Beer Glass

 

I lost a friend for a season of my life because he made a choice—a simple daily choice really. He framed it as a need, an important part of the day that fit in neatly with lunch breaks or a chat around the water cooler.

He just needed a time to relax and unwind. We’d both leave work, but I went home and he stopped at the bar.

I didn’t see the connection months later when his angry outbursts became more frequent. By the time I changed jobs and we cut off ties, he didn’t have any choices left. He needed to “unwind” constantly. Popping open a cold can of beer became a daily need, a way to keep functioning.

Looking back, I can connect the dots and see how one step led to another. I just never expected it. That’s the way with alcohol: You tell yourself that you should see it coming, but so many of us can’t on our own.

The Lure of Happy Hour

Happy hour started at 4:15 pm during the winter months. The bulk of our visitors arrived in the summer. What else was there to do at the end of the day? When the assistant director called us down for the first “meeting,” no one complained.

You could find the whole staff in the old mansion’s kitchen that had only been updated with yet another layer of thick white paint around the frames of the glass cabinet doors. They stuck shut as we yanked them open pulled for crackers and cookies to go with the wine.

They said I “gulped” my wine. I just drank it like grape juice. I am a Baptist after all. Aren’t grape juice and wine basically the same thing?

Alas, we were not drinking from the tiny communion cups. My head started to spin about five minutes into the first happy hour.

Once I started sipping my wine, I kept my head under control. However, when you’re dealing with alcohol, control can be a touchy matter.

I knew how to drink my wine at a better pace, but I also developed a new habit:

DRINK ALCOHOL AFTER WORK

Cultivating a New Habit

I didn’t think too much about this new habit, save for ensuring that I could drive home without endangering myself or anyone else. It continued on and off in the years that followed, often reserving wine for the conclusion of a hard day at work.

I worked my way through sweet wines and eventually graduated to the dry Chardonnay. By the time I turned 30, I decided it was time to “teach” myself to drink beer. I grew weary of being the only guy who couldn’t pick a decent beer at a party.

I sought out beer experts in my circle of friends and tried to nail down one or two “go to” beers. I’d seen enough sneering at “berry” beers to know I couldn’t go down that road.

After a year of “training” in the world of beer, I finally settled on a few brands. I started rotating a wine purchase with a six pack of beer. During the summer I took particular delight in drinking a beer on the porch during the last hour of work.

Remember, happy hour starts at 4:15 for me.

She Saw It Coming

I probably never would drink a second beer after work because I can’t afford to drink more than a beer a day. Heck, I rarely drink more than 3 or 4 beers a week. But I will say this, I really enjoy that beer when I drink it.

However, one day, I said, “Gosh, a second beer would be wonderful…”

My wife spoke up. Who knows how long she’d been thinking this. I should have been thinking of it all along:

“You’re starting to sound a lot like your friend.”

I didn’t know all of the stories around my friend. I didn’t even know if I could ever drink enough to trigger “the alcoholic” button in me. I didn’t even know if I had that button.

Did I want to risk finding out? I still had a choice.

The Freedom of Caution

Because of that conversation, I approach alcohol differently now.

There are still rewards waiting for me at the end of the day. Sometimes it’s chocolate. Sometimes it’s tea. Sometimes it’s a New Castle Brown Ale.

I have a choice. I can stop after one beer. I know plenty of people who can’t.

I don’t need strict boundaries, but I do need to remind myself about my habits: You don’t need alcohol at the end of the day.

After watching someone descend into dependence, I cringe every time I hear someone say, “I need a drink.” It’s usually a harmless phrase. I know where they’re coming from. If I had to put up with the same junk, I may even say the same thing.

But it could be destructive to believe alcohol is the key to unwinding after a hard day.

There are plenty of other ways I can unwind, from gardening, to walking, to watching a hockey game.

Alcohol does not need to become a daily habit or a daily “tradition” for the end of my work day. It has a way of intruding into other parts of the day.

I still love sitting on my porch with a beer. I just fear loving it too much.

I don’t lie to myself: that could happen. I don’t know where or what that line would be, but after seeing it happen, it’s one that I want to keep away from.

I used to think either you’re an alcoholic or you’re not. I’ve since seen the way alcohol becomes a habit that grows and grows, gradually intoxicating an entire life.

I don’t think I’m in danger of becoming an alcoholic, but I also don’t want to take any chances with the way I think about a beer after work.

