I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about alcohol recently. This post is an attempt to process those thoughts.
Much of the inner pain experienced by folks in communities like The Dale leads to the consumption of alcohol (and other substances). And much of the outer conflict that sometimes erupts from these folks stems from, or is exacerbated by, the consumption of these same substances. I’ve seen folks who are very gentle souls become angry, self-destructive and prone to violence when they drink. I’ve seen friends who have been sober for a number of weeks or months fall off the wagon, and experience deep disappointment, shame, and a sense of personal failure. I have some friends who I don’t think I’ve ever seen completely sober, and I know that if they were, they would need to be hospitalized to deal with their intense withdrawal symptoms. Alcohol is a powerful thing.
I went to an open AA meeting last week, to support a friend from The Dale who had been sober for almost 4 months. She eagerly introduced me to her sponsor and friends, and explained how the 12 step book is her lifeline/security blanket. She proudly went up to receive a chip to symbolize her 4 months of sobriety, and gave it to me as a gift. I was encouraged by the non-judgement, support and love that was so clearly evident in the room. The first of the 12 steps is to admit that one has become powerless over alcohol, and that one’s life has become unmanageable. Alcohol is a powerful thing.
I will be going to another funeral this week, for another Sanctuary brother who succumbed to the deadly power of alcohol, in combination with other substances. I hate that this is happening so often. I hate that addiction has claimed so many of my friends, and that these deaths contribute to a sense of despair that often leads to more drinking/using. Alcohol is a terribly powerful thing.
I also really enjoy a good glass of wine. While I very rarely have more than a single drink, I love going to the pub with friends, and have experienced the calming effect of a good gin and tonic after a stressful day. And I drink wine at least once a week (often twice or three times) when I take communion. Jesus asks me to do this, in remembrance of him. I think he’s totally cool with grape juice too, but when he instituted the Lord’s Supper, he was sitting around with his friends, eating food and drinking wine. He said to his disciples, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28). Jesus’ first miracle was to turn water into wine. Much of the biblical imagery describing the Kingdom of God involves feasting on wonderful food and enjoying the choicest of wines. Alcohol can be a beautifully powerful thing.
What am I supposed to do with all of this? As with most of life’s confusing questions, I’m learning that I have to live with the tension. I acknowledge the power that alcohol holds, both to destroy a life, and to act as a reminder of beautiful, abundant and eternal life. I completely respect a person’s decision to abstain from alcohol, and I honour the decision to drink in moderation. I also understand why my friends drink heavily. It makes me sad, and I hope and pray for their release from the grip of addiction, but I understand.
I just got home from outreach in Parkdale, where a friend spoke to me about his desire and intention to enter detox in the next couple of days. Please join me in praying that he does.
Many folks drink to forget their pain. Jesus asks us to drink to remember the pain he bore for us, so that one day pain may be no more. Lord, come quickly.