We’re going to have a problem.
I say this with some amount of certainty. In a few years or a few decades, some of us are going to be in rehab or Alcoholics Anonymous or something. And if we’re not, we should be.
It starts innocently enough. Trust me, I know. Liberated from our legalistic teetotaling, we begin to enjoy our “freedom in Christ”. We enjoy getting tipsy or buzzed or whatever we want to call it. Then we enjoy getting drunk. It’s fun and we’re happy and nobody’s getting hurt.
Until we have a problem.
I got drunk the night I graduated from college. It was a Christian school, and like a good Christian I strictly followed the “no drinking while enrolled” rule (at least for the last six months I was there). Upon graduation, I promptly drank two beers, then two shots, then about a dozen more beers. I didn’t plan to get drunk. I only planned to drink a lot of beer, and well, the more I drank, the more this seemed like a good idea. The next day I went to a graduation party hosted by my parents and hoped that nobody noticed how hungover I was.
I’ve been to church hungover more than once or twice.
I’ve been to work hungover too.
Wine tastes good. So does beer.
Whiskey doesn’t taste good in the same way, but it sure feels good burning its way down my throat.
Being drunk is fun. I’m a very nice person when I’m drinking, all kind words and big hugs and adorably unselfconscious dance moves. Some people are assholes when they drink. I’m not one of them.
I started drinking when life was good and I was happy. When life started falling apart and I wasn’t so happy any more, I just kept on drinking.
Alcohol is courage in a glass, comfort in a bottle, a few moments of peace and quiet in a flask. You don’t even have to get fucked up — just a few hard swallows will quiet the voices in your head long enough to help you sleep.
In December I texted my friend Hawks and said, “I want to medicate my sadness with alcohol, but also don’t want to become an alcoholic. what are my options here?”
That is a real thing that I said.
So is this:
I drank a lot of whiskey in December. Not good whiskey, either. I’d buy the cheap stuff, and pour it straight down my throat, or sit on the floor in the shower and sip it when I didn’t know what else to do.
I rarely got drunk, rarely felt hungover the next day. I drank just enough to feel like I wasn’t going to lose my mind, or to forget how alone I felt as I fell asleep at night.
Sometimes I’d tuck a flask into my pocket and stumble off through the snow toward the Mississippi, praying and burning cigarettes and drinking and crying and swearing.
This wasn’t a great idea, and I knew it. But it was December, and I didn’t really care either.
In January, I sent this text message to my cousin Josh:
I remember exactly where I was,. The passenger seat of Ben’s car. Stephen was there too. We were headed into Nashville to have drinks with Emily and Hannah and their whole crew, and I was planning to get fucked up. Not because it would be fun, but because I didn’t want to deal with the pain in my heart anymore.
But I only had one drink at the tavern that night.
I knew I wanted God, and God would not be found at the bottom of a pewter mug in Nashville.
Maybe I wanted to prove to myself that I could. Maybe I didn’t know. Mostly, I wanted to set it straight in my heart, to remember what’s God and what’s not.
Whiskey is not.
I have half a jug of Captain Morgan in my kitchen cabinet right now.
Sometimes after a really rough day (and there are quite a few of them to choose from), I want to pour a tall glass of that shit straight down my throat. I know that in a few minutes, I’ll feel warm and safe and all the relentless voices of anxiety and fear and shame that rage through my brain every day will fall asleep and leave me alone for the rest of the night.
Sometimes I do exactly that.
But most evenings, I choose no. I choose writing instead, or good music, or a walk with my kids.
Last night a friend texted me and said, “It sounds like you had a rough day. Did you drink a glass of wine?”
I said, “No. I’m trying not to use cigarettes or alcohol to manage my anxiety.”
Because I know it comes with a price tag I don’t want to pay.
I don’t know exactly what that price tag is, but I know I don’t want to find out.
My friend Seth wrote a book called “Coming Clean“, a journal of his first ninety days of sobriety. In it, he describes sitting with suffocating anxiety throbbing in his chest and the thirst for gin burning in his throat. It’s a good book — about coming clean, yes, but also about faith and pain and how we try to medicate our fear that nobody is listening when we pray.
But you would have never guessed that Seth was an alcoholic.
I knew him then, and I didn’t guess.
I’m going to be honest here: I worry about us sometimes.
The way we joke about whiskey when our hearts are broken. The way we smile when we talk about using red wine to cope with pain-in-the-ass toddlers. The way we enjoy a stiff drink after dinner, and another, and another.
Drinking is not a kind god. Whiskey won’t cure a broken heart. And I don’t want to have to read your memoir a year or twenty from now about how you went all the way down that road and finally found yourself saying, “I have a problem.”
I don’t want to wind up there either.
So I’m learning to say “no” when the liquor store promises relief from the relentlessness of grief and fear and shame and anxiety.
I’m learning to ask “Why?” when I reach for the jug in the cabinet or the bottles in the fridge.
And I’m learning to save my whiskey for campfires with friends.
Alcohol, I think, was meant to be be shared in a circle with those we love, not alone with Netflix and regret.
published July 28, 2015
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