On Drinking

There are many who say that drunkenness is no sin. It is not considered by those outside the Church as a sin, but as a weakness : men speak of it as a misfortune ; physicians class it as a simple mania, to be pitied rather than condemned. Instead of giving to it, as a moral disease, a moral remedy, they encourage it by taking away its enormity. But what says the “Word of God”? It tells us that drunkenness is a mortal sin. St. Paul says : “The drunkard shall not possess the kingdom of God.” And why shall not the. drunkard possess the kingdom of God? Because the sin of drunkenness of which he becomes guilty is a grievous sin against nature, against religion, against himself, against the family, and therefore against God, the Author of nature, the Spirit of religion, and the Founder of the family. It goes against nature, be cause it ruins the body, corrupts the soul, and changes the image of God in man into the likeness of a brute.

– Fr. Michael Mueller, C.S.S.R., Sinners Return to God

These, and literally hundreds of other passages like them, have had no effect on me. For though I could see the logic of reminding every soul who picks up too many drinks not to “risk it,” the fact is that we do; we risk everything while numbing ourselves to both that realization and the consequences. What amount constitutes “too many” is, of course, relative. What is absolute, or absolutely true for me, is that every drop is too much. Exhortations to sobriety packaged with litanies of consequences drown quickly in lakes of bourbon and beer. And should they have ever had their intended impact, namely instilling deep burning shame, it only lasts until the first drink, and soon after the world loses its luster. Then comes fear and the overwhelming desire to drown that out, too. Time passes, intoxication fades, but it is felt into the following day, not as pain, but longing. For me, alcohol is not a means to “feel better”; it is the remedy to feeling anything at all.

Having drank fairly regularly since my 21st year (and very seldom before then), I have had several opportunities to know something about drunkenness and hangovers. They’re distant memories to me now. They became distant around my 32nd year when one drink could never possibly be enough and a day without drinking seemed impossible. In the morning I feel nothing unless I am tired. Now I am tired often — tired of the useless burning away of my life. This isn’t a question of functionality. Scholarly articles bearing my name have been composed late at night with a drink in hand. During the day I am free to live, to work and wonder about everything except the troubled state of my existence and the peril in which I have placed my soul. At some point I am reminded of this and then I seek an exit.

Few people know this and I wouldn’t confess it publicly unless I felt out of options. And I am out of options. Whitened knuckles aren’t bringing fleeting success anymore, nor are trips to my personal library to terrify myself out of addiction and into help. The pathological desire for false normalcy, where my drinking capacity is seen as a badge of honor and the illusion of perfect stability is maintained, has finally eroded; underneath it all are only lies, and now they’re visible. There is a stiff price to be paid for handling one’s liquor: You come to believe there’s nothing you can handle without it. I never wanted to be the friend who couldn’t go out to the bar or share stories of favorite scotches, ryes, and gins or be the father without a beer at the ballgame. I never wanted to be an alcoholic either and that’s exactly what I am.

Please pray for me and know that your petitions are neither unheard nor useless. Without them I would never have come to this realization, nor embarked on the long road toward freedom.

13 comments

  1. Welcome aboard, shipmate! You are about to join our crew in the voyage of sobriety. It hurts like heck in the beginning, it is embarrassing as all get-out, but it will take you to places of joy that you never imagined. We who have sailed a while know that we go where the wind blows, and someone else holds the rudder. We man the lines, catch the breeze, and find our way. I hope you join us, because the rewards are far greater than the cost.

  2. Gabe, no advice to give, as this not my particular sin (I have my own addictions, to be sure, just not alcohol). I have, however, lived my entire life around those like yourself. So, what I will do is to remember you in my prayers. I’m a bit terrified of saying this sort of thing lightly and never tell anyone that unless I intend to do it. I would simply ask that, as you have opportunity, to do the same for me. Best, John

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