Feeble Knees

Friday, December 10, 2004

Demon Alcohol?

Joe Missionary writes about Alcohol: Vice or Nice? Having been a, let's call it rather talented drinker at one time in my life, this has long been a topic of great interest to me.

Growing up, we were taught by example that there was absolutely not a thing wrong with having a drink. Or two. Or three or more, if you could handle it. I can't remember how young I was the first time I sipped my dad's beer. I know I was nine when I had whiskey at a relative's wake (yes, we're Irish; how did you know?) By thirteen I was discovering how really good I was at putting it away, a talent that I lovingly developed for the next twelve years.

Unlike a lot of kids I knew who drank because it was cool, and not because they liked the taste, I did enjoy it. I had my favorites and I refused to drink cheap beer or wine. I didn't have to, we had plenty of the good stuff around my house 24x7. When guests from my Dad's office came from Europe, we all drank wine with dinner. Somewhere I still have a picture of myself at age 14 or 15, completely sloshed at my kitchen table, surrounded by family.

It may shock some Christians to read that I grew up with a very Christian parent, and had myself made a decision for Christ at age 14, and we didn't see a thing wrong with drinking. The attitude of my parents was: "We'd rather they experiment with it with our knowledge and supervision." And experiment we did!

Joe Missionary questions whether or not having one drink is bad. In principle, no, I don't think it is. Personally I do not believe a glass or two of wine at dinner or a scotch on the rocks afterwards is going to condemn anyone's soul to hell. But who knows what that one drink can open up in someone?

I can't stress this enough: if alcoholism is a problem in your family, exercising your liberty is not worth the risk. I don't think alcoholism is genetic, but patterns of behavior passed down through families can be very hard to break. That is not to say every child or family member of alcoholics will drink to excess, but it is it should be common sense to be careful.

My family drank heavily, but it seemed "normal" to us because we were all pretty highly functioning drinkers, which means we could drink people under the table and still appear to be fine. But however steady on my feet I was, my thinking was impaired, and I made poor decisions, many of which I still regret to this day.

Several years ago I reached a point where I'd amassed too many embarrassing moments and repercussions from bad decisions while drinking. I'd gotten behind the wheel on a couple of occasions when I shouldn't have. My reasons for drinking became less social than "medicinal", and too many of my life choices were made to accommodate my need and desire to drink. I quit in the summer of 1995 and I haven't had a drink since. Being a member of a Pentecostal fellowship which preached heavily against drinking helped at the time. It was not at all a bad thing to surround myself with people who were adamantly opposed to even stepping foot in a bar. This made some of my choices easier, and folks there helped comfort me when I lost the friendship of a lot of my drinking buddies. But for all their insistence that Jesus really turned the water into grape juice that day in Cana, I really didn't completely buy it.

Only occasionally do I miss drinking. There was nothing like a gin and tonic on a hot summer day, or a Guinness and a baseball game. But ironically, the biggest temptations I've faced have been when I've seen other Christians drink. Then the yearning starts. I remember being at a company function a few years back. A Christian man whom I knew to be a sincere believer and just a lovely person in general came and sat with Mr. Feeble and I. He and his dear wife were enjoying a beer. It drove me to distraction. In my mind's eye I can still see the color of the dark larger in the frosty glass.

That's when I started reasoning with myself: Look! There's a dear Christian brother. A little beer isn't hurting him! See, there's nothing wrong here. Just a little drinky-poo. One little. It won't hurt. It'll be nice. So nice. Look at your brother here. He's such a good witness for Christ too, and see, the fact that he can have a beer with all your co-workers probably makes him less threatening. Everyone likes him, because he drinks like a normal responsible person. See, it's okay...

For my dear brother, yes it was OK. For me, it was not. Thanks be to God and to Mr. Feeble (who probably didn't know this was all going on in my head, but just his presence helped anchor me to my senses), I didn't have a drink that day. Maybe I could have had just one there at the picnic table. But I can guarantee you I'd have been wanting to stop at the packy on the way home.

In some cultures it is considered an insult if you do not drink with your co-workers. This is especially true, from what I understand, in Japan. Spending time socializing with your clients and partners over drinks is considered part of the work day. Those who abstain are viewed as being impolite unless of course you have a legitimate medical reason or spiritual conviction.

In the start-up companies where I worked for several years, drinking after hours was a given. Company fridges were stocked with beer. Only after a particularly riotous after hours party did one company institute a "no-shots" policy. It became an unwritten rule that if you called a meeting after four o'clock on Friday, you brought beer for everyone.

So I wrestled about what to do in certain situations. It was vital to my work that I establish good working relationships and communication with my co-workers. Joining them for dinner or a game of foozball was an optimal way to do this. It was quickly noted that I was not partaking, and it became difficult for me to fight the perception that I was one of those "holier-than-thou" teetotalers. Contrary to popular belief in Western Evangelical circles, this does not necessarily make you a great witness for Christ. It makes you a freakish, brainwashed cult member.

Instead of remaining aloof about it, I chose to be brutally honest about my experiences with alcohol, and humbly admitted that it's something I'm not very good at controlling, so I prefer to abstain. This often led to several one-on-one and heart-to-heart conversations with others who feared they too were out of control. It gave me an opportunity to share my experience with one other Christian brother who was also really out of control, and struggling in his faith because of it. He didn't stop drinking then, but I have a feeling the Holy Spirit has brought that conversation back to him again and again as he seeks to work through it.

Your mileage may vary. My experience isn't representative of everyone else's, but it's not unique either. Some good things have come out of my struggle: it is very humbling; I can never claim to have never screwed up royally; people who struggle with the same thing can talk to me, and I won't judge them, because I've been there.

I strongly disagree with any Christian who berates the unsaved for drinking. It accomplishes nothing but making yourself look like an arse and turning people off from Jesus Christ. This is wrong. We must always endeavor to hold up Christ and Him crucified above all else. When a person makes a decision for Christ, we can then trust that Jesus himself will clean house in due time. Through the preaching of the word, prayer, and ministry of the Holy Spirit, all of us are challenged to reexamine our ways and make changes as needed.

I do not begrudge any Christian whose conscience does not forbid them to drink. I would almost encourage it if it would keep us from becoming self-righteous prigs. But my own experience keeps me from wholeheartedly endorsing it. Consider that alcohol really isn't a necessary part of daily living. If you can do without it, that is not a bad thing at all, just don't hold yourself up as some kind of paragon of virtue! If you do choose, please be careful. Do not abuse the liberties you have in Christ. Always be accountable to someone else. Never, ever drink alone. And don't ever allow yourself to be pressured into it.

As some wise person once said: learn from other's mistakes, life isn't long enough to make them all yourself!

More Information:
Alcoholics Anonymous
Al-Anon & Alateen - Support for Families of Alcoholics
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