I just know what I saw: an after work habit that took over an entire life. You may find me drinking a beer on my front porch. I’ll tell you that I like it, but I’ll never say that I need it.

A Note to Readers: I’m grateful for several friends who gave me feedback about their struggles with alcohol as I wrote this post. To learn more about the challenges that alcoholics face, check out Heather Kopp’s memoir Sober Mercies: How Love Caught Up with a Christian Drunk.

10 comments

  1. I have been really uncareful with my use of the phrase “I need a drink.” And uncareful with using alcohol to numb at least a few of those days.

    I don’t think alcoholism is a huge concern for me, but I also don’t know that I treat alcohol as carefully as I should, both for me, and for those around me. Thanks for the important reminder that I can love a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon, but that it should never be something to help me escape something that I don’t love as much.

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  2. Addictive behaviors are a big part of my family history. I’ve seen the way addiction to drugs and alcohol can destroy and even take a life, my mom lost her dad when she was 15 because of alcohol. I know first hand how easily a person can become addicted to things, because I personally struggle with obsessive and addictive behaviors, which is why I avoid alcohol almost entirely, yet I still struggle with internet/video game addiction to the point where I sometimes have withdrawal symptoms when I’m unable to play games or use the internet.
    I’m not minimizing the real affects of substance addiction. But if I can become like this about internet use, how much more damaging would alcohol be if I became dependent on it? I’m not willing to find out.

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  3. I am a passionate Christ follower who used to struggle with addiction. I love what you have shared here. There are so many behaviors that we can put in place of God as our Comforter. Any of those could cause us to slip into unhealthy dependence. Not necessarily because of weakness on our part but because there is an enemy of our soul–who seeks to destroy us. He looks for a way to pull us away from the One true Comforter. I remember saying “i really need to get to a (recovery) meeting tonight!”. I was struggling and needed to vent. A loving friend reminded me that I needed some time with Jesus. i was so grateful for her gentle reminder. Thanks For sharing this!

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  4. This is so brave, Ed. Thank you. Alcohol is a huge problem in this culture, far more so than many other western cultures, it seems. Maybe we’re an all-or-nothing kinda people? Teaching ourselves to set limits, to be careful how we talk about it as well as behave with it, modeling moderation to our kids – these are all good, good things. For me personally, I never learned to like it. And I have such a checkered family history, with alcoholism on both sides, that I truly never wanted to learn to like it. Now food? Ah, that’s another story. And addiction is addiction – some are just more socially acceptable than others, sad to say. Really important. Thank you.

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  5. Ah, you’ve said some important words here today.

    In my church background, it seems like we had only two categories for things: “good” or “bad”. Alcohol was “bad”. The only teaching you heard from the church was “don’t drink it”, and also “don’t go into restaurants that sell it, lest someone think you were drinking it”.

    The downside of this is that we WEREN’T teaching a healthy relationship with alcohol. So when many of those kids from strict church realize that alcohol isn’t “bad”, they have no context for how to relate to alcohol.

    I love that you’ve interacted with some of these ideas, getting more into the nuance of need and desire and restraint, rather than just saying “don’t drink” or even “don’t get drunk”.

    ( Everything I’ve said here also applies to sexuality, cussing, movies, smoking and other old-school off-limits pleasures.)

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  6. There’s an old Chinese proverb, it’s common among those of us familiar with AA, etc,
    The man takes a drink, the drink takes a drink, the drink takes the man.
    And so it can go…

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  7. Jen

    Alcoholism is in my family tree and in my husband’s. I tend to be very careful about alcohol, but I also know that I am a weak willed human, and that blinding my hurt with alcohol feels so good, AT THE TIME. Which is why I tend to be careful about drinking. Careful in the way I talk about it, and careful in how I talk to my kids about it. Careful that when I do choose to drink, it’s one part of a larger experience of enjoying good things, not to become drunk.

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  8. What concerns me is how many young people think partying after work is harmless and I can’t understand the draw. I am the type of person who likes to have a glass of wine or a beer; usually after work and usually one and not every day. When I am out, I sometimes get a wine or a beer, but it’s never at a bar in an atmosphere that encourages irresponsible behavior. Alcoholism was in one family member and I am a light weight when it comes to alcohol which is why I am restricted to one. When it becomes a “need” is when we do need to question our motivations. Great article.

    Reply

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