ysabetwordsmith: Victor Frankenstein in his fancy clothes (Frankenstein)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This poem is spillover from the July 5, 2016 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [livejournal.com profile] technoshaman. It also fills the "egg nog" square in my 7-1-16 card for the Winter Fest in July Bingo. This poem has been sponsored by [livejournal.com profile] technoshaman. It belongs to the series Frankenstein's Family.

Warning: This poem deals with problem drinking. If that's touchy territory for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.


In the village, everyone
came out for Shrovetide and
made a festival of the season
before the long privation of Lent.

People dressed up in silly costumes
and performed masquerades.

The children got their faces
painted with red and blue clay
outlined in charcoal.

Tall John went about with
a sheaf of wheat stuck in his hat,
and whoever managed to snatch
a straw from it to tuck under a hen
was said to have eggs sure to hatch.

"Or you could just make sure
the rooster does his duty,"
Victor said dryly.

"Oh, hush," Igor said.
"Let them have their fun.
We needn't preach science
to them every day of the year."

Igor made eggnog in
the castle's great cauldron,
using up all the eggs and cream
that he could muster, several handfuls
of assorted spices, and a whole jug of
dark rum that Dénes had got from
some trader last summer.

Any number of people overindulged,
but it was Bálint who worried them.

Everyone else managed to wobble home,
some of them on their own and others
requiring assistance, but Bálint had
passed out on a couch and
could not be revived.

Victor and Igor moved him
into a bed in the ward room
and took it in turn to sit with him
all through the night, making sure
he didn't choke or stop breathing.

In the morning, Bálint was
hungover and abjectly miserable,
alternately draped over the chamber pot
or curled up moaning in his bed.

Igor went to the kitchen
to brew up a cup of bitters.

"You may as well make
a whole pot of that," Victor said.
"There are bound to be others
regretting yesterday's revel in
the harsh light of morning."

"Mmm," Igor said. He put away
the little acorn tea ball and got out
the bigger one stamped with
crosses and moons.

"I'm of mixed feelings about Bálint,"
said Victor. "On the one hand, I don't
want to encourage an overfondness
for strong drink. On the other, I don't
want to meddle too much in people's lives."

"Leave this to me," Igor said. "It won't be
the first time I've had to speak with a man
about his dealings with liquor -- and if he
won't hear me, I'm sure Dénes has
a few words on the topic too."

Victor gave a sigh of relief
and retreated to his office.

When the tea finished steeping,
Igor poured off a cup for Bálint
and put the rest in a crock to be
sent down to the village.

"Good morning," Igor said as
he stepped into the ward room.
"I brought you some bitters
to help settle your stomach."

Bálint accepted the cup,
shuddering at the taste.

"How are you feeling?"
Igor asked, watching him.

"Awful," Bálint admitted.
"My head hurts, my stomach
is upset, and I feel bad about
passing out on your couch."

"Better here than somewhere
people might not know how
to keep a drunk alive," Igor said.

Bálint stared at him.

"People can die from drinking
too much, Bálint, even with care,"
Igor said. "I've seen it happen.
We'd rather not lose you.
Does this happen often?"

"No, I just like to celebrate
a few times a year," Bálint said.
"Maybe have a pint at week's end.
It helps me relax. Except ..."

"Except it comes with consequences
you don't enjoy so much," Igor said.

"I feel guilty if I overdo it," Bálint said.
"Is the mazil very displeased?"

"The mazil is staying out of this,"
Igor said. "Your doctors, however,
are concerned about your health."

"I'm fine, or will be as soon as
the hangover wears off," Bálint said,
taking another pull of the bitter tea.

Igor reached out and prodded his belly.

Bálint whimpered and flinched away.

"If you keep overdoing it, you could
poison yourself, or work your liver
to death," Igor said. "What's so dear
to you about drink that you keep
doing it when you don't like
what comes afterwards?"

Bálint sighed. "I'm too shy
to enjoy myself otherwise,"
he said. "A pint or two helps
loosen me up so I can have fun."

"Dénes is shy too. He is
the village brewer, yet I've
never seen him drink to excess,"
Igor said. "You might ask him
how he manages that."

"I may try that," Bálint said,
handing back the empty cup.

"Talk to Kálmán," Igor said.
"It would be a good idea for
you to give up drinking for Lent.
The priest may be able to help
you with that. Is there anyone
else you could turn to?"

"Imre's told tales that would
curl your hair, from when he was
a soldier," said Bálint. "He doesn't
often, but get a few pints in him
and sometimes he lets loose."

