never lived anywhere else, not even in other US cities. My entire view of life has been colored by the context of Los Angeles, and I’ve been desperate to relocate somewhere totally different for a new perspective.

New York is too cold and I don’t like the idea of living in a shoebox for $2000 a month. Chicago, my absolute favorite city in the States, is also just too damn cold in the winter. Seattle, too dreary, and Portland, too homogeneous.

Where could I seek asylum?

Since the age of 22, I’d dreamed of living in Europe—Spain in particular. I can’t tell you what drew me to that idea, although I had heard that the Spanish were very warm, very kind, and very classy people, that the cities were clean and not too expensive, and that the weather was temperate.

I also have an obsession with flamenco and belly dancing, and southern Spain—or Andalusia—is a mixture of both Spanish and Arabic, a place where you can find tapas and kebabs, Arabic drumming and Spanish guitarists; if that’s not heaven I don’t know what is.

But what about visas and how would I get my psych meds? Did they have even have wifi in southern Spain?

Stupid American.

I’m currently in the midst of my first trip to Europe, with all the major Spanish cities on the itinerary. I hopped from Barcelona to Seville to Madrid and finally wound up in Granada, what I deem the most magical city on earth.

And when I got to Granada a week ago I was just like—fuck it. I’m not going back to LA. Thankfully, I had brought my laptop, so I could continue writing, work virtually and bring in a paycheck.

In a wildly impulsive decision, I booked an Airbnb apartment—one that’s 600 years old—for a few months in the Albayzín, or old Arab quarter, at the foot of the Alhambra.

I didn’t pass this by a sponsor (I’ve left AA) and I didn’t sleep on it. I told no one at first, not even my parents or my boyfriend or roommate. Thankfully, my rent is cheap in LA and I pay her online, so I’m able to cover it. And Granada is a very reasonable place to live.

But I didn’t even have enough psych meds to last me a few months and this was my biggest concern.

“You’re being irresponsible!” part of me told myself. “You’ll go off your meds and fall to pieces! This is a crazy idea!”

“Shut up and find a way to get the meds,” I retorted to myself. “Stop living in fear.”

So I wandered around the windy tiny streets of the Albayzín into a pharmacy with a friendly owner, told him I was an American who needed meds, and asked where I could find a doctor or clinic so I could get a prescription.

“What do you need?” he asked me in Spanish, then pulled out a piece of paper. He had me write down the names of the drugs and the doses, and proceeded to fill them over the counter.

I was shocked.

I didn’t even have the empty bottles.

In the States, I have to go through seven circles of hell to get my meds, even when I have a doctor and insurance. Half the time, the docs forget to call in the refills and many times I’ve gone a few days without the pills, going into withdrawal. Sometimes, if there was confusion about my insurance, the pharmacists would tell me I’d have to pay $1,200 for a month’s supply.

They never gave me a few pills to tide me over. It’s against the law. They could be sued. They’d rather I go into a manic or depressive spell than give me meds under the table.

When the Spanish pharmacist rang me up, I was shocked at how cheap they were. I don’t even want to mention the price since it will just lead to an anti-American rant.

Viva España.

So I had my meds and I had my apartment and I was still slightly scared that something would go wrong.

Wasn’t I “pulling a geographic,” as they say in AA?

Wasn’t I the problem, and not LA?

After settling into things, I realized nothing was further from the truth. I spend my mornings strolling up the peaceful hills that lead to the Alhambra, which are lined with stunning trees and chirping birds, then look down on the beautiful city that is Granada, amazed by the peace I feel, overcome with gratitude to have a new experience, to see a different way of living, to interact with people from other cultures.

The woman I rent the apartment from lives above me, and we’ve become friends. She’s originally from Morocco, lived in Paris for 20 years, speaks four languages and is a composer.

We sit on the rooftop terrace, look up at the sky, and talk about the meaning of life.

Some geographic.

I’m not a spiritual person, and I always talk about my atheism. But this has been the closest thing to a white light experience that I’ve ever had, and whatever soul that may be inside me has finally been nourished.

Whether LA is the problem or Granada is just the solution, I’m not sure.

I only know I wasn’t happy there. I was sick of the hipster posers in my Los Feliz neighborhood, I was sick of the Botox and the blowouts, I was sick of the body consciousness and everyone talking about who they knew, what they were doing and how they were trying to accomplish their all-important dreams.

I feel at home here, safe and cozy and refreshed. Finally I feel balanced, less motivated to succeed, succeed and succeed, because here people work to live and don’t live to work. Here, success is not next to godliness.

No, it’s not heaven. Yes, there are plenty of problems in Spain. Yes, some people are miserable, some are rude and plenty get impatient with my Spanish and probably want to knock me upside the head with a churro.

Still, this geographic is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made and is a gift and highlight of my sobriety.

If you’re sick of the bullshit where you live, come and visit me. You may have to sleep on the floor, but it’ll be worth it.

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About Author

Tracy Chabala is a freelance writer for many publications including the LA Times, LA Weekly, Smashd, VICE and Salon. She writes mostly about food, technology and culture, in addition to addiction and mental health. She holds a Master's in Professional Writing from USC and is finishing up her novel.