I've come full circle with my thoughts about alcohol, and I'll begin with an important disclaimer: I did not drink any alcohol at all until my early 30s, and I have never been drunk. True story. Let that information sway you however it will as this series of blog entries unfolds.
I grew up in a strong Christian home with very conservative values, an experience for which I am very grateful. The only alcohol we had in the house was the 10% found in a bottle of NyQuil, and almost any adult in our household would tell you the stuff gave them a hangover the following morning. It was impressed upon me at a young age that the use of alcohol, among other nefarious habits, was a sin and led to unnecessary suffering, and even as a young school-age kid, I observed enough evidence around me - both real and imagined - to be convinced that this particular guidance was trustworthy.
While high school friends partied in basements and remote parts of town, I chose to babysit or hang out at home with my parents. When college friends frequented frat parties, I was in my room studying, journaling, sleeping, or out exercising. Of course I was on the social fringes in these situations, but I was used to it, and I was okay with it. I was a good student, a kind friend, and an all-season athlete, so those were my "ins" in terms of social connection and acceptance. Alcohol was never a temptation to me at that age - mostly because of my upbringing and my faith, but also because I am a recovering rule-follower and control freak. The thought of not having mastery over the words coming out of my mouth, or the thoughts in my mind, or the actions of my body terrified me. Getting wasted - which is the only kind of drinking in which my peers were engaging - didn't sound fun or enticing. It sounded like chaos, and I wanted no part of the danger.
It was easy enough to stay dry following graduation. I was an elementary school teacher, I lived alone, I was very busy coaching high school athletics, and I quickly got connected to a group of church friends who had similar convictions as me about alcohol. It wasn't until my early 30s when I left elementary education (where I was surrounded mostly by nurturing married women), and entered the corporate world (where I was soon surrounded by a lot of single military men) that I started to wonder if maybe this alcohol thing might be worth some experimentation. After all, I was a grown adult, still single, firm in my faith, and felt confident I could proceed cautiously and not lose my head about it.
In my new career track, I was invited to social gatherings with my government contracting colleagues, and later on was in charge of planning social mixers for higher education events. For the first time in my life, I was not on the outskirts of the excitement, but right in the middle of things with a drink in my hand. So fancy! So refined! So adult! It was novel and fun, and I enjoyed exploring this new persona I had adopted. I always chose wine, usually white, but occasionally red if I was trying to impress somebody. I never experimented with anything else, and I intentionally stopped at the first signs of light-headedness, which honestly didn't take long. Often I struggled to finish a single pour, and switched over to ginger ale or seltzer while others were just getting warmed up.
I have to admit, it was kind of nice to fit in for a change, in this particular realm, and I was proud of myself for being consistently smart and responsible with my choices. Despite what some outside my circle of friends were telling me, I didn't feel this new simple pleasure was a sign of spiritual decay. Nothing about my faith seemed to have changed. I was still a Christian who now just enjoyed a social glass of wine on occasion. As time went on, I discovered lots of other mature Christian women who unashamedly modeled the same behavior. In fact, wine was often a main topic of conversation among them, and a point of commonality. So I figured it must be okay.
During this same decade I met my future husband, who is 8 years my senior. As retired military, he had been all over the world and experienced all sorts of things that were interesting and unfamiliar to sheltered little me. He happened to enjoy wine and started to educate me about the different varieties and origins. He introduced me to fine dining, and he had the funds to take me to expensive dinners on a weekly basis. This is when I started becoming a foodie. Wine just seemed like an obvious complement to a beautifully plated meal. But as time went on, and as delicious as the food was - I noticed I wasn't feeling so great after these fine dining experiences.
I never experienced a hangover, because I never drank that much, but other symptoms started getting my attention. I would wake during the night with feverish chills, full body sweating, intestinal cramping, racing heart, and joint pain. At the same time, I was developing sensitivities to a long list of everyday foods - things I'd been eating my whole life without issue. I was even reacting to household products like shampoo, hand soap, and laundry detergent. I developed severe histamine intolerance and food sensitivities to the point of anaphylaxis, and began suspecting that I might have MCAS (Mast Cell Activation Syndrome). Alcohol, being very high histamine, exacerbated all of these symptoms and on some occasions made me feel close to death. It was a very scary time.
Ironically enough, alcohol made my husband sick also - in a similar but different way. He is allergic to sulfites, and every evening that included an alcoholic beverage turned him into a congested, sneezing mess, despite self-medicating with Claritin. Not to mention he was frustrated with the resulting extra pounds, low energy and mood, and pitiful sleep. It didn't take long before we questioned ourselves, "Why in the world are we paying hard-earned money to make ourselves miserable? This is insanity!" So we switched to water and club soda at our dinner outings, and stopped purchasing any alcohol to drink at home. Sadly, my food sensitivities continued due to other stressors, but the elimination of wine provided some significant and immediate relief, and our grocery bill got substantially less expensive, too!
I haven't gone back to alcohol since, and I don't miss it. The only drink that is remotely appealing to me now is a mimosa. I just think they are pretty and bubbly and delicious. But I can replicate a similar experience with 100% fruit juice and some sparkling water, with none of the negative fallout. My husband will still have a beer now and then, usually when he's with family or a work buddy, but he never feels great afterward, and I don't think he enjoys it like he once did. Dietary enlightenment and honest self-reflection does that to you.
Turns out, for me at least, that consuming alcohol really DOES lead down a path of unnecessary suffering. I am fully and irrevocably convinced. I guess I had to learn and experience it for myself, and I don't regret the journey. Whether or not alcohol consumption has spiritual/Biblical significance is still an undecided issue for me, and something I plan to explore in future posts. For the time being, I'm confident in saying that, for me, it is just common sense. No amount of pleasure, novelty, or social acceptance is worth the physiological damage.