"See, you have a whole village
of people who will give you a hand
when you need it," Igor said.

"But it's not so big a problem
that I need to drag other people
into it," Bálint protested.

"You did that when you
got drunk in our castle and
passed out on our couch,"
Igor said. "Up until then, it
was entirely your business."

"Then why not leave it
that way?" Bálint grumbled.

"Because if you start a fight
whilst drunk, then it will become
the mazil's business, and none
of us want that," Igor said.

Bálint flinched again.
"That's the truth," he said.

"It is better to deal with these things
while they are still small enough
to mend," Igor said. "Do what
you can, and we will see
how that turns out."

"All right," Bálint said.
"I'll think about this."

"That's all I ask for now,"
Igor said. "Get dressed; I've
a jug of bitters for the village,
so you can ride down with me."

"Thank you," Bálint said.

He was silent all the way down
the long winding road, but instead
of stopping at his own cottage, he
asked to be let off at the church.

Igor chose to take that as a sign of hope.

* * *


Shrovetide is a European holiday with many quirky traditions.

Face painting is a fun activity at festivals. Contemporary face paints are cosmetic or theatrical supplies, but traditionally people used mineral or plant pigments. Here are basic instructions for face painting. This is the kind of simple mask done for the villagers.

Eggnog has a long history and many recipes. This is similar to what Igor makes.

The first ward room is a long rectangle with bunk beds provided by Lorant. Igor specified plain, unfinished furniture so it could be cleaned easily. Each quartet of bunk beds has its own ceiling and outer walls, with a curtain over the entry, like a separate roomlet within the larger ward.

Bitters are blends of astringent herbs, and among many other uses, some of them make good hangover cures. Igor's blend includes dandelion root, gentian, milk thistle, and peppermint. This soothes the stomach and supports the liver. The taste is heinous, though.

The small acorn tea ball holds enough loose tea for one or two servings. The large moon and cross tea ball is about fist size and can flavor a whole pot.

Problem drinking is not the same as a physical addiction to alcohol, but comes with its own hazards. People have a choice between cutting down or quitting, and that's important, because those two strategies work for different folks. Although much advice claims that only quitting is an acceptable solution, most people prefer to cut down and many succeed in this. There are resources to understand alcohol and its abuse.

Worksheets can help think about the complexities of substance abuse. Explore health concerns, emotions, effects of drug use, pros and cons of alcohol use, and acting on impulses.

The stages of change apply to a wide range of personal problems and their solutions. Igor has gotten Bálint from the precontemplation to the contemplation stage. Yay, progress! There are ways that doctors can support patients in changing.

Choosing responses

Date: 2016-12-27 08:58 am (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
I love the way the mazil and Igor keep that /job/ separate from /the doctors/, and choose to de-escalate their potential response to keep the problem small.

Re: Choosing responses

Date: 2016-12-28 10:52 am (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
They are very clearly PARTNERS, which is probably still a bit tough for Igor to wrap his mind around sometimes. Their relationships is wonderful to watch, even when someone falters, because there's so much layered beneath the current problem.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-12-27 01:55 pm (UTC)
technoshaman: Tux (Default)
From: [personal profile] technoshaman
Losing one's liver is no way to go; I've seen it (not from drinking, mind) and it's nasty, brutish, and takes too damn much morphine at the end. I'm glad these two seem to have got the camel's nose in on the topic...

Me, I have control issues with the bottle, as in, I don't like *losing* control... so I've *never* gotten more than nicely mellow, and that only once. No intention of letting the Old Black Rum get me...

(no subject)

Date: 2016-12-27 04:36 pm (UTC)
alatefeline: Painting of a cat asleep on a book. (Default)
From: [personal profile] alatefeline
This was a really excellent read for me, as the explicit process of problem-solving around a hard topic where people have varying levels of willingness to even address it - but make progress anyway - is something that I enjoy reading and find in rather few places other than this.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-12-27 08:15 pm (UTC)
stardreamer: Meez headshot (Default)
From: [personal profile] stardreamer
As I understand it, if the problem is physical addiction, then quitting completely is the only long-term solution. If the problem is psychological (which this appears to be), then dealing with the underlying issues will make it much easier to cut back.

Also, one pint (or even two) spread out over the course of an evening isn't going to make anyone seriously drunk unless they're very small or unusually sensitive to alcohol. A couple of pints gulped down all at once, though, is a different matter.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-12-27 09:16 pm (UTC)
gingicat: drawing of me based on wedding photo (Default)
From: [personal profile] gingicat


ysabetwordsmith: Cartoon of me in Wordsmith persona (Default)

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