It was back in September, and the Korean doctor was running the ultrasound wand back and forth across my lubed-up abdomen, shaking his head and looking stern. “Patty Ribber” he repeated, three or four times, pointing at the monitor, on which I saw nothing but the usual indecipherable patterns of amorphous grey blobs. I nodded like I knew what he was saying, which is my usual strategy. After nearly 15 years since I came to Korea, I’m still not that great at parsing things out when I’m in an unfamiliar situation.

The doc sat back down behind his desk while his disconcertingly attractive nurse wiped the lube off my stomach, and started talking at my wife, in the arrogant tones that Korean doctors favour. I was catching one word in three, as usual, but when she grabbed a piece of paper from a stack on the shelf beside her and handed it to me at his behest, and I saw the picture, “patty ribber” suddenly resolved in my brain to “fatty liver” and my blood ran cold.

“He says ‘no drinking for six months’,” my wife told me, unable to entirely hide the fact she thought that was a pretty fine idea.

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” said I, and she gripped my arm and led me out of the room with the requisite bows of apology for my grumpy tone. I’m sure he was used to it. There was a big stack of those info sheets, and they were the only ones there. I think he may have been a crypto-temperance advocate, and every guy who wandered into his office got the same orders. Maybe.

It’s 3 months later now, and I’m half-way through my enforced period of teetotalling. This is the point at which people offer faux-hearty congratulations and that’s greats, and we all briefly bow our heads contemplating the ravages of the demon alcohol. Well, to hell with that.

I miss beer something fierce.

But that is not to say that I have experienced any withdrawal symptoms, physical or psychological, at all. I’m one of the lucky ones, thank goodness, who can turn the switch on and off at will, it appears. But I do miss it; I miss the fuzzy warm welter of mild confusion that came later after the initial rush of energy and mental acuity. The Joe Strummer Mystery-Train extended pees. I miss the inhibition of judgment and I miss getting outside my head once a week; I miss blowing the carbon out of the mental valves. But stopping has been the easiest thing in the world. I just stopped.

When I was much younger, my best and longest friend and drinking companion Barry and I used to worry about being, or becoming, alcoholics. The dread word. We drank a hell of a lot, 20 or 25 years back, we did, and we loved it, but many was the night we spent, drinking our rye, on a beach or bench somewhere, wondering to ourselves what being an alcoholic really meant, and whether we were in danger.

Turns out not.

After his health started to go a bit sideways a few years back, or maybe just because he was done with it, Barry started tailing off with the booze a bit, without difficulty. Until 3 months ago, I kept to a regular schedule for a good ten years or more, as I am a man of habit, and drank my beer each and every Friday night, until I was done, and had had enough. One time out of 8 or ten, I wouldn’t feel the thirst, or my wife and I were arguing and because I hate to drink when I’m not feeling happy, I’d give it a miss, or finish before my customary measure and call it an early night.

But stopping? Well, after 30 years of being hard at it, the first 15 of which it was hammer-and-tongs like I had something to prove: no problem whatsoever. Do I feel a little more mental acuity, more energy? Well, maybe: I’ve certainly been on a creative tear lately, relaunching old websites and creating new. I’ve lost 6 or 7 kilograms and feel pretty good. My lovely and overprotective wife is pleased. I suppose the point of the endeavour — to allow my overburdened greaseball of a liver time to regenerate — is a good and noble one.

But I said this, I recall, four years ago, over at Metafilter

It is interesting (and not without justification, certainly, given the problems that alcohol abuse causes) how the default response to the drink seems in recent decades to have swung from an appreciation of the wild, mystic revelry of bacchanalia to a primly moralizing disapproval. I think of it as a very American sort of attitude — in opposition to the more European or NE Asian attitudes toward booze — and find it fascinating.

A lot of it seems to come from the generation(s) — from kids up to some people in, say, their early 30’s, who often seem to think of alcohol as their parents’ or grandparents’ drug of choice, and therefore kind of lame — who have grown up in some senses Postbooze, in the decades during which the central cultural focus in attitude seems to have shifted from the celebratory and sacramental aspects of (alcohol) intoxication to the damage and the carnage, to the idea that a one who drinks is an alcoholic, that to be an alcoholic is to have a disease, and that those who drink without destroying their lives are condescended towards and granted the qualifier ‘functioning’, but are still ‘diseased’.

I don’t mean to judge either way — there is much to be said for the power of intoxicants, and alcohol may be the oldest one humans have used. There is also much to be said about the destruction that excessive alcohol use has wrought, and continues to wreak on individuals and families and societies.

Neither extreme tells the whole story. Each individual is different, and the balance between the exalted and the debased, between the bacchanalian reveler and the destructive and damaged addict is always fluid.

For my part, I’ve had more friends whose lives have been ripped to shit by cocaine (for example) than ones whose lives have been ruined by booze (though I’ve seen both), and I’ve some had friends who have bounced back from both.

and my attitude hasn’t changed. I know, believe, and understand that alcohol can and does destroy some people — many people.

But I am eternally thankful, given how much I love what alcohol does to my brain when I drink it, that I am not one of those people, and that putting it down for a while or for forever, though not something I’m enthusiastic to do, is not something I find difficult.

This site was named, all those years ago, as a vague gesture. Empty bottle because all of the contents have been drunk or empty bottle because there were none to begin with? Empty bottle as a wish for the future or a lament for the past? As a celebration or a warning?

Hell, I don’t know, myself. All of the above, I guess. I just hope the liver bounces back, because come April 2011, I’m looking forward to my first beer with great anticipation.

Booze Glorious Booze, Korea-related, Thoughts That, If Not Deep, Are At Least Wide
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Join the conversation! 10 Comments

  1. It’s good to have you back on the (empty)bottle, old friend.

    • Thanks, tiz. We’ll see if the Magnificent Clarity of Sobriety gets me back into the swing of writin’ stuff…

  2. For decades I was a very temperate drinker, until I discovered a certain rum and now I drink far too much. However, like your Stavros I can stop with impunity – it does not seem to bother me to do so and I will once again after this week’s vacation is finished.

    Keep writing – it’s been sorely missed

    • Yarrr, rum! Worst rum I ever had was the Oso Negro ’emergency’ rum we kept in the bilge on La Passionata, the sailboat I crewed on, in case we ran out of everything else. It was cheap, though.

      • Can’t be as bad as the spiced rum we found in my folks liquor cabinet a few decades back…

        Glad to read yer back!

  3. We’d hate to have you without your liver so I’m glad the break has been bearable.

    Best wishes to you and the fam for 2011.

  4. I finally broke out my rusty feedreader, and there was Dave, and then there was you!

    Welcome back. Good to see your writing, old friend.

  5. Hey everybody! Great to see you — it’s been a while…

  6. You had your checkup with Mr. Kim yet? C’mon, you can tell us … we won’t let on.

    Heya, Stav, it’s way more than good to have you and other old friends back on the beat …

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