19 Reflections of Two Hundred Days

Olaf Owlbearssen

Alcohol is an integral part of Slovenian culture. Boys become men by drinking. Hosts welcome visitors to their homes with a schnapps. At celebrations, people become dancers and revelers after two beers. At university, exams passed and exams failed are celebrated with a bottle of wine.

All three great European drinks are part of Slovenian tradition: beer, wine, and brandies. And the meads and liquers, too. You will not go thirsty in Slovenia.*

All of this is my roundabout way of saying that drinking regularly and deeply is the norm in Slovenia.

On the first of March I decided to abstain from alcohol for a couple of hundred days, to see what would happen. More than half a year without alcohol, this was the first time in 20 years that I gave myself that much sobriety.

Sunday was day two hundred. Yesterday I had my first beer in 204 days.

It was a surprisingly interesting experience.

Calories. One of the most banal things I discovered was just how much food there was in alcohol. My weight dropped like a stone and stabilized 5 kilos lower. Maintaining weight and shape also became much easier. Suddenly long walks, push-ups and some weights were enough.

Time. This was also banal. With no hangovers or drunken evenings, I discovered that a week was much longer than I remembered.

Physical health. My GI tract has basically decided to high-five me daily and keeps sending me thank you cards about how it loves the alcohol-free diet. Obviously no hangovers, too.

Mental health. I lost my traditional medication for anxiety, stress, worries, and other emotions. For the first two months this sent me for a loop. I had to process many emotions for which I, as a proper European Man, lacked the mental toolkit. It turned out that long walks, a bit of introspection and a dash of writing could replace those beers quite well.

Buddies. Especially, beer buddies. Being abroad, away from my regular social circle, certainly made abstention easier. I learned that beers make bores easier to bear. And for good company, it’s the shared drink that bonds, not the alcohol content of said drink.

Flavor. It’s said alcohol makes food taste better. This wine for cheese, that beer for pierogi, this liqueur for potica, this cognac for Virginia tobacco. Turns out, not so much. My taste buds’ sensitivity went up, and my appreciation for dousing my food with rotten grape juice went down.

Alcohol-free beer. Oh, god, I came to appreciate this. I used to be first in line to denounce alcohol-free beer as a disgusting abomination, bitter water with nothing to recommend it. Mea culpa. I toss bitter ashes upon my brow. It’s perfect. Just enough beer-like that I can swig it with beer buddies, without coming across as a smug janissary, while still containing enough bitterness and horrid taste to give that mortification-of-the-flesh feel to make me know I’m a grown up doing grown up things.

Yesterday I had my first beer in 204 days. A nice little Bavarian Paulaner to go with a platter of sausages, sauerkraut, roast potatoes and pickles**.

Now, I suspect what you’re expecting.

Did angels sing as I drank that cool brown brew? Did fireworks go off as foam flecked my lips? Did a dance number break out as sausage swirled with stolid German beer? Did I call the waiter for rounds two, three and, finally, four?

It’s a yes, right?

No. Left.

It was nothing special. The beer could have been a 0% Hite or a fizzy water or a cup of green tea for all the favors it did to the meat. As for myself, I dreaded alcohol’s aftereffects more than I enjoyed it’s near absent buzz.

Gosh.

I think I’ve trained myself off the booze by experiment.

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*Unless you are unfamiliar with local laws and try to buy an alcoholic beverage in a shop after 9 p.m.

**Because pickled vegetables are always a side dish in Korea.