Look, I enjoy my occasional cold beer on a hot summer day like anyone else does. I would be lying if I said I Didn’t occasionally enjoy a nice black spiced rum when I write. But how do we know if our enjoyment stems from craving or addiction?
I have written previous posts on the effects of alcohol on the Diabetic system, so I won’t go into great detail about it again. I’ll simply point out that alcohol can have some negative effects, such as lowering or increasing blood sugar.
Alcohol is processed by the liver, the organ generally responsibly for the release of glucose when signalled by the body. But if the liver is busy processing all the alcohol from the keg you just tapped, it may not be able to respond accordingly and your blood sugar could drop.
The flip side is that depending on the type of alcohol you consume, there can be an increased amount of carbohydrate. For example, the average can of beer contains between 12 to 15 grams of beer, depending on the brand and type. So if you consume 3 or 4 cans, you’re taking in 45 to 60 grams of carbohydrates and it becomes important to take insulin accordingly. Certain “pure” alcohols however, contain no carbohydrates until you mix them with something. These include spirits such as whiskey and rum. Most of them lose their carbohydrate content during the distilling process.
Now that I’ve covered off the Diabetic aspect of it all, let’s discuss booze in general. I know a lot of people who consume alcohol recreationally. In fact, humanity has been consuming alcohol as early as 5000 years ago, with the introduction of drinks like Sura and Mead. Some studies have revealed we may have started even earlier than that, but as usual, I digress…
My goal today is to share the story of my first drink. I was 23 years old and in Okinawa. No, that’s not a typo. I genuinely never had alcohol until almost my mid-twenties. I often tell folks I was 21, but since I was born in 1978 and went to Japan in 2001, well… you do the math!
Given that I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at the age of 4, I imposed quite a number of restrictions on myself from a young age. Alcohol was one of them. Even throughout my teen years, I never really partook. Part of the reason was because I was generally a designated driver for friends. Another reason is because I had the opportunity to see the foolishness that ensued from said friends after drinking. I figured I wanted no part of that.
By the time that 2001 had crept around the corner, I had still never experienced the hooch. And in all honesty, I never felt I had missed out on much. But in October of that year, my karate instructor and myself along with a couple of other students travelled to Japan and onward to Okinawa.
The trip was long and complicated. We switched flights a number of times through Canada and the United States before finally crossing over the Pacific. After making a number of smaller bunny hop flights, we started the final flight that would take us from New York to Narita, Japan. It was a long, overnight flight that lasted the better part of 14 hours.
During this leg of the trip, Sensei came over and sat next to me to discuss some of the finer points of custom and tradition that I would be dealing with. Part of these customs included the fact that toasting and consuming alcohol, such as Sake and beer, would need to be observed.
When Sensei saw the look on my face, he explained that he understood that I had never drank before and that if all I did was have a sip during toasts and such, that would be adequate. He did go on to explain that custom dictated that refusing an offered drink would be construed as an insult to the host’s hospitality and that at my age, there should be no issue with accepting.
And no, before any of my readers start reading into this as a form of peer pressure, it was far from anything close to that. Had there been a genuine medical or religious reason behind my aversion to alcohol, he would have totally respected that. But I figured it would be fine.
During our initial few days in Tokyo, we visited a Japanese dignitary that Sensei was acquainted with. True to Sensei’s word, the man’s wife served us all beer. Oddly enough, it came in a plastic bottle. I had never seen that before It was Asahi or Orion beer. I can’t recall which one, as I had enjoyed them both while overseas.
Anyway, I don’t have any illusions of being a genius. But I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I feel I’m intelligent and level-headed enough to approach most situations rationally and with a touch of common sense. Once the bottle was placed in front of me, I held it up under my nose and took and experimental sniff. I glanced at Sensei, who glared at me and shifted his eyes to the bottle as if to say, “Quit f%&kin’ around and take a sip…”
So I did. Hey! It wasn’t bad at all. In fact, it had a touch of carbonation similar to soda. What was the big deal? So I started to drink it. I drank it as though it were soda. That’s where I went wrong. So very, very wrong…
I had that beer finished within fifteen minutes. Bearing in mind that this was the first beer I EVER drank, this wasn’t so smart. Remember that common sense I mentioned earlier? Gone.
In an effort to be a dutiful wife to the host, as soon as I had taken my last sip and the bottle touched the table, it was taken away and a fresh one was placed in front of me. I glanced at Sensei once again, who gave me a look akin to a disgruntled father. I took this to mean that refusing the second would be as insulting as refusing the first. And even though that assumption was correct, there was a catch. But I’ll get to that.
So, I kept drinking. The process repeated itself a few times until I had consumed 4 bottles of beer in roughly a 1 hour period. Uh oh… Houston, we have a problem! I started to feel a touch of disorientation and almost felt as though I was moving even if I wasn’t. My “no big deal” attitude was quickly replaced by an “oh, shit” attitude when I came to the realization that I was drunk. For the first time. In Japan. In a dignitary’s house, no less.
All of a sudden Sensei slaps his thighs and gets up, announcing that it was time to go. I sat there, flexing the muscles of my legs experimentally. One of the other students sitting next to me happened to be a guy I graduated with from high school. He had a drunken look on his face but was likely accustomed to the effect and was dealing with it, no problem.
He glanced at me and asked what was wrong. i told him I thought I was drunk. Bear in mind that I wasn’t demonstrating any signs of being drunk. My speech wasn’t slurred, I wasn’t swaying in my seat… Everything was based on the feelings and sensation happening inside.
He said, “You don’t look drunk.” I replied that I knew that. He also said, “You don’t sound drunk, either.” I took a deep breath and responded, “I’m aware of all that, but I’m quite sure that if I try to stand right now my legs may not support me.” He was good enough to help me to my feet and guide me out the door.
The dignitary, his wife and sons were lined up at the door to see us of. We made quite the pair, each with an arm around the other, stumbling out the door. Way to make a first impression in Japan…
I felt reasonably like crap for the next few hours, and Sensei got a great laugh out of it. When he came over to talk to me about it and ask how I felt, he also asked me why I decided to drink quite so much. I explained that I felt I couldn’t refuse any of the drinks. He agreed that this would have been an insult. The detail he failed to mention BEFORE the outing is that I could have nursed that one beer for the entire hour that we were there and it would have been fine. In fact, having a bit of beer left in the bottle would have been better, as it tells your host that you’ve had enough and they’ve satisfied their guest. this would have been a great detail to know prior to going out.
Looking back on it 18 years later, it’s great for a laugh. And I’ve often used it as a good story for people in relation to drinking and its effects. But at the time, I remember having a bit of a feeling of invincibility since I never really experienced a hangover. That’s when I reached the point back in Canada, where i overdid it. I no longer have that benefit.
Everything in moderation, folks. Although some people view alcohol as a poison on the body (and by some definitions, it is), there’s nothing wrong with the occasional drink with friends. It becomes a problem if you start needing that drink to help you go to sleep, combat certain pain or anxiety or if you’re drinking at radically inappropriate times (at work, first thing in the morning, meeting your future in-laws, etc…)
Be sure to reach out to the appropriate resources, should you feel that you fall under that category. Sometimes life slips away on us, and we don’t necessarily realize we have a problem until it’s pointed out to us. There are tons of easily accessible resources online that be searched within seconds and your medical practitioner would also be able to help. ☯