“What’s your poison?” is a phrase commonly heard from bartenders. It essentially means, “What do you like to drink?” and more abstractly, “How do you want to die?” This phrase implies that drinking alcohol is killing you. I completely agree with this saying and full heartedly endorse what it represents. Killing yourself a little each day is the only way to live.
Our attitude towards alcohol is a paradox. On one hand, we worship this intoxicating substance. It even has a central role in the Christian belief system. After all, the blood of Christ is wine. On the other hand, we are always condemning alcohol as the downfall of all humankind. We condemn it because let’s face it; it is a poison. The definition of poison is “a substance that is capable of causing the illness or death of a living organism when introduced or absorbed.” True in form, alcohol destroys virtually every organ it touches throughout the body: the esophagus, the stomach, the liver and the brain. Every stage of ingesting liquor is fatal. I’m pretty sure jock itch is the only disease that you can’t get from drinking too much; At least not directly. But can you imagine how empty life would be without it? There is a virtue in poison. There is purity in dangerous living. What would be the point of life if you only do what is good for you?
Yes, alcohol does a lot of damage to the body and mind. Sure, you can often end up very sick or even dead from alcohol poisoning, but did you know you could also die from drinking too much water? It’s called water intoxication. It causes swelling of the brain due to over-hydration. Look it up.
The point is, I think we need a little good old-fashioned damage in our lives. We need things that put us out of our minds for a little while.
The adage “Everything in moderation,” holds true, but I prefer Oscar Wilde’s belief, “Everything in moderation, including moderation.”
Every once in a while you got to poison yourself a little too much; occasionally you should drink way too much Tequila and projectile vomit like a broken fire hydrant and wake up horribly sick.
Have you ever prayed for God to kill you so that you would stop vomiting? Have you ever hugged a toilet like you’re going to fall off the Earth if you let go? Do you remember how great you felt after that trip to hell was finally over?
If you have, then you should be able to appreciate the importance of a good purge: A magnificent full body wrenching that causes all those greasy late night fast food burgers to come storming out of you like a legion of demons during an exorcism. After such an ordeal, you feel like angels have bathed you in divine light. You see, you’ve poisoned yourself to the point of near death, and you lived through it. You are grateful to be alive.
That is the gift of a good poisoning.
Poison forces the body to reject everything it doesn’t need. It clears the pathways and empties the vessel. This is something the ancient crafters of fermented agave drinks understood. You don’t have to take my word for it. In her article “Blood, Water, Vomit and Wine: Pulque in Maya and Aztec Belief,” scholar Lucia Henderson explores this topic through ancient glyphic, iconographic, and ethnographic evidence. Apparently, ancient Mesoamericans not only tolerated the act of vomiting from consuming too much alcohol, they fully embraced it.
Before the Spanish came to Mexico, native peoples already had alcohol. Many people believe the Spaniards brought the processes to create alcohol to the ancient Mexican peoples, but the truth is they brought distillation technology. The ancient Mesoamericans had already figured out how to ferment the juices of the agave plant into intoxicating liquor. It’s called pulque today, but in the language of the Aztec empire, it was called octli. This was the first intoxicating liquid of the North American continent.
Pulque is fermented but not distilled. Once it is distilled, it becomes mezcal. Mezcal distilled from the Blue Weber agave is tequila. Ancient Mesoamericans used to consume large amounts of pulque, especially during religious rituals. Its alcohol content was lower than modern day liquors, but the customs of drinking it were essentially the same, intoxication until evacuation.
The difference between then and now lies in how this act is perceived. Pulque was consumed during sacred rituals and overconsumption was encouraged, especially when there was an abundance of pulque available. Because pulque is a fermented drink, it has a relatively short shelf life. The more pulque there was, the faster they needed to consume it. The act of over consumption was physically beneficial for the body. Vomiting was encouraged for it’s purging effect and continuing to drink afterward was also encouraged. According to Henderson’s article, “after they were drunk they vomited and were purged, which left them cleansed and hungry…Some of the old men say that this was very good for them, that it was a medicine for them and cured them; because it was like a good purge.” This purging was embraced as a purification of the body and viewed as spiritually necessary for the growth of a healthy human.
Of course, you can take it with a grain of salt if you like. I mean, these were the same folks who believed in human sacrifice. Though, who knows if they were wrong about that? Maybe dead virgins do appease the gods. I don’t personally know any gods, so I can’t say for sure. But what is clear is that this practice has survived colonialism and traveled across cultures. Henderson points out that communities in the Lacandon jungle in southern Mexico continue to engage in this custom: “Lacandon men drink bowl after bowl [of balché] until they throw up, then begin drinking again.” But indigenous communities in the Lacandon jungle are not the only ones who follow this ritual.
What I find fascinating is that to this day overconsumption of tequila is often still associated with vomiting much more than other liquors. Millions of college students all over the world are keeping this sacred ritual alive every weekend. Binging and purging, binging and purging with little knowledge they are participating in a sacred ritual millennia old. They probably don’t even know that the notorious practice of butt chugging also has roots in Mayan and Aztec culture (Henderson talks about pulque enemas on page 59 of her article). Ah, our little drunken anthropologists keeping the ancient culture alive and well. Let the purification begin!