Sunday, December 16, 2012

Life without Alcohol

Eating together they all raised their glasses in a toast but the glasses only held soft drinks. Not a drop of liquor to drink but the topic of conversation was entirely on drinking. They were members of the Sobriety Movement in the diocese of Seoul. The journalist who wrote the story that appeared in the Peace Weekly attended the meal. He began drinking during his first year of college and continued for the next fifteen years, mostly when eating out and attending many year-end festivities. Not once was he without a drink, he said, until that evening.

The drinking culture of Korea pervades all strata of society and is well-known. There have been changes in recent years because of the serious consequences from excessive drinking. And these efforts have met with some success. But he goes on to say that the practice of heavy drinking continues, usually when there is a business meeting or when friends get together.

He mentioned that when he goes eating with friends, even before the side dishes come out they have finished drinking one or two bottles of soju (the popular cheap distilled liquor). At the end of eating and drinking with male friends they often  go to a second and third place, changing the atmosphere but continuing the drinking and talking. This group, however, goes to  tea rooms or coffee shops. He admits that during the meal with the sobriety members, it was not easy to produce a pleasant atmosphere without the usual drinking. A worker at the Center said that all their meals and events would be of this type--no liquor would be served.

The priest who heads the Center recalled when going out meant just 'pour and drink'. In Korea, one usually does not pour his own liquor, and a little force helping others to join in the drinking is permissible. Nowadays, the eating and the drinking are separated, said the priest. And if you drink too much that is a reason for losing your job and, in the conglomerate world, a black mark against you when it comes to promotions.

The article mentioned two men who after they had stopped drinking found everything working for the good, One said his business began to take off and the other said he began a new life;  even the conversations were more memorable for he could remember them. He refuted the notion that liquor helps dialoguing with others.

The priest recounted his own story of heavy drinking and confessed that his parishioners over the years sent complaints  to the diocese about his drinking; the complaints were enough, he said, to fill three bags. Before he stopped not only was his spiritual life a mess but his mental and emotional life as well.

That evening, during the liquor-less meal, those present mentioned how difficult it was to give up their old way of life. They all said that the most difficult time is when they are celebrating a personal event or a promotion and have to refuse the drink that is offered. They have found that refusing a drink becomes easier when they admit to having an alcoholic problem or have learned to refuse politely. But probably the most successful strategy mentioned was to avoid the occasions where drink is being served.

That evening, without drinks being available, the journalist said it all came to an end in about an hour and a half, much less than it would normally have taken if there had been drinking. Drink does help intimacy because of the vulnerability and the exposure of one's humanity, both attractive traits, but there are other ways that this laudable result can be achieved. 

We need to find how to make living without alcohol more attractive to those who find it difficult to do so. Providing an example for others by living  alcohol-free, as the members of the Sobriety Movement attempt to do, is a first step in the right direction.