“This is the real me, am I the girl that you want me to be? This is the real me, with flaws and fears of intimacy. This is the real me! Can you face it? Can you feel it? Can you take it? Can you deal with the real me?” – The Real Me by Jaci Velasquez (off of her alum, ‘Unspoken’, 2003)
There has been a reoccurring topic in my life the past few months and I am starting to wonder if I should write about it. I am going to write out my thoughts and we will see if I post this or not.
Alcohol. There it is. “Where is this going, Sarah?” well you are about to find out.
First of all, if you are a part of my close friend group you know this already, but if you are not than you may be shocked to learn that I had my first drink at twenty-two, aka four years ago. I want to be clear about something here, I have never been drunk! I cannot stress that enough! Some of you probably just had thoughts like “you mean to tell me that you were drinking while a leader for a teen ministry?” and the answer to that is “Yes. But I never posted about it or talked about it so my students never knew”. My reason for that was knowing that their parents would have differing views and therefore some of them would have been raised with differing views and I did not want my personal life to effect if those students would be allowed to come to ministry events.
Allow me to share my story. I was raised in a no alcohol allowed household. I knew that both of my parents used to drink before they accepted Christ and that neither of them did anymore. I knew they both associated it with their pasts and were not fond of it. When I was in junior high and high school as the topic would get brought up my mom would share that she did not believe that alcohol in of itself is sin (after all Jesus’ first miracle was turning water to wine and there are several verses that refer to wine in a positive way), but that the Bible is very clear that being drunk/drunkenness is a sin. She would tell us that underage drinking is sin because it goes against the laws of the land, but when we turned 21 it would be our choice what we wanted to do.
I was adamant that I would never drink, “I will have gone 21 years of my life without it why would I suddenly want it?” was my mantra. I did not believe that drinking when done in moderation and of age was wrong or sinful, but I did think better of myself for not engaging in such activity. I am being honest I was prideful when I was 21 and not drinking. I thought I was somehow a superior Christian for abstaining from alcoholic beverages. Then curiosity happened. Not peer pressure, as most of my friends at that time did not drink, but curiosity is what got me to try it. I was 22 and at a friend’s apartment. This friend is a year older than I so she was 23 at the time and she had never had alcohol either. We had both talked about how we were curious and neither of us viewed it as sinful, but neither of us had ever tried it before and we wondered. So one night we got some of those frozen slushy drinks from Walmart or wherever, the ones that have only a slightly higher alcohol content than cold medicine, that was my introduction. It was kinda disgusting to be honest with you.
A couple of months later that same friend and I were with a mutual friend who was not new to drinking. She knew a few things and she made strawberry daiquiris for us to try. Being honest with you, they were good! It was also from that friend that I learned that coconut rum and Dr. Pepper can be a tasty combo. I decided in that moment that I was officially alright with getting a drink from time to time, but no more than one drink a month. I did not know what my tolerance level was, I did know that I was not a lightweight and one drink did not do me in. It was the same as drinking a glass of juice or pop to me. But I did know that I did not want to form a connection to alcohol. I did not want to have it often, I did not want to push my limits.
That lasted for a couple years. On my twenty-fourth birthday, or a couple days later really, was my first time I did not hold myself to that. I had had less than 24 drinks total in my life at that point and I was nervous for what the night with my older brother and friend may hold. It was that night that I first tried beer (which is the most disgusting thing ever by the way! Yes, I am aware that some of my friends enjoy it and I cannot for the life of me figure out why) and did my first tequila shot (that is the night I realized I love tequila). I also had a pretty great tasting margarita. In total I had somewhere around 3 to four drinks in one night. I learned that night that my tolerance was higher than I thought. I still did not want to have any more than one drink a month though.
That ended up not lasting. I hit a point were I ended up having wine (I really enjoy wine y’all! Which is kinda weird since the first time I tried it I spit it out and poured it down the drain. It was like drinking vinegar.) a few nights a week and went out with friends and had drinks (did a couple shots) on the weekends. Once again I want to remind you that I have NEVER been drunk. But I did not like where my relationship with alcohol was going. It scared me. I had heard, “Never drink to feel better. Drink to feel even better!” meaning not to drink when you are stressed or to make problems seem easier. That is when you will start to develop a dependency on it. That is when you cross into self-medicating. I only allowed that once. I remember when my friend picked me up knowing I had had a bad day. She asked me “so what do we need tonight?” and she was meaning do we need to talk, do we need ice-cream, to go swing, etc. My normal standbys when I was stressed out or upset. And my response was “alcohol”. She laughed and said “Ok then” and off we went. That was really the moment I knew something needed to change.
