Some of you may have noticed that I’m taking a “little break” (possibly for the rest of my life) from alcohol. “Why??” you may ask. Am I dependent on alcohol? No. Do I struggle with moderation? Yes. Have I said and done things I regretted while drinking? More times than I care to admit. Have I seen people I cared about be deeply hurt or destroyed by addiction? Far too many.
It is for these reasons, among others, that my husband and I haven’t had a drink in three years.
Of course there is nothing inherently wrong with alcohol or with drinking in moderation. Jesus’ first recorded miracle was turning water into wine. But we go too far when we assume this to mean that alcohol is a tool for connection or fellowship, as I have sometimes heard. This can unfortunately become a justification for those of us who tend to use alcohol in a less-than-healthy way.
I am leery of this position because, while Jesus did save a family from a potentially humiliating social situation with that first miracle, he did not then command them to “Go forth and get drunk, because I know your sorry asses can’t possibly connect with each other without the inhibition-destroying power of alcohol!”
If you feel that you cannot successfully connect with another person worthy of your attention without a drink in your hand, then you may want to consider doing some work on yourself rather than increasing your alcohol consumption. If you feel like you can’t have fun or life is boring without alcohol, that’s a serious indication of a problem. I’m not trying to be judgey. I’m just wishing I had thought through that a long time ago.
But many of us struggle with moderation, which is not surprising when we live in a culture whose answer to most any kind of pain or stress comes in a pill or a bottle. We generally don’t take it too seriously. Most of the time we joke about it, because let’s be real: drunk people are funny, and being drunk makes you laugh.
Until it doesn’t.
The thing about alcohol is, it’s so easy to go from light drinking to moderate drinking, to heavy or “problem” drinking. And if you drink heavily enough, often enough, your regular self will start looking more and more like your drunk self (and let’s be real again: your drunk self is way less appealing than it thinks it is, except maybe to other drunk people), until eventually you become a stranger.
When we are drunk, we numb our real feelings. We trade authentic connection and our powers of reasoning for sloppy, artificial sentiments and unnecessary confusion. We trade our treasures for trash. And we move steadily down the “problem drinking” line towards addiction.
Addiction is tricky because it doesn’t announce itself. It starts with a joke about how you need a drink after that stressful day at work, and then a craving that we can ignore some nights, then a craving we just give in to most of the time because we still think we have control, and then not feeling comfortable or normal or OK until you’ve had a drink.
Addiction, once it’s fully developed, is a manipulator. It doesn’t care about you, and it doesn’t care about the people that love you. It only cares about sustaining itself. It is louder than your loved ones, who tell you to cut back. It is louder than your conscience, which begs you to turn around. It saps your strength to deal with whatever you’re running from, and destroys your integrity. It beats down your capacity to love yourself and love others. And all of that makes it really hard to escape.
It is an ugly and heartbreaking thing to watch, and probably even worse to experience. But it is not hopeless.
I have met people who have overdosed on heroin multiple times, and are now behavioral health peer counselors, helping others in their recovery. I know folks who didn’t get sober until their 50’s, after years of addiction, who are doing amazing things in the recovery community.
So, how are we feeling after our 3 years of sobriety? Pretty good! I don’t miss those pesky hangovers or those twinges of guilt that I may have had a tad too much last night. I don’t miss the quick fall asleep at the price of feeling completely unrested the next morning. I could say I miss going out on the town, but I’ve come to find out that actually, we can still do that! And I remember it a lot more clearly the next day.
I feel healthier, spiritually, emotionally and physically. My relationships are better. I’ve become more comfortably socially, without the crutch (and subsequent embarrassment) of alcohol. So for me and for us, it’s been a positive experience.
I would encourage anyone who finds themselves unsure if their drinking is healthy, to go ahead and cut it out for a while, because if you think there might be a problem, oftentimes there is. If you find that you can’t cut it out for a sustained period of time, that is further indication that there is a problem. But there is also a lot of support available. Talk to somebody. Talk to me! Talk to your pastor, your partner, your doctor, a counselor, or some other caring person. If that person isn’t helpful, go to someone else. But don’t keep suffering, because you’re certainly not alone, and you are deeply loved, no matter what.
For local help with addiction, visit helpisherede.org.