The Devil’s Water

If I recall correctly, the first time I took a drink—an alcoholic one that is—was when I was four years old. On Christmas Eve my family at large, from cousins to aunts and uncles, had a gathering of sorts. It was a night that began with a quick meal of pizzas and fried chickens, followed by a series of prayers from each family member, and culminating in the uncorking of wines, champagnes, and the opening of whiskeys and vodkas.

We were a group of prolific drinkers, from the youngest to the older generations, each person partook in the act of guzzling down alcohol. I, being the youngest of them all initially tried to pry myself away from what I then could not understand. It was confusing to see everyone around you suddenly having slurred speeches, stumbling when there was nothing around them, laughing when no one has cracked a joke. Then a cousin, more than twenty years my senior came up to me with the tiniest of glasses. Inside of it a swirling, foul-smelling, brown liquid. He laughingly said to me, “drink.”

I knew that what my cousin offered was what made everyone around me act so bizarrely. I said “No, thank you,” but he insisted, saying how it would make me feel better, as happy as anyone can be—same as the ones passed out on the sofas, I presumed. But I looked up to this person offering a four year-old alcohol; he game me my first Playstation, answered whatever mundane questions I propped up, and never shied away from playing with children my age. Thus, I took a wary sip. “No, no, no, you don’t drink it like that,” he said, while I was trying to hold the vomit-inducing taste in my mouth. “You do it like this,” he chugged his own glass into his mouth instantly, and made a long sigh of relief afterwards. I emulated him, and lost whatever memory had been made after the gulp.

The above story is a retelling of how I had my first drink, and how young I was when alcohol entered my system. Over the years, on each Christmas, the same cousin would offer me another shot—a term I learned the morning after my first—and after two to three years, I stopped waiting for him to hand me one, and simply poured for myself. Perhaps due to my growing physique, or a resistance resulting from the familiarity with alcohol, one drink was no longer enough. Nor were two or three. I could down four shots of whiskeys and brandies before I  passed out, prior to finishing elementary school, and saw nothing wrong with having such an ability. I thought the other kids must be able to do so too, especially the Moluccan ones. As anyone with the slightest bit of sense might realize, I was deathly wrong.

When I reached puberty, I began perusing mini-markets to purchase my own beers. I looked older than I was, small but passable enough to be eighteen, and started drinking regularly. Before, during, and after school hours I would sneak out and buy a can, chug it down as quickly as I could, and cover the smell of booze with dozens of peppermint candies. In none of those periods were I caught, as my go to excuse was “I need mints to stay up in class, the school doesn’t sell any,” and the fact that my teachers had a soft spot for me didn’t hurt.

My drinking became regular, over the course of the years. As I hung out with my high school classmates, they would sip through juices, tea, and such likes. Whilst I would be a downing two cans of beer in a matter of minutes. And when my wallet was not hurting, I’d go and buy more. I didn’t know where my limit was, other than vomiting and passing out. Whenever there was a chance for a Guinness or a Chivas, I’d open up my pockets immediately. Remember, this is the age when most young adults were only starting to try out booze.

The highlights of my high school drinking career are plenty, but let’s just focus on one of my least proudest moments. I once vomited on myself, inside my car whilst my best friend drove me home, slept with my head on the puddle of puke all the way through the trip, and didn’t wake up until sunrise hit the windshields of my old Toyota Yaris. All because I kept stealing unfinished drinks from tables at some dingy club I used to frequent. If anyone’s assuming that this kind of humiliation would be enough to stop my thirst for booze, he’d be wrong.

I kept drinking. My habit of having beer for breakfast continued to my college years, and any social occasion would feel incomplete without a Martini or two. I rarely had a day that didn’t involve some consumption of alcohol, and I remember them as being fuzzy and long. I felt agitated whenever I haven’t drank at least 330ml of Guinness. Everything would just feel wrong, somehow. I’d lose concentration as I drove, writing would be painfully slow, and words from other people’s mouths would skip over my ears.

Even the simplest of tasks, such as presenting in front of a classroom, demanded that I be at least somewhat tipsy. Worse were the moments when I felt sad. Rejected by a crush, losing a friend or two, et cetera. “Drink the pain away,” the expression goes, and that’s exactly what I did. When trouble comes I fight, all the while being inebriated by whatever it is I drank beforehand. I could not stand up to the challenges that faced me without a dose of liquid courage. Yet even with all these hindrances I knew of, clues oblivious only to the blind, I still hadn’t realized that I’d become a slave to alcohol.