A few more months went by and I had successfully gone back to my “one drink a month” mantra. I was successful in that, and more often than not that one drink was a glass of wine at home. Throughout the course of all of this my dad found out about my older brother and I drinking, my younger brother turned 21 and would have a drink every once in a while, one of my dad’s doctor’s told him to have a glass of red wine to help with some medical issues he was having, and somehow between the time I was 22 and 25 wine became something the Smith house now had (though Dad has only ever had like 2 sips of wine my entire life, even still).
About a year ago the Lord asked me, “Sarah, if I asked you to stop drinking would you?” And I said, “Of course.” I want to be clear for a moment. I still do not view alcohol as sin. A dependency on it, yes! Being drunk, yes! But in moderation, no. But I knew that if the Lord asked me to give it up and I did not that would be disobedience and therefore sin. So I asked Father if He wanted me to. I did not feel I got a reply. After a month or so He spoke to me about alcohol again and this time He asked me, “If the man I have for you to marry is against alcohol will you give it up?” and again I answered, “Of course! It is not a big deal to me. Do You want me to give it up?” And thus started my thoughts about my future with drinking. I realized that I want to raise my children the same way I was, with no alcohol in the house (although I will say that red wine has been the best thing I have found to help with cramps and therefore I may try to negotiate a deal where it is allowed purely for medicinal purposes). I do not want to go out and get drinks with my friends when I have kids. I feel pretty confidently that the Lord has given me insight to the fact that my future husband will not drink and out of respect for him I do not want to either.
It took time and prayer and processing, but I decided to give up alcohol (and some of you who knew about my drinking are now shocked because you did not know this). Let me tell you something, I do not regret that choice at all. I have allowed myself wine a couple times since then, but I am working on cutting that out too just in case negotiations do not go the way I want. But now I feel like I am in a weird place. I understand my family and friends who drink and I do not judge them or think less of them. I no longer view myself as better, because I have been there. I do not view their occasional glass of wine or beer (yuck) as sinful, but that is not something I do with them anymore. It has not changed our relationship, but it has changed the conversation. Some of them do not understand why I stopped. Some of my friends who never drank in the first place are almost like “welcome back to the right side”, which hurts because it implies that they were secretly judging me and thinking less of me before. Some of my friends who never drank view drinking as sin and think I was trapped in sin and still am since I do not agree with them. Some of them think I have been delivered from sin, but that my family is trapped in it. Some of the friends who do drink think that I had a better understanding of freedom in Christ and I am now going back to living by works instead of grace.
The conversations that have been happening have been rather painful to be honest. Even the comments that I do not reply to or shrug off sting. I feel like I am caught between two worlds and no one understands. Mostly I feel really sad that this is such an issue in the body of Christ that I feel like it does not matter which side of the argument you are on someone is judging you.
I do not know what my point of writing all of this is, except maybe to try to get my friends who were and are secretly (or not so secretly) judging me to understand my story. For some it is to show them that I am not ashamed of my past. For others it is to show them why I stopped. To be completely real and honest with you all, I have mixed feelings about this journey. On one hand I wish I never would have started drinking in the first place. I do not view it as sin, but it was not the best use of my time or money and it was rather pointless. “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity” as the author of Ecclesiastes says (a few times the thought is expressed throughout the book but the quote is specifically from chapter 1 verse 2). On the other hand, this whole journey taught me a lot about the judgement and holier than thou attitude that had taken place in my heart and it uprooted that and humbled me in a way I am not sure would have happened other wise. It taught me how to love others where they are at, to look beyond initial impressions, and to understand people. Considering my calling is to do life with people that is a pretty important thing for me to learn. Maybe I am writing this purely for myself because I feel like no one has really been listening to me about this and I needed to get it out.
I do not know. Maybe the Lord will use this in someway. Regardless, there it is, my story with alcohol, a post that has been burning in my mind for oh I don’t know, maybe six months now. I hope and pray that somehow, someway, Father will use this to speak to someone and maybe give some thought to those on both sides who are judging the opposing side.