Social Relationships in Sobriety

Hual-and-RCI am spending my third summer of field work in Hualcayán, Peru – a 400-person village some 10,000 feet above sea level in the very rural north central Andes. I have posted before about recovery and my time in Peru.

This morning I reflected on an event from my first summer here.  A graduate student lectured me that I should not have refused the offer of beer at dinner by our host.  He noted that in the highland Andes, alcohol is an important factor in creating social relationships. My unspoken reply at the time was that I did not buy his theory on relationship building.  In fact, if my Spanish were better, that would surely be a more effective relationship building tool. This interaction took place in 2012.

In 2015:

  • The graduate student has not been back.  I doubt his social relationship building went much beyond our host noting that gringos will generally accept a free beer.
  • This summer our very small two-person crew eat all of our meals with the same host as in 2012. We have conversations about everything from farming, Huayno music, the electoral process, and more.
  • I have spent hours with the youngest in the house playing the Spanish language children’s apps I loaded on my iPad before leaving for Peru.
  • Last year, there was some dissension from US students because of the number of children that play in the afternoon in the lab courtyard.  The concern is they are distracting and make too much noise. This year, from 3 – 5 PM every afternoon, 5 – 15 of the nearby children come to draw, watch videos, and create other crafts in the same courtyard and empty dorm spaces. One of the best ways for me to learn Spanish is to work with the children. So, I have now more-or-less translated/adapted a bead bracelet program used at my museum in the states for the kids down here and play other word games based on a gringo who speaks very poor Spanish.
  • I now have a godson in the community.
  • The list goes on . . . and my Spanish slowly improves.

The lecturing graduate student was simply uninformed on addiction issues and misguided on building social relationships, though he is certainly not an alcoholic (to the best of my knowledge) or an advocate of excessive drinking. However, during my drinking days I would certainly have latched onto his suggestion as an excuse to drink. But I also know full well, that my interest in social relationship building at that point would have stopped as the only relationship I would have been interested in was with the beer and how I could get more.

I am incredibly grateful for my sobriety today. I would not be in Peru today were it not for my sobriety. If I were not sober, I would not have married the woman I did some 16 years ago, then met my step-daughter’s childhood friend some 12 years ago, who ultimately went on to do Peruvian research, who over 4 years ago I interviewed about her work for my other blog, and accepted her invitation three years ago to come to Peru and work with her organization on some cultural heritage development projects, and I have now made 4 trips in the past 3 years doing just that. Were it not for my sobriety, besides the logistics and circumstances not lining up, I would not have an interest or the ability to carry out such projects.

That path all began on August 4, 1984 when at the end of my work shift at the paper bag factory, I checked into a detox center instead of going home and drinking myself into oblivion. I enjoy that I will spend my 31st sobriety anniversary this year hanging out in Lima with folks I have built social relationships with over the past few years – all without alcohol as an intermediary.