The first time I tasted alcohol was only about seven months ago. I was at a rehearsal dinner where the waiters served champagne for the final toast. My friend’s new father-in-law stood to speak, bringing tears to my eyes with his sweet welcoming of my friend into their family. We all lifted to sip, and the bubbles collided with my lips and dripped into my mouth.
I didn’t know what to think, but I was proud of myself for trying something new. I took another drink, then placed the fancy, heavy glass back on the table, neglected.
Drinking or not drinking is a curious subject, and whenever I am asked why I don’t drink, I fumble and stumble with an explanation. No reason seems weighty enough on its own, so I pile reason after reason together in a heap until I have said too much with no clarity. Often I give reasons fitting best with whom I am speaking, bowing to my desire to people-please and protect my image at all costs.
Some people have a solid answer for why they don’t drink. They may have a joke. They might tell an emotional story to get their listener to reason with their heart, not their brain.
I could do any of those, but no one reason is burned on my heart. It’s complicated.
It’s easy to go straight to my childhood to hunt for a reason, as roots grown there are the heaviest and deepest.
It’s true that my parents were not drinkers, neither were their parents. I was raised in a safe, loving family that explained their choice to avoid alcohol as largely biblical. But I also remember hearing my dad tell stories of alcohol ruining life after life as he worked for thirteen years in an emergency room.
That was the first narrative in my bloodstream.
The Bible was sewn into my heart from a young age, and by the time I was a teenager, I was “the good girl,” known to talk to my classmates about Jesus and invite them to church. Though my motives were pure, I was pushy and judgey. Alcohol was the farthest from my mind, drugs were even farther. It was unfathomable.
So yes, my formative years were spent constructing a wall brick by brick to separate myself from “sin” and “sinners” and though I was a little Pharisee, my heart loved God so much that I wanted nothing more than to please Him.
Kevin and I got married at barely 21 years old. We didn’t celebrate with alcohol, but on our one-year anniversary there was a bottle of champagne in our room at a bed-and-breakfast.
I curiously sat on one side of the bed while Kevin struggled against the top and we heard the pop. The gold foil crinkled away and the smell of alcohol filled our room. He lifted and tasted, then wrinkled his nose and shrugged his shoulders. My heart beat faster at the idea of murdering my alcohol-virgin lips, but I wasn’t brave enough. I couldn’t even try just one tiny ant-sized sip.
At that point, I can tell you I had no Christian liberty. I wasn’t sure how to be morally good and also be human. I struggled against sin as a fight to remain pure at all costs, and I had lost the battle many times. I had cried out to God in frustration, blaming him for making life as a human on this earth too, too hard.
So when champagne tempted me at a legal age, I denied it. And when the smell stayed in the room for the following days, I walked in its smog. I thought about it, the smell equating champagne with things of the world I thought I would never dabble in.
Was that wrong?
I don’t know. I don’t think so. My body and heart were catching up to each other after years of being a “good girl.” And I was barely an adult, just barely a wife.
Beyond that, the subject of alcohol rarely surfaced. Occasionally someone would ask Kevin if he wanted a beer, but seminary was financially tight and Kevin barely spent money on a Dr. Pepper can, let alone expensive alcohol. But again, we didn’t even talk about it.
A couple of years ago, I started making comments after work like, “I need a BEER.” Or if someone offers me lemonade or root beer, I go for the laugh and in an obnoxious, silly voice ask for the beer. When I was a pastor’s wife, the irony felt dangerously fun.
I blame it on my little brother who watched The Office and started saying “Beer me” whenever he wanted something. Because of my relentless desire to be as cool and funny as Jeff, (can’t win that fight) it stuck and I used it once in a while, mainly to Kevin’s subsequent eye roll.
Alcohol stayed a joke, but I couldn’t help but be jealous of those who turned to it to take the edge off. To relax, unwind, laugh. I found myself not wishing to become a person who drank, but wishing for my own coping mechanisms to deal with the madness of life. I didn’t really want to drink a beer, but I was becoming increasingly aware why other people did. I pictured myself drinking a glass of wine in the bathtub before I realized I don’t enjoy baths, either.
The more I thought about that sip in February, the more I grounded myself in the slow, evolving truth that has come to be rather than a hard and fast conviction.
The sip wasn’t delicious. I didn’t want more. The second sip confirmed the first, and suddenly I felt better about why I avoid alcohol. It didn’t have to take a sampling for me to stick with my decision, but the sip helped me understand myself better.
As to my faith, I can quote most of the Bible verses that oppose alcohol consumption, and I believe in them. I appreciate the wisdom because Christianity is not all rules and God has always shed more tears over the state of our hearts; alcohol fused or not.
It turns out though, even if my faith kept me away from alcohol for most of my life, it is not the reason I don’t drink.
Why not then?
It’s as simple and as complex as, I don’t drink because I don’t want to.
I don’t drink because the smell doesn’t attract me. I don’t drink because I am already a little hyper and afraid of what further embarrassment I could cause myself if I am buzzed. The risk of addiction also freaks me out, and I don’t want to take a chance on needing alcohol. Craving it. Not getting through the day or week without it. Who knows if it would bite me with addiction and leave me dreaming about it during the day, like a love-affair. It might not. But I’m not sure the benefits of alcohol would outweigh the potential dangers for me.
Champagne may come and go, and if I am at another rehearsal dinner that calls for a toast; another sip may greet me again. And my lips will be ready. My feelings about alcohol may change over the coming years, just like they have changed since I was new to the whole idea as a teenager at a public high school. I understand now, that this is all ok and a normal aspect of life.
I do hope to be less judgey and more understanding of the humanity that we wrestle with every day. We can have our reasons and our convictions, but I hope we can hear each other's heartbeats first and foremost.