So what have I done so far with my free time in Kuwait?
I knew not to expect a wild nightlife or venues for western bands and that there wouldn't be any bars or casinos. True to the anticipation, none of these appeared. It was lucky, then, that I've never liked casinos, long since tired of nightclubs (I never really liked them anyway) and have only been to three gigs in the past twenty years. So this hasn’t really troubled me. As for the absence of bars and alcohol, however, adjusting to this has proved a significant shock to the system – but in fact a far less difficult one than I’d expected.
This has surprised me quite a lot. After all, I'd estimate that I’ve had at least some alcohol on about 98% of all the days since my eighteenth birthday. Without doubt I never missed a days quaffing beer in Slovakia over the past six years. That was one of the noticeable things about my time in India indeed: that I would actually go sometimes four or five days without a beer. That kind of experience of abstinence was something I really noticed.
Does this mean that until recently I was an alcoholic, or only a heavy drinker? Who knows? Not an alcoholic I always wanted to think. I always told myself this was proven by the fact I didn’t drink spirits, except very rarely, and didn’t think of booze as soon as I woke up in the morning. I also told myself I could give it up ‘if I really wanted to’ or ‘if I had to’. The thing was that I never wanted to, nor could I ever not afford to drink, especially in Slovakia where beer is so cheap. Still, this presumption, which consoled me in my liver- worrying moments, that I could give it up if I wanted to, was never something I ever put to the test. Having a couple of beers every day, or at least a glass or two of wine, if not a lot more a couple or three times a week, was something I just accepted as an inevitable part of my life – well, except when I was in India and alcohol was harder to come by.
Here in Kuwait, I’m further reassured - correctly or incorrectly - that I wasn’t an alcoholic, since I’ve experienced no disabling or quivering withdrawal symptoms. I can only presume my daily attachment to alcohol was therefore habitual and cultural, not biological; despite my having drunk in a perhaps defiance of the recommended dosage, a commitment to the juice on my part that I’d imagined might have established some kind of a clinging, demanding expectation in my bloodstream.
The cultural issue is certainly the important factor in explaining why I’m not drinking now. I’ve made no effort to give up booze; there has been no decision formed in my mind to break the habit and embrace sobriety. If I could get beer and wine as easily here as I can in the west, and in much of the Islamic world besides, there’s no doubt I’d be drinking now as regularly as ever. It’s simply that it’s not available here. Of course, that’s not strictly true, since you can get it if you really want to –on the black market. But the fact I’m not surrounded by its ready availability and, more to the point, the fact that drinking is alien to the Kuwaiti social scene, has meant that all the triggers, the cultural signals, that used to make me buy it, have been removed. My habitual reactions and urges, wanting a cool beer at the end of the day over a meal, the tingling of lust in the taste buds, the desire to lubricate the mind and emotions in the time honoured alcoholic way; all these have remained – though admittedly they’ve faded over time. All that’s changed is that I’d have to make a real effort now to get this satisfaction. Standing in the way of gratification is this formidable wall of prohibition, propped up by severe legal threats, that wasn’t there before. And what’s odd is that I’ve discovered to my surprise that my need and desire for alcohol is not nearly strong enough to make me care that much about this wall of prohibition, or to think at all about ways of getting over it..
So in a way I ask myself , why the hell did I drink in the first place? An interesting question. Maybe I never actually wanted to? Well, no, certainly that’s not true – because I did. Maybe it would be more true to say I didn’t need to drink. Only that’s not true either, because from the age of ‘maturity’ as it were, when the age of alcohol dawned, at school when drinking became the done thing to do, I saw no reason to make a stand and deny myself the pleasure. In that sense, in a way then, I did need to drink; just to do the acceptable, normal thing (though I accept I always drank more than was normal), to conform to the default setting that is alcohol. After all, being a teetotaler in the west requires a certain effort, does it not. You need to really want not to drink, if you are not to be persuaded by society’s pressures expecting, if not urging, you to drink – at least a bit.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not a sudden convert to teetotalism, nor do I champion prohibition. I’d be having a beer right now if I could be – or rather if I could be easily. Nor do I regret having drunk, since a) I’m not sure that if I hadn’t drunk I would still have had the pleasures and great times I have had, both alone and with others, in the company of drink, and b) I can’t be sure that if I hadn’t drunk some form of rigidity or somberness might not have overshadowed me in some form of hermetic isolation. On the other hand, I accept that this is counterfactual speculation, that I cannot know. Maybe my life would have been better if I’d never drunk. Yet, how can I possibly know this? Certainly, I can’t and won’t put myself in a position to decree that it would be better for everyone else if they never drank and stopped drinking now. That is the stance assumed by the prohibitionists. It’s one the virtue and value of which I see little evidence for. And that quite apart from my extreme aversion to telling people what they can and can’t do.
On the other hand, I accept I probably did drink too much, if only because it contributed to my current circumstance whereby I have to carry all this excess blubber around that has fixed itself to me since I was 22. I can also accept that many others probably drink too much as well, such as to undermine their health and their happiness. But then most people, as I say, don't drink as much as I did, having their consumption more moderately pitched.
In any case, I’m glad to have this opportunity now to put the sauce aside for awhile – if only as an experiment. Maybe I’ll never drink again, though almost certainly I will. In lesser quantities perhaps, in lesser quantities I hope; and for certain, in the knowledge, acquired here in Kuwait, that I don’t really need to at all.
Ok, so what have I actually done, in the absence of booze? More of this in my next post.
I must fix myself a coffee.