Like many people in the western world I cannot recall the first time I lifted a glass of alcohol and poured it down my gullet. I supposed it burned. I have a muddle of memories, any one of them could be the first time I drank the bitter elixir of the gods…I know for sure in grade 8 when I drank with the volleyball team I played on it wasn’t my first time, though drinking still had the novelty of the illicit.
I turned 37 last week and it occurs to me it has been a very long time since I have gone anywhere near a year without alcohol. Somehow its consumption has been an analogue for growing up. Like, drinking and adulating go hand in hand. Alcohol has never been a major problem for me, I haven’t been drunk in years and even back then I was too cheap (to say nothing of a wimp when it came to hangovers) to make a habit of over-consumption. Still, alcohol has been a companion of sorts for what now feels like too long a time. Like many folks I am not sure how many long(ish) periods my body has been alcohol free since I first started imbibing.
I have a few friends and family, people I love and care about, who have had mighty struggles with alcohol, some are dead now, others are sober, others need prayers. I am impressed by the sober ones, admitting they have an issue, and then finding the community they need and the spiritual practices and disciplines they require to work every single day to avoid a drink in a world that once you try to stop you quickly realize is full of booze.
Why should it be hard for me then, I wonder, to go a year without alcohol?
I feel like that is the next strange element to be experienced in this journey I am on. I don’t imagine it will be a daily battle, more likely I will mostly forget about it over time and only be reminded when my decision is made more public by the social awkwardness of not drinking.
This awkwardness of saying “not tonight,” I must admit, feels amplified by my being a pastor. Some people will see my not drinking and assume it is a religious thing, in the worst way. It’s not. I believe in a Jesus who turned water into wine to keep an already days old party going, who was accused of drunkenness and gluttony, I am a pastor who happily helped some of our twenty-somethings gather fruits in the valley to make wine out of. This is not a religious decision, it’s a personal one. It doesn’t mean others should, let alone must, follow suite.
I do think we need to be sensitive to one another, part of loving each other and accepting each other is to avoid peer-presuring each other, which sounds weird to say but when you seek to be cognizant of social pressures you will find them everywhere, and not always for the better.
At the end of the day most of us know that alcohol isn’t good for us, though we aren’t particularly certain how bad it is for us…mostly because it is so pervasive it is difficult to study and (conspiracy theory alert!) there is a lot of money in keeping it that way. Sad fact that, depending on your viewpoint. So, I wonder what it might mean for my health, my resting heart rate, my weight, my energy, my sleep, to have a bodies rid of alcohol (I’m not a scientist, I assume going without for a time means it’s gone from your system). It’s not something I have experienced for more than a month or so at a time, in years.
I am not asking you to join me in this temporary abstinence, other than to be gracious when I, or anyone else, says, “not tonight,” because we never know what reasons are behind that statement. We mustn’t read the worst into it, that the person rejects you or doesn’t like you enough to drink with you, or thinks you drink to much, or whatever insecurity may drive someone to be forceful when offering a drink. What we do know is that we are called to love one another, and accepting a person’s non-drinking may be a small way to do just that.