I Moved to Morocco and Gave Up Drinking
I used to drink ridiculous amounts of alcohol. From the ages of 18 to 22 it heavily shaped my identity and gave a human structure to my self-confidence. I was funnier, sexier and cooler when I drank. When you live your whole life in societies with ingrained drinking cultures, you don’t know anything else.
As a child growing up in Kathmandu I saw my fathers and uncles get grossly drunk at every party, holding on to tree branches and huge decorative vases for balance, while my mothers and aunties smiled uncomfortably and turned their faces away. I swore to myself I would never touch alcohol when I became an adult.
Then I moved to Melbourne at 16 and entered the world of sickly sweet alcopops and clubs being revered as the Holy Place any teenager worthy of admiration should pray at. I have a theory that universities are funded by alcohol companies, because binge drinking was an unspoken compulsory course and your attendance had to be at least 80 percent. I binge drank roughly three times a week, kissed a lot of mistakes and laughed through horrific hangovers as an essential part of growing up.
Once I left university, the social pressure to drink regularly only increased. I graduated from five litre boxed wine to espresso martinis and Italian Sangiovese. I drank with class and I drank to make it through the week. Alcohol turned from an icky liquid that made life incredibly more fun to a delicious, gourmet art that made life more tolerable. Seeing friends after work involved a weekday drink, by Wednesday I needed a glass of wine to make it to Friday, and by Friday I needed to reward myself for my perseverance the last five days. Unhealthy drinking habits have become a rite of passage for western young adults that turns into dependence and social lubricant for the rest of our lives but it does not have to be this way.
Suddenly I saw a hamster wheel in front of me. Society was the over-enthusiastic scientist who would reward me if I peddled just a little bit and raised my little paw with a little cash. Going to birthdays, weddings and work events meant I would be rewarded for free! The only way to escape the wheel was to gnaw through the bitter density and jump from my cage into the unknown.
So I did that. I said goodbye to the wheel, got on four planes, and arrived in Morocco, a country whose identity is entwined with Islam. Alcohol is not illegal in Morocco, but it is forbidden in Islam. I set an intention to not touch alcohol while living there.
Since I turned 18, the longest I’d gone without a drink had been three weeks, and that was only due to extreme illness. Today, I am almost 25 and am two months sober. Despite the constant unwanted attention I receive existing as a woman in Moroccan society, despite the patriarchy that stares at me with its tongue hanging out around every corner, I feel a huge sense of relief and liberation to not have alcohol shoved down my throat everywhere I go. Restaurant menus are short and efficient; it brings a smile to my face to not have to sort through 10 pages of alcohol when I just want a damn shawarma. Friendships are built over endless teapots of mint tea. Men sit in cafes watching football and drinking coffee no matter the time of day, disproving the loose western theory that coffee can only be drunk in daylight. I have formed deep relationships with Moroccan women over homemade coffee with ginger and cinnamon that we sit drinking on the roof. I went to a nightclub in the Moroccan capital of Rabat and danced to a live Gnawa band, sans beer in hand. I kissed a backpacker from Uruguay in a riad in Fez, sans tequila in my blood. I enjoy beach sunsets, panoramic city views, scrumptious meals, and my entire weekends without alcohol licking her lips at me in a little black dress, and I don’t miss her even a little bit.
My life in Morocco has involved constant social interaction as I live in a house with 10 people from different countries. We come from societies with contrasting attitudes towards alcohol and carrying vastly unique experiences of drinking. My Muslim friend asked me what beer tastes like the other day. I spent the next 20 minutes explaining the different tastes of beer, craft beer and cider, then explaining that beer is not even the only type of alcohol. Halfway through my introduction to wine, she got tired of the conversation. It shattered the glass bottle I lived in completely and made me realise how much time, energy and money we spend in the western world engaging in the world of alcohol.
In the past I have always connected easily with Americans, Brits and Aussies through our mutual love of hardcore drinking. We would play King’s Cup, get very drunk and end the night skinny dipping. In Morocco, I have found much more wonderful ways to connect with westerners. I helped an 18-year-old American travelling for the first time in his life edit a college essay about overcoming personal challenges. An African-American woman shared with me the significance of hair for her and her journey in embracing her natural hair. An Aussie showed me his photo album of his friends’ eyes. A fellow Melburnian taught me his recipe for roasted eggplants and sweet potato mash. Alcohol is the lazy person’s lubricant for social interaction, and my relationships are much more rewarding without it.
Living in Morocco has shown me, in the best possible way, that I am still Nirvana without alcohol. In fact, I am a better version of myself. My enthusiasm, my bubbliness, my empathy and my love all come from a clear and conscious place. I constantly search for creative ways to have fun and connect with my housemates in a small city with no nightlife. This has led to us having a super moon party on our roof with hot chocolate, playing psychological games, and lighting candles and telling stories late into the night. I find myself reconnecting not only to my own childhood, but to the egoless, joyful, unapologetically vulnerable inner children of my friends. The relationships I form are the real shit without alcohol diluting our true emotions and projecting superhero sized caricatures of ourselves through disco-ball realities.
I don’t think that I have given up alcohol forever. But when I drink again I know my tango with tequila, or any of her friends, will be much more graceful. I am funnier, sexier and cooler when I’m not hammered. And when you spend even three months in a society where alcohol has absolutely zero power and control, you learn to see yourself and those around you through a much clearer lens.
Cover by Gridin