One of my favorite places in the world is Oman. The city of Muscat itself is firmly placed in biblical tales of antiquity with the famous frankincense trail, a route that carried this precious, fragrant, and highly sought-after commodity that was one of the gifts brought to baby Jesus by the three wisemen.
Muscat is a mysterious seaside port with souks - labyrinthine bazaars that have been trading commodities for millennia - gold, treasures, maps, foods, spices, housewares, modern phones and electronics, and just about anything else one could need- but originally the souk was the trading post for selling its famous frankincense.
The shops are tightly packed next to each other and are small and modest and usually only a few people can fit into one at any time. Behind the counters or on the steps out front the shopkeepers are all gathered and gossiping about the goings-on of the bazaar.
Something that struck me right away was how, despite its bustling nature, the souk, even at the 5 p.m. height of the shopping rush and with hundreds of people walking about - was how relatively quiet it was. I pointed this out to an Omani person I had befriended and her answer was quite simple: there is no alcohol allowed here. In Oman, like most of the Gulf countries, alcohol is prohibited in almost all places and that includes restaurants and private homes- it is only allowed in hotel bars catering to foreigners.
Upon returning to my hotel and heading downstairs to the pool and bar area, my partner and I heard loud talking and boisterous laughter from far away - happy hour at the Hyatt Muscat was in full swing and some European and American guests were imbibing raucously.
It wasn’t just the pitch of their voices that was attention-grabbing though, it was the demeanor of the drunken people - too carefree. I suppose the only to describe it was sloppy and silly- they were acting like unsupervised children misbehaving badly. The sober bartenders and local staff were always polite and courteous, but gave each other embarrassed and disapproving looks as they had to watch fully grown adults get increasingly inappropriate in all the ways alcohol is notorious for. We decided not to join the crowd.
Alcohol and Our Soul
The word ‘alcool’ is Arabic, also written ‘alghawl’, and yes, the inference is to the world ‘ghoul’ meaning ‘an evil spirit’ or quite specifically, a demon that produces a sense of intoxications - hence the etymology of the word ‘spirit’ to describe liquor. If the origin and meaning of the word alcohol seems unpleasant, it might also not come as a surprise because when it is abused, alcohol basically has the potential to ruin lives, not only the life of the drinker, but also of people that must contend with the ‘demon’ that it brings out in a lot of people.
Even if we don’t drink to the point of having serious life consequences stem from it, most of us can remember a time when we had too much to drink, and the terrible hangover the next day. The truth is actually none of us are immune to its addictive powers - the phrase ‘just one drink’ is rarely accurate because the good feeling and chemicals that alcohol gives off makes us want to keep going.
Sometimes we know firsthand the destruction alcohol can wreak on people because we know someone who drank to the point of their own detriment and became self-destructive. Or we can glimpse from afar the very public misery of the countless celebrities who are in and out of rehab. No one can really win the battle because the human spirit and physical body just cannot withstand the demons and evil (spirits?) forever.
Drinking and the Pandemic: The Do’s and Don’t
The pandemic brought so much distress over the course of the last year - we must face situations we don’t have any real understanding of. The most salient feature of the pandemic is that we are all spending more time at home, and for many people that can be a stressful place to be.
DO drink when the time, situation, and company agrees with it. Alcohol is best consumed when enjoying the social company of others, or better yet, as a way to celebrate a special occasion. Saving it for only sometimes might also feel like a better experience - building immunity and tolerance to alcohol occurs when we drink everyday and then we need to drink more to get that ‘buzz’.
DON’T drink by yourself at home. Rarely is drinking alone productive and we are less likely to over drink if others are around as we are expected to maintain composure.
DO drink in a way that has a beginning and end - for example if you are drinking wine with a meal, don’t drink before or after, or even both! End the drinking when mealtime ends, and move on to other things - it’s too easy to lounge around afterward and keep drinking until bedtime.
DON’T use alcohol to cope with stress - while understandable and likely even relatable, this type of drinking is usually unhelpful because it causes us to turn inward and away from others causing more friction.
DO ask your partner or your friends to help you if you need to set limits. If you find that drinking is the only activity that you meet people for, then consider other ways to spend time and let them know that you might not be around to be a drinking buddy because you are cutting back- they might be inspired to join you. Sometimes, we also need to set boundaries with others who cajole us into drinking.
Do talk about it! As I was pondering this subject as a topic for this month, I discussed it with my editor and discovered that he, too, had decided to cut back on alcohol intake at the beginning of the year. It immediately validated the topic and also my personal decision.
While the pandemic is not easy to deal with, we can do things to enhance and enrich our lives , and cutting back on drinking is one surefire way to make our lives, relationships and souls, cleaner, clearer, and yes, classier too.