Alcoholism runs in my family. And not in a distant sort of way. That would make it easier to ignore and less personal. I could probably pretend that alcoholism happens to everyone else, to other people’s families, like car crashes, cancer, divorce, and infidelity. Not for me or my sisters or my cousins or my aunts or uncles or parents. We have to worry about it. It’s not a problem for other people.
I drink occasionally. I can’t technically drink most alcoholic beverages because they contain gluten (the bane of my existence to be sure), but I can drink wine and certain liquors. When I first turned twenty-one, nothing was off limits. I drank what I wanted, where I wanted, whenever I wanted. After my first hangover from hell, I pretty much threw in the towel. No alcoholic drink tastes good enough to be worth the amount of time I spent feeling utterly miserable, dividing my time between the bathroom and my bed.
But every so often I would go out for a drink. Socially, you know, if my friends were. I mean why not. (Peer pressure anyone?) Or I would buy a bottle of wine with an especially classy looking label or cool name. Drinking became something I did for appearance’s sake. Because, if we are all being completely honest with ourselves, we don’t actually need alcohol. It doesn’t offer us anything.
Until, of course, that one day it does.
I may have mentioned before that I spent a few months living in Nashville, TN. I was going to start my life there, my future. I was going to make a go of it. After a week’s worth of contemplation, one job offer, and three packed suitcases, I was there, in the land of country music, with everyone calling me “ma’am.” Three days later, I was unemployed, mostly broke, and in the midst of a panic attack. This wasn’t how it was supposed to turn out. This was supposed to work. I was sure it was. It all fell together so quickly, that had to have been a God-thing, right? Instead, I was sitting on my bed/couch, crying and confused.
The only thing more helpless than crying is when you realize that crying can’t fix anything. So I got up, dried my tears, showered, and found a job. It wasn’t a good one, but it would do in the meantime. For about a month and a half, I was doing it. I was living in a new place, going to a new church, writing more than I ever had, and it was wonderful.
One afternoon, I saw that I had a voicemail. Listening to it, I was dumbfounded. My student loan payments had tripled. And the payment was late. And another was due in a week. I was so shocked the only thing I could think was this is why I hate answering the phone.
I cried myself to sleep that night. I was overwhelmed, beside myself, absolutely terrified. I didn’t have the money. I couldn’t pay it. My education, the one thing I was proud of, became my biggest regret, and I hated that I was regretting it. I held my pillow tight and prayed like I had never prayed before. “I can’t do this,” I said over and over. “I don’t want this. I don’t need this. I’m done.”
And then I though, “God, I just want a drink.”
It was the first time in my entire adult life that I remember thinking, “hey maybe a shot of whiskey or a glass of wine would make this better.” Because it won’t. It can’t. And I knew that. Deep down, I knew what alcohol could do. I’ve seen it completely destroy members of my family. It can tear apart relationships, wear down your mind, dilute your soul, until you’re simply a vessel to hold the drinks you have to consume. Alcohol leaves you empty, and I knew that wasn’t what I wanted.
But I was already so empty. If I hadn’t been so completely exhausted and afraid of how sick the alcohol would make my gluten-intolerant stomach, I might have gotten off my bed and tried it. I might have buried my tears and fears in a bottle. It would have been so easy to just give in. One of the first times I was ever drunk, I blacked out for a bit. There are some things I can’t remember. Maybe if I just drank enough to forget now, tomorrow would seem better.
It’s a testament to God’s stealthy interference that I didn’t have that drink. That’s really the only explanation I can think of. Because I wanted it, really wanted it. I wanted the oblivion that came with it. I wanted to forget so very badly. I wanted to give into the addictive behavior that sat just below the surface, beckoning to me as it often does. But I knew, deep down that, drink or no drink, I would still have to make that loan payment. Drink or no drink, I was still going to have to be an adult and take responsibility. Drink or no drink, the world would stay the same.
Christians have mixed feelings on alcohol, and with good reason. There is nothing more unpredictable and inconsistent than a bottle of beer or a shot of liquor. I grew up being told that alcohol was bad, or rather being drunk was bad. In order to avoid the sin of drunkenness, why not just avoid alcohol all together? My parents didn’t drink anything until I was in college. Their religious/spiritual views were evolving, as was their stance on alcohol. Drunkenness was still a sin, but what was wrong with a glass of wine with dinner? Or a margarita on a hot day?
The question I’ve been wondering lately is why do we even need that one glass? That single shot? That one bottle? Why take a drink at all? What do we get out of it? You can’t really expect me to believe that it tastes better than anything else you could drink.
When I drink, it’s because I like the way it makes me feel. And I don’t necessarily mean how the alcohol makes me feel. The ritual itself offers some comfort. Having fun with friends, sitting around and talking about nothing important or maybe everything important. And if it also helps me feel relaxed, happy, outgoing, flirty, well that’s sort of a bonus.
Or perhaps it’s not. The moment we go to something because of how it makes us feel, we begin to depend on it for something. We give it power. It can do things. We see alcohol, and we begin to see an escape from who we usually are. We see it as a way to not be unhappy, depressed, shy, overwhelmed. We can be someone else without the baggage and issues. It can empty us of everything and fill us with someone entirely different. We start to like that person better. So we drink more often, trying to keep hold of that elusive other person. We drink more to remember what it was like to not have any worries. And then we start drinking more because we can’t remember a time when we didn’t.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you not to drink. That’s not my place. But I can tell you alcohol won’t make you happier. It won’t make you cool. It won’t make you forget. It will only make you want it more. It will give you a thirst that it cannot quench, because it is the ultimate trick. It will deceive you, hurt you, turn it’s back on you. Alcohol will never care about you. It will only invite it’s friends depression and addiction to join the party, leaving you feeling used.
I can also tell you that there are more fulfilling ways to fill that empty void in your soul. Drowning it in alcohol is a temporary and destructive fix. We have a God, a merciful, loving, understanding God who commands us to give Him our burdens. He knows times will be tough, that things won’t work out, that we will hit rock bottom. So He offers Himself. He wants to be our escape from the hell we sometimes encounter in this world. He is our salvation, our Savior. He’s our one and only. He can offer us a long term fix that won’t end in broken relationships, rehab, physical illness, or emotional turmoil.
So instead of that glass of wine, I’m going to try picking Him instead. I’m going to trust Him to work with me to overcome my frustrations. I’m going to trust Him to dry my tears and fill me when I’m empty. I’m going to trust that having Him is more than enough for me.
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