When I was a small child – like maybe four years old – my Belgian father would let me sip his beer. It was more than sip. He always repeated that it was healthier than lemonade. The first time I was drunk I was six. The first time I remember. The real first time was when I was a baby and had accidentally (??) drunk a glass of port. My mum called a physician that day, who said he couldn’t do anything.
How did my mum notice? She said: ‘Something was off. You were much more cheerful than you normally were.’ A little detail that sometimes makes me suspect I was born depressed.
When I was three my mum once caught me behind the couch with a bottle of beer. I vaguely remember the incident. She thought it was funny.
There was no aura of specialness around alcohol where I grew up. It was just part of life. It wasn’t taboo. When my friends and I went to parties our parents would sometimes give us bottles of wine to take with us.
This made sure I was never particularly curious about alcohol and it certainly never was an act of rebellion.
In fact, growing up in Belgium where the attitude towards alcohol was so universally relaxed, it was an act of rebellion NOT to drink.
I remember Friday nights that I got home from school quite drunk. Sometimes I drank on school nights, even at 15 or 16. Even before that I drank some light beer, almost daily.
Eventually I got to drink very little or nothing. Between the ages of 19 and 23 I hardly drank at all.
After that I got active at university, got a social life, and alcohol became part of my life, but it was just part of it, I didn’t particularly enjoy it nor did I really need it. Except sometimes to deal with stress, or on first dates to lose my inhibitions. I didn’t use alcohol to try and write until much later.
Then when my father died when I was 25, I did start to like it, to simply need it. I would go running early in the morning and then I would open the fridge on my return and drink a bottle of apple cider or something.
I also had this feverish drive to cling to life, which seems very odd right now, since these days I see every new day mostly as something I didn’t order and would like to return.
But those days I would be flooded by energy, would want to spend time with as many friends as possible, and I wanted to drink, to put a stop to the fever inside. This went on for a couple of months perhaps. It was intense and got me into some ‘crazy’ situations. It also messed up my work.
After that I had again no special relationship towards alcohol.
Then at 27 I spent something like six months in Slovakia. I think I drank more in that short time than in several years in Belgium. I worked at the embassy and at university and every guy I met or worked with drank heavily, very heavily. And I joined, to be sociable. Again not because I enjoyed it. I actually hated it as back then I cared much more about my health then I do now.
I went back to Belgium and for long periods I drank hardly at all. I worked for a communist party and they loved capitalist beer production, but I almost never drank with them. Possibly the first indication that I rejected their views, because I tend to drink to please other drinkers.
Then at 33 I went back to Slovakia and all of a sudden, I started to enjoy the taste of regular beer. Not the heavy beer we are used to in Belgium. The light ones. The cheaper it is, the more I seem to like it.
I also started to drink red wine a lot. Not because I liked the taste of it, but because I wanted to be drunk. It also helped to write (or so I thought).
For some reason beer makes me drunk faster and longer than wine, so eventually I stuck with beer, but there was a time I would get up, drink a whole bottle of wine, and drink an other one during the rest of the day. Sometimes I wouldn’t stop there.
It got so out of hand I started lying about it to my wife and hiding bottles.
I got a need for it like never before, except for those two summers after my father died. And once when I was taking some medication for anxiety that curiously made me crave alcohol.
Perhaps it’s because I feel imprisoned. Perhaps it’s because I experience Slovakia as some self-imposed exile. Perhaps it’s because I’m just bored out of my mind. Perhaps most people I meet around here make me want to cry and move to an island so I would never have to deal with people ever again. It’s not even my favorite drug. From what I’ve tried nothing beats cocaine, but I don’t have any Colombian marching powder and I’m scared of the crap they cut it with.
Like it’s 7 am as I write this. One of my early classes has just got cancelled, so I have two hours to spare. I really wouldn’t mind downing three liters of beer right now.
Part of what stops me, is that it doesn’t seem worth the investment. Even when I get drunk, I don’t stay drunk for very long. It soon fades. And when I keep drinking, like when I drink more than 6 liters of beer, I just become numb and when I stop moving, there’s a risk I will just be very sick.
For writing it’s nice to drink just enough to not get totally drunk or too tired. An exercise that’s quite hard, but quite exciting. I’m telling you, if alcohol becomes exciting, you are bored out of your mind or grieving for a loved one.
Also part of it, is that around here you can’t talk to any males, unless you drink. Most Slovak guys I meet cannot have a fun, interesting, conversation without alcohol. An other part is that my father in law loves it so much that it’s a lot of fun to drink with him. But the alarming part is that I enjoy to drink most when I’m alone. Even worse, these days I ONLY truly enjoy it when I’m toally alone. Probably because I can’t let the drunkenness wash over when there are other people around. Even a lot of alcohol does not take away my inhibitions in any social setting (ask any person who grew up with me). And drinking makes me want to write, which I can’t do when there are people around.
There are two notable exeptions. One works at Pilsner, ironically. He never drinks. The other one has no taste for it. They’re both excellent conversationalists and don’t need alcohol. I don’t know how they manage to function, socially, here in Slovakia, but they are by far the happiest two guys I know.
So last Thursday, on the 26th of July, I decided once again, to stop drinking all together. The hardest part will be standing up against the social pressure, because around here you’re not a man if you don’t drink.
Personally I feel guys drink to drown their sexual frustration. A drinking guy is a sexually frustrated guy.
In 2017 I was sober for more than four months, but I started drinking again after a session with my insanely attractive therapist, because I knew I couldn’t fuck her.
Masculinity expert David Deida says we tank female energy when we drink and I believe him. Drinking feminizes us, makes us talk more, makes us more engaging, more sensitive, more open, more tactile.
My wife however has a different theory. She says only guys with a poor relationship with their dad drink. This makes sense because I only ever developped an irresistible need to drink AFTER my father died (apart from the two months I took anxiety medication, the only time I ever took anything like that).
Addiction is ritualized comfort seeking, and you seek comfort because your social network lacks meaning and can’t provide the right stimulation.
Crossfingers with your resolution! It is silly if someone suggests that you have to drink to be a real man. I know that some people can have this opinion but I would just ignore them. They might poke you for a while, but eventually they will give up and I bet that some might even secretly admire you. I believe that “getting drunk” is overrated, especially here in Slovakia. If someone is really having fun, they can have it without alcohol as well.
And I am sorry to hear that most people you meet here are not interesting for you. What kind of people would you like to meet more often?
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It’s more subtle than that, they rarely outright say that you’re not a man if you don’t drink, but it’s often implied. At the very least it’s implied that you are weak, boring or pussy-whipped by your girlfriend or wife. Yes, they do admire you in the end, usually secretely. I don’t know, I used to meet people who reflected more on things, saw things more from a macro-perspective and not just through the lens of their own lives. Perhaps in Belgium and the Netherlands people have that luxury, to think beyond the confines of their own private world. Besides that I miss dark humor. Slovaks claim to have dark humor, but if they spot how some foreigners talk they are shocked, even outraged. I would say I meet uptight, overly formal, neurotic, shy people around here, who are at the same time also quite vain in a hidden way. What influences my opinion about everything though is that I’m just angry at the world. Yesterday my wife pointed out that I was even more negative about Belgium when we were living there. In general I’m just very angry at the world. Though if you would meet me you’d never suspect that, it comes up in the writing where I’m more honest.