I began to see women of my generation becoming increasingly dependent, as wine was marketed to women as the rest or as the treat they deserved for their exhaustion and their diligence and their selflessness. I began to see news stories everywhere about the rise of women drinking. I began to read memoirs and stories and articles from women who had become caught in drinking too much and about how they felt addicted and dependent and entangled almost before they knew it.
One of my most vivid childhood memories is of my mother and my father standing at our kitchen sink in Winnipeg surrounded by the last empty bottles, big smiles on their faces as my mother poured each one out. The bottles made that glug-glug noise when the pouring is too fast for the opening. We made an occasion out of that moment as a family. It was a celebration, a milestone, one that my sister and I didn’t quite understand but we felt the relief in our home.
My parents had a complicated relationship with alcohol; not exactly personally although there was some of that but within their larger story of family and friends. When they converted to Christianity in their thirties, they were under no illusions and they were desperate to make everything new. They poured out all of the alcohol in the house in a grand renunciation of the old ways, the old bondages, the old addictions, the old possibilities. They wanted something new and different and better. They were new people, a new creation, a new story was going to be written about their family.
In the old hard drinking days of business, my father never veered from his Diet Coke once. Their relationships with some family members became tense because no one remembered how to hang out without a beer. They tried not to judge others but they knew what they knew. To them, this wasn’t even a choice to stop drinking, it was simply who they were now. They untethered drinking from their identity and never looked back. It’s been about thirty years since that decision now. A lot of their friends and family have joined them in their temperance now.
So I never saw an adult drunk in my childhood to my memory. I never witnessed an excess of alcohol. I grew up in a sober home where adults having fun was never linked to clinking ice cubes or lipstick stains on a wine glass. My parents were young, they were filled with life and joy and hope. Who needed alcohol now?
The first time I drank alcohol, I was about fourteen years old. I lied to my parents and went to a party at a friend’s house where we drank cheap red wine and those sickly sweet wine coolers with all of the cool kids. I didn’t like it much but I kept at it: after all, it was worth the effort, look at how I was fitting in now. I was already smoking a pack day, what was a bit of booze? And a year later, I had more regrets than any fifteen year old should have.
At seventeen, I decided to follow God for my own self. I quit drinking as part of the deal and didn’t touch the stuff for ten years.
I decided I wanted to have wine with dinner like civilized grown-ups. I wanted the lovely glass of red beside me as I read my books. I wanted to know about the world of wine: tastes, bouquets, tannins, regions, all of it. Brian began to enjoy craft beer. He would buy a six-pack of beer and it would last for six months. I would buy a bottle of red and it would last for a week. We sipped wine occasionally and turned the radio to NPR.
For ten years, we drank alcohol in this way: occasionally, barely, and with interest. We liked to learn about it. We liked the world of craft beer and wine.
But slowly I began to drink more than my husband. His rare growler of beer still lasts but my bottle of wine on the sideboard began to disappear a bit sooner and then the bottle became a bigger bottle of cheaper variety and then the big bottles became a box of wine. I kept it in the kitchen cupboard.
My parents grew accustomed to my drinking, even accepting. I never drank in front of them out of respect for their journey. They listened to my reasonings about social drinking and moderation and our freedom in Christ.
I grew to love the imagery of wine in Scripture, to see it as an emblem of the New City and of heavenly banquets. I liked the sophistication of wine, the theology of wine, the metaphor of wine, the community around wine at the table. I liked the celebration of champagne, the warmth of a cabernet, the summer light of chardonnay.
Without noticing, I was drinking almost every night now. It didn’t bother me in the least.
I have learned that when you are walking with Jesus, the Holy Spirit is always up to something. And when it comes to conviction, I have found the Spirit to be gentle but relentless.
Change and transformation is an ongoing process. I am always grateful how the Spirit isn’t harsh or overwhelming but rather how at the right time and in the right moment, we know it’s time to change.
We begin to sense that this Thing that used to be okay is no longer okay. The Thing that used to mean freedom has become bondage. The Thing that used to signal joy has become a possibility of sorrow. The Thing that used to mean nothing has become something, perhaps everything.
Or at least that’s what happened to me. It was fine, everything was fine. And then I knew it wasn’t going to be fine for much longer.