My sister is here visiting from Australia. We’ve spent long mornings sitting in our pajamas, talking and talking. So many memories and stories to tell. So many things to discuss and remember.
Last night I talked about Chile. About some of what happened there. As I was going to bed, it got me to thinking about my long story with wine. About how wine was one of my companions during a long season of pain and sorrow, during shattered dreams and heart-wrecking heartbreak.
When my babies were small, after they’d go to bed, I used to pour myself a glass of red wine and savor each moment of quiet. I used to write novels at night and sip on cheap red wine.
A party didn’t seem a party without wine.
A long talk with a friend didn’t seem whole without red wine or white wine, or some kind of alcohol to accompany us.
A couple of times during those years I drank way too much. One New Year’s Eve I did tequila shots for the first time in my life. My stomach ached the next day like I had the flu. My head hurt. My mouth felt like cotton. But usually it was red wine and it was within reason. A glass or two a day keeps the doctor away… isn’t that it?
Then I moved to Chile.
There, in the sadness and overwhelming powerlessness I felt, I drank way too much. I self-medicated and I knew it, but I didn’t have the inner resources to do a damn thing about it. I was hurting and alone and red wine helped me cope. One time, a pastor even mentioned he had a dream that I was drinking too much. He said it casually, but it was enough to offend me. I didn’t want to talk about it with anyone. But quietly, in the places where we hold our own silence, I knew wine was too important. I knew, even if it was just two glasses at night, it was numbing something that needed to be alive, that needed to feel. But I didn’t want to feel. I wanted to deaden my pain.
Last summer I wrote a blog post about the long love affair I’ve had with alcohol. It’s a love affair that lasted for nearly twelve years.
I did a Dry September.
That entire month I felt clear and present. I slept hard. I was awake to my children and husband in a way I hadn’t been in years. I cried and felt feelings I needed to feel and then at the end of September, I went back to my red wine.
But it was different. The hold had loosened. The truth had been told. The trap had sprung. I could cope without a glass of wine at night and I knew it.
Kristi Coulter wrote a long essay that has gone wild with shares and been on several national magazine sites, all about drinking. Her raw piece was the thing that finally tipped me and gave me the courage to go dry last September.
Another writer I came across named Aidan has been writing about alcohol for years. She did a dry year and chronicled her journey. Six months ago she quit drinking altogether and writes about it on Instagram in a group called Drybe: For people interested in the dry life.
Sarah Bessey wrote a long blog post on how she’s quit drinking. She’s now a non-drinker. I read it the other day and smiled and thought, Good. For. Her.
The thing about drinking wine was that it did help me cope with really hard things and I wasn’t willing to make the changes I needed to make. I felt safer in my powerlessness. I felt safer in my pool of self-pity. Until I didn’t anymore. Easter morning, a couple years ago, I woke up with a horrific hang-over. I couldn’t remember half of the night before. I had blacked out. For the first time in my life.
I was horrified with shame. The good kind of shame. The kind of shame that kicks our ass and says, “You are better than this and you know it. You were made for more.”
I took a shower. I went to church, and knelt in the pew and asked God for help. I asked for real, sustainable help.
That woman kneeling in the pew was not the me I wanted to be. It was not the woman I wanted my children to have for a mother. I hardly recognized myself. I had become a doormat. I was afraid and I was using alcohol as a coping tool and I no longer wanted to cope. I wanted to thrive. To live. To run and not grow weary.
I wanted to be a woman my kids could be proud of.
The problem was, that road to freedom is treacherous and takes a hell of a lot of courage and I knew it. The path of life is the most sobering pilgrimage we ever tread.
Decisions had to be made. Courage had to be gathered. Truth needed to be lived out, not merely told to a sacred few.
This is why it’s hard to let go of the things we use that help us cope … Our alcohol, our marijuana, our eating disorders, our complex-carbohydrates, our cigarettes, our self-mutilation, our risky sex, the pornography we keep in the back corner.
It’s why God is patient and long-suffering.
It’s why Jesus enters into the whole of our lives and lives with us and holds our hands in the dark and tells us He’s on our side.
It’s why the Holy Spirit whispers and strengthens and is dogged and tenacious.
It’s why we take small baby steps.
It’s why we fall and rise and press on.
It’s why we tell our stories … so that others might gather their courage and start to tell their own damn truth, if only to themselves.
It’s why bad shame only hinders but good shame, the stuff we call conviction, helps us find our grit.
It’s why love frees us and imparts courage.
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