I wrote a similar post to this one 5 years ago, but this is where life is at 5 years on…
Around the middle of 2013 I stopped drinking alcohol – just totally cold turkeyed it.
It was a massive decision because I loved alcohol – although that was the problem – some days I loved it too much. Over time a single glass of red wine with dinner had become a ‘big’ glass, then two glasses, or three… And some nights it just seemed a waste not to finish what was in the bottle. It would go stale and that would just be silly.
I didn’t touch a drink until I was 28 years old, but over a period of 15 years from then I knew my alcohol consumption had grown from occasional and rare, to daily and usually more than was healthy. On the days I wasn’t able to open a bottle of red I missed it. I felt tetchy and irritable… One night while home alone I ploughed through a bottle of red on my own and then fell asleep on the couch. I woke up feeling ashamed and hid the bottle. I knew that was a problem but I decided I wouldn‘t drink that much again (until next time). Some days I would drink cask wine rather than bottled wine because with casks there is no telling how much you’ve had… Like all addicts I learnt some tricks.
In hindsight I didn’t consider myself to have an ‘alcohol problem’… not me! Although I realised that stopping and moderating was harder than I thought. At times I would talk with Danelle about how much I drank and we’d agree that I needed to be a bit more disciplined. Truth is she was deeply concerned but knew that getting angry with me wasn’t the answer. The fact that these conversations cycled around every few months was a sure sign that I wasn’t actually being more disciplined. I was losing the battle and I knew it. I just didn’t want to admit it.
I hated losing and I really liked wine. It was a bad situation to be in.
I considered just giving up many times, but I always came back to the belief that it was healthier to learn the practice of moderation than of abstinence. Abstinence would have been an admission of failure. I still believe that and I would rather my children develop the capacity to enjoy a glass of wine rather than having to avoid it altogether.
The problem was that moderation just didn’t work for me.
Then in the midst of my struggle I woke early one Sunday morning with a bizarre memory reverbing in my mind of a friend who was struggling with (literal) demons and who couldn’t get free. We had prayed for her, sent her for counseling, tried every kind of exorcism we could think of, but nothing worked. I had never been able to understand why.
As I woke early that morning I sensed God say ‘You couldn’t get rid of those demons because she didn’t want you to. She didn’t want them to go.’ My friend had been used by her father as a ‘medium’ since a very young age and these demons had become a part of her life back then. They had been with her for 30 years and while they tormented her from time to time, they also gave her an odd sense of security, comfort and familiarity. It was as if they had become her companions and she couldn’t see her way to clear to living without them.
I wasn’t scheduled to speak at church that Sunday morning, but I woke with a strong compelling sense that God wanted me to speak to our people about the demons in our lives that we allow to remain because they bring us comfort in some shape or form. I’d call it a ‘prophetic’ type message and I guessed that God woke me up because he really wanted to speak to some people in our community about their ‘demons’.
So I rang our other pastor, Ryan, who was scheduled to speak and who had done the prep work and explained what I was feeling. He ‘got it’ and was happy for me to bring the message to the church. I was glad as I felt someone really needed to hear this stuff!
As I spoke I felt like I was saying something potent and true. I spoke of recognising the things in our life (our demons) that hold us back from the full life that God intends and just ruthlessly excising them – showing no mercy. I didn’t hold back with calling people to deal brutally with their demons.
After the service I was drinking a coffee and chatting with some friends who (completely out of the blue) began to tell me how they had given up drinking and it was the best decision they had ever made.
‘You should try it Hamo!’ they said enthusiastically.
They didn’t know anything of my struggle, but they were telling me of their own freedom. In that moment I sensed God speak again and it dawned on me that the message today wasn’t for some lucky person in the crowd – it was actually intended for me.
God had put his finger on my life and literally said ‘alcohol is one of your demons and you can choose to excise it and live free or you can live with it and be in bondage to it.’
I wish I could say it was a quick decision.
That morning I realised that I needed to make a brutal choice – to leave alcohol behind – most likely for ever – and to find the better life that Jesus had in store for those who follow him.
That was an embarrassingly hard decision – because I loved my evening red – but I believe it was a choice between life and death – not physical death – but a slow spiritual death that would ensue if I chose to ignore God and simply do my own thing. Jesus said “you can’t call me ‘lord’ and not do what I say.”
It took me a week to make the decision – a week of wrestling with who I wanted to be and the shape I wanted my life to take. As I played out the different future scenarios – one with alcohol in the mix and one without it – it was a ‘no-brainer’ logically speaking. But when it came to making the actual decision I just couldn’t do it.
I didn’t want to become an alcoholic. I didn’t want to have to resign my leadership role because I had a drinking problem. But more than anything I didn’t want to be one of those Christians who lived a double life – who was a fake. I realised I was either going to quit drinking or quit being a Christian altogether – because you don’t get to pick and choose which things you will say ‘yes’ to God on. It became that stark for me – I couldn’t lead people into ‘Christlikeness’ while I chose not to go there myself – what a sham that would be!
Eventually I surrendered – took a deep breath and made the call.
I shared my decision with some friends. In telling the story to them I realised I was in essence offering a confession of a life that hadn’t been what it should have been. I was also drawing a line in the sand and saying ‘stand with me on this one.’
As I write this we are 5 years on and I haven’t had even a sip of anything alcoholic since the day of the decision. Oddly enough it hasn’t been that difficult. I am better at the ‘all or nothing’ decisions and not so good at the moderation ones.
People have asked me if I miss it. I do. I miss it a lot. I sometimes crave a good wine. I watch others drink and I wish I could too… but I can’t… not yet…
I didn’t sense God saying I needed to stop forever and one day I may enjoy a glass of wine again. But right now when I imagine opening a bottle of wine I don’t see myself enjoying one glass and then putting the cap back on. In my mind’s eye I see 2, 3 or maybe 4 glasses getting downed and I realise that time definitely hasn’t come yet.
I believe alcohol – like so many things in life – has been given to us by God as a gift to enjoy -but not all of us are equipped to manage it well. I still believe moderation is the best approach, but I also know some of us can’t do moderation well. In years gone by Christians didn’t drink alcohol. It was considered evil. Now we have got past that, but in our freedom we often run the risk of indulging more than we should.
My observation is that this ‘freedom’ has come at a price as many Christian folks who previously would never have touched alcohol now regularly drink to excess. Its a problem for us folks…
I’m guessing I’m not the only one who has this struggle. Maybe you find yourself battling the same issue and need to make a tough call. Maybe it’s something else that has a hold of you.
The simple challenge is make sure nothing controls us other than the Spirit of God himself. I found it almost impossible to be a moderate drinker but when I quit altogether I found I had power to resist that I never knew existed. I believe God has given me the ability to do what I couldn’t do on my own and I believe he will give you that power too – if you want it – if you need it.