I’m turning twenty-one this year, and after more than half a decade of non-stop drinking, someone told me enough is enough. To give a little bit of necessary background info, a recent ruling in Indonesia outlawed the selling of alcoholic beverages in mini markets and some supermarkets, cutting off my primary chain of supply. Panicking over this issue—for both personal and sociological reasons, as I’ve written in The Indonesian Prohibition—I told this friend of mine,  while having lunch, that I’m working on a sort of “web” of alcohol suppliers. People who would sell me beer anytime I needed one. At first she nodded along, then after we had finished our meals, I asked her, “Hey, can we go to Foodhall (a local supermarket) for a sec? I think they still sell beer there.” She didn’t respond too kindly to that inquiry, asking me coldly, “Do you need it everyday? Before class, before you do anything? Are you trying to be an alcoholic or something?” I couldn’t offer an immediate reply, and just mumbled some incoherent defense. “It’s disgusting,” she said. I shut up, and drove home with her instead.

What my friend said is true, it’s just a fact that I hadn’t realized. Through all the years I’d spent drinking, I had never let myself fall into utter uselessness. My grades were always top notch, I spend my free time devouring fictional and non-fictional literature, plenty of my peers would ask me to lecture them before an exam or a quiz. I’m often described as “intelligent,” an inaccurate label as I only have the wisdom of those with minds greater than mine, but I suppose that adjective has slipped its way into my persona. Essentially, my ego kept me from realizing the problem I had. Whenever someone comments on my drinking habit, I would immediately retort with “my GPA’s a 4.0 anyway.” How shameless and egotistical I was—and perhaps still am—to be so confident in my own abilities that I refused to acknowledge having the infection of alcohol festering inside of me.

I cannot say for certain why I agreed with the assessment of that particular friend of mine. Perhaps I see her as something more than a pal, or maybe it’s simply because she’s one of the very few people who’ve stayed with me through thick and thin. Whatever the reason, I agree with her judgment. I need to stop. I have to be able to think, to act, without the with-strings-attached help of alcohol. It is disheartening to know that one cannot be functional without some foreign substance entering one’s system, especially if it is stigmatized upon, and has caused the deaths of too many human beings.

Hence I made a few rules for myself. The hardest drink I’m allowed to have is a beer, and I can no longer go to bars or anything else of the sort alone. If I have an absolute craving—a thirst that manifests itself in the shapes of agitation, anger, the inability to concentrate or work on anything—I’ll ask someone to accompany me to the nearest saloon and have them limit me to no more than 660ml of Guinness. Though I have to admit, I’ve broken these rules a few times. It’s never easy to limit one’s basest urges, nevertheless go cold turkey.

The most difficult part of quitting, for me, is being unable to do what I am doing right now: writing—the one activity that keeps me sane. Most of my ideas I get from my handicapped mind, and as I tap away on my keyboard my hands and eyes would be irremovable as my senses would be dulled. I would be living in my own world, pulled away only for mere seconds by sudden interruptions. Then I’d be home again, amongst letters and symbols. I find it difficult, as of now, to enter that kind of trance again. As I write this article, I stop every few minutes or so, to fool around with some random mobile game, stare at the ceiling, open a book, and so on. What I mean to say is that I’ve lost the constant connection I had before I decided to quit.

For someone who chooses not to go to parties for the sake of writing, this predicament is an especially difficult one. But it will not stop me from trying, both to continue jotting away on my notebook, and to lessen the amount of alcohol poured down my throat. Why? Because I refuse to be utterly dependent on anything, be it a person or an object. If alcohol restricts me from enjoying this hobby that has turned into a lifestyle then so be it. I’ll continue on, meanwhile being distracted from my laptop’s screen all the time. Perhaps the quality of my works will decrease, though I hope that will not be the case. If I’m fortunate enough, the only aspect affected would be the length of time I take to produce each parchment, as previously a two-thousand word essay would take me only an hour or two to complete, now it would take nearly an entire day. It feels as if I’d lost one of my hands.

There are specific pains for those trying to escape the tendrils of alcohol. Mine is just one out of the many countless possibilities out there. But I hope that my case proves to be enough of a showcase of what alcohol-dependency can do to a person. The Devil’s water does not merely destroy your internal organs slowly, as such concerns are too far away to be noticeable for the more youthful of the crowd. Rather, it slowly takes away your ability to do the things you love most. Its chains constrict you whenever you try to move away, to return to the state before you had become utterly reliant on its permissions. Your body will suffer later on, certainly. But your mind, your soul, the elements that define you will end up in its grasp; as in my case with writing.

To those of you out there, trekking through the same woods as I am, I wish you the best of luck. And to anyone who suspects that they might be drinking a little more than the average person does, be sure to reevaluate yourselves. Do not make the same mistake that too many of us have done. For the ones struggling to escape, falling down the hole was an unrecognized event, and the one that we regret most of all.

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