Abstinence

For so much of our life, we're encouraged by people around us to abstain from one thing or another. This makes sense, of course, as a functioning society cannot have 100% of the population doing whatever they please when they please. From chaos emerges new things, but too much will destroy everything that came before it. So we restrain ourselves and others from various activities for the long-term viability of a family, community, or society. With order comes predictability and stability … though too much of it can be oppressive. Balance is key.

Today marks my 9th consecutive day without any alcohol. This isn't something that I'm particularly proud of or wish to show off. It's simply a fact. Ten days ago was the last time I went out for a walk around the neighbourhood after 10 o'clock at night, bought two of my favourite Kirin 5% beverages, and sat in the park to consume them while watching Star Wars on the tablet. After a long day, this is really one of my favourite ways to unwind and relax because everything is "done". The boy is in bed. Nozomi has been taken care of. Work is finished for the day. The house is reasonably clean for the next morning. Everything is as it should be. So why not enjoy the last 90 minutes of the evening outdoors with some fresh air, absolute privacy, and two cans of 酎ハイ1?

As this is something that I clearly enjoy, I do not see a problem with the habit at all. In moderation, this sort of thing can be seen as a personal reward for getting through a difficult week or completing a stressful project on time. But what if this is something that a person does almost every night for years? Is it a "problem" or just a harmless pastime that someone enjoys?

When Nozomi and I go for our evening walks, I find my thoughts drifting towards the personal walk that will take place later in the evening. I pay attention to the wind, the clouds, and anything else that can offer a clue as to how nice the weather might be to see if I will brave the elements to enjoy the treat outdoors. I don't bring alcohol home, so it must be finished before returning. That means on particularly wet or cold days, I opt to stay home and stick with water or coffee. However, since 2018, I have followed this pattern for an average of 280 nights a year. Is this a "problem"? Some people around me would classify this behaviour as reckless, selfish, and ultimately harmful to health. While doctors have pointed at charts to suggest I take better care of myself, I genuinely feel healthier today than at any point in the last 20 years. The frequent trips out for some Kirin in the park do not show any obvious signs of being an issue.

Instead, what has me (over)-thinking this habit is what happens when I go out for a long walk without any alcohol, or when I do not go out for more than a few days. I start thinking about drinking more often. A lot more often. Earlier this week I found myself thinking about gin for the first time in almost 20 years. The last time I touched the drink was the early summer of 2002, and I remember the following morning very clearly2. In addition to gin, I have visions of sitting in the park, tablet in one hand, chūhai in the other. I remember the rare occasions when I would head to a bar with friends or colleagues and shoot the breeze. It is almost as if the subconscious is trying to entice me to head out and consume something.

There is no denying that I genuinely enjoy these quiet moments in the park, but the way the mind fills itself with thoughts of drinking during brief periods of sobriety have me wonder if perhaps I need to give up the habit for good. While I would not classify myself an alcoholic, there is a history of it in the family. Between the summer of 2002 and 2015 I rarely ever came into contact with alcohol. An occasional beer would be had, but never more than one or two cans per year. It was in mid-2015 when I started having one or two cans of beer every week. Then one or two a day. Then I switched from beer to chūhai with the occasional sampling of something else. Are the mental images signs of addiction? Or are these simply the markers of habit? Could I be just as satisfied sitting in the park with a soda every night? I'm almost nervous to do any sort of test analysis but, if there are signs of a dependency forming, then it might be best for me to abstain completely as I had for 13 years after leaving Ontario.


  1. Chūhai, which is an abbreviation of "shōchū highball" (焼酎ハイボール). I tend to grab two 500mL cans of Kirin's 5% blends: one grapefruit, and one seasonal. If there is no special seasonal flavour, I go with the classic lemon.

  2. I drank it straight the last time I had it, which would have made its alcohol content just a little too high for my stomach and liver. The next morning I felt quite ill.