Alcohol – On To The Next Mountain

This is not my first rodeo. I’m super experienced at quitting alcohol. It’s easy. I’ve done it like 20 times!

But my experiences in teletherapy have powerfully shifted me toward the path of giving up drinking altogether.

After a friend’s birthday party, I had to look hard at the man who stared back at me in the mirror. He was tired – dark circles pooling beneath weary eyes. His belly had adopted a fluffy character – counter to the fit, trim, athletic narrative he painted for himself.

Alcohol was wrestling control of life from my own freewill – sip-by-sip, finger-by-finger.

It starts off innocent. Grab a couple drinks with co-workers after work. Pound some beers with friends on the weekends. You feel an effortless solidarity drinking with friends. A glass-up cheers and the occasional stumble-and-spill both makes and obliterates memories, leaving the lingering yet vague impression of togetherness in its wake.

The Korean words above translate to “Give me beer please…”

Most people don’t like admitting having problems with alcohol. Sure, we’ll laugh and joke about being “alcoholics” while sipping a nightcap amid hazy three-in-the-morning revelry. We’ll wake up the next day with head-splitting exhaustion and vow “never to drink again.”

But we don’t mean it. We know we’ll see each other the following weekend to repeat the destructive cycle all over again.

I’ve always looked up to Sterling Archer as a perverse role-model. When I was younger, I admired his devil-may-care persona. He said anything on his mind without a care in the world. You don’t like him? He doesn’t care. He only knows how to be himself without concern of how that being affects others.

And he drinks. Hard. And yet leads a dysfunctional high-functioning existence. He often brags that he could never give up the drink because “the cumulative hangover” would kill him.

Archer, among other media role models, inspired me toward the perverse and destructive goal of eking out a hard-drinking yet functional existence. Work hard. Play harder.

Woke up with a hangover? No problem. Let’s go to the gym. Did you wretch up the water you drank in the bushes on the way to work? It ain’t no thing. We have a class to teach. Teaching hungover? It’s great! You can surrender to the moment and ultimately do an even better job. After all, the less you try to wield control with an iron fist, the more trainee-centered the class will be. Right?

How did I get here? How did I internalize working in a hungover state as a point of twisted pride? How much have I held myself back? Why has “being good at drinking” become a selling point on my internal CV?

Trainees got me some whiskey as a housewarming present, but I’ve yet to take a sip. Who’s thirsty?

I love therapy. It provides me a forum to release my fears, worries, concerns, and insecurities. And I hate therapy. It often leaves me feeling raw, exposed, vulnerable – questioning long-held assumptions and pillars of my self-esteem.

Drinking has been a focal point of my life for almost ten years. Beer, vodka, wine, and whiskey have had ten years to burrow into my psyche and reshape my self-concept – as well as whisper stereotypes into my ear about the meaning of teetotalism.

“You would have to go to church. And become judgmental of others who drink. You wouldn’t be cool. You would be lame. Have fun sitting at home playing online games while your friends go out and get the most out of life.”

This has often held me back from exploring abstinence as a long-term lifestyle choice. After my friend’s birthday, I phrased the next alcohol-free month in many ways. A “break.” An “alcohol vacation.” A “period of temperance.” All such ideas revolved around an eventual return to the drink – a ceremonial drunken homecoming.

And that homecoming came – I joined co-workers and trainees for some farewell drinks. It was Muffin’s last week of work and the mood was heavy, yet celebratory.

Singing was an epidemic!

And after I downed a handful of beers and a fistful of soju shots, the most amazing feeling overcame me. I felt nothing at all – no tears of joy fell upon my return to that blissful drunken fog. All I felt was a nothingness that begged a series of questions.

“Am I going to feel good the next day?”

No.

“Could I still hang with these people if I didn’t drink?”

Probably.

“Why am I doing this?”

I don’t know.

Social anxiety and perverse pride have tethered me to alcohol. Not only does drinking affirm my misguided conception of what it means to be a cool, respectable man, but I often feared the social repercussions of choosing to abstain among a friend group of drinkers.

A month ago, I put those assumptions to the test.

Someone took a photo of me from their car? Damn. I had a stalker.

That weekend, I ended up at the bar two nights in a row – once after a book club and once after some July 4th festivities. While my friends sipped cuba libres, beers, and soju-tonics, I stepped into a convenience store to bring some sparkling water and bottles of iced tea. And on both nights, a miracle happened.

It was no big deal at all.

I completely overestimated people’s reaction to my choice not to drink and underestimated how much fun I would have. It turns out, I have a lot in common with my circle of Yeosu friends and we have much to discuss even without shared social lubrication flowing through our veins. My decision not to drink eventually became a topic of conversation.

“You know, at first it started as a health-based decision. I wanted to improve my sleep and lose a little bit of weight.”

“But then,” I continued, “It became a social experiment. I enjoy spending time with all y’all. I feel like an accepted member of the group. But would that be the case if I didn’t drink? Could I still enjoy everyone’s company without a beer in my hands? Would they still enjoy mine?”

After that weekend, the facades I built up around alcohol began to crumble. And in its place, I see a world of great sleep, early mornings, friendly gatherings, and endless possibilities.

Some people are amazing moderators. They can meet up with friends, have a beer or two, and call it a night.

I am not one of those people.

I might say I’m addicted to food too.

And now, faced with the choice of drinking, weathering hangovers, losing sleep, and filling out my jeans or abstaining, still enjoying time with friends, finding more time to write, teach, read, and do the things I love, the decision seems easy to me.

But although today’s choice is easy, but it won’t always be. I’m sure the ghosts of Sterling Archer and my preconceived notions of heavy drinkers will someday beckon me back to that life. But the more times I can tell myself no and embrace my newfound superpowers, the happier life I can lead. Self-discipline begets greater self-discipline.

Alcohol is my next milestone on the path toward self-improvement – my next mountain to climb. And I love hiking.

So I’m going to grab my water bottle and get to stepping.

If you or someone you love suffers from alcohol abuse, there are people ready to help.

We Are With You (UK)

Alcohol and Drug Hotlines (USA)

Alcohol and Drug Support Line (Australia)

What’s out there for foreigners battling addiction, depression or mental illness (The Korea Herald)

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