Show me the way to the next whiskey bar (or not)


Well, here we are, one week into Lent.  For the past several years my Lenten fast has been alcohol related. I have alternatively abstained from beer and from alcohol altogether.  As I considered my options I started taking stock of my life.  What habits were starting to trouble me?  What might God be calling me to change?

The answer didn’t take long.  Whiskey (usually bourbon or rye) had become a nightly ritual.  Just a few years ago it was a very occasional indulgence.  Beer was my undisputed drink of choice.  But since our trip down the Bourbon Trail in 2015 that after-dinner whiskey cemented its place in my nightly routine.

Unfortunately, along with that habit came a gradual increase in my consumption of alcohol. Especially when the whiskey isn’t getting measured out by the bartender it became all too easy to pour a double. Add high-proof varieties into the mix (one of my favorites, Old Weller Antique clocks in at 107 proof on up into barrel-strength whiskeys which tip the scales in the 130’s), and suddenly that “one” glass has the alcohol equivalent of one and half all the way up to three regular 80 proof drinks.

Just to keep things simple, I extended the fast to include all hard liquor, otherwise I’d be tempted to start substituting G&T’s or Armagnac which would defeat the whole purpose.

One week into Lent, I pleased to report that I’m doing OK. It’s been interesting to notice that when I am heading into the living room after cleaning up from dinner, my eyes are drawn inexorably upwards towards the liquor cabinet. While I miss it, the absence of whiskey isn’t causing me any existential crisis. And, as I hoped, it has cut down on my alcohol consumption. While I might choose to have a nice quad or Imperial Stout after dinner, I am certainly not temped to go back for seconds.

Of course I still have five more weeks to go and a lot can happen in that time. But I’m not losing any sleep over it. What will be really interesting is how I re-integrate whiskey back into my life once Christ is Risen. But for now, that’s a question for another day and another post.

What about you?  Do you fast for Lent?  If so, what do you give up?  Have you ever fasted from alcohol?  How did it go for you?

Half Empty or Half Full?

It’s that classic question- half-empty or half-full?  Now that I am reaching the halfway half-empty-half-full-imagepoint of my Lenten alcohol fast it is a good time to stop and reflect.

On the plus side, most evenings I don’t even miss the beer.  It’s been long enough now that my habits have changed.  At suppertime I no longer have to stop myself from heading towards the basement stairs and the beer fridge that stands at the bottom of them.  As the night winds down I no longer find myself glancing up at the liquor cabinet on my way out of the kitchen.  Yes, in general this Lenten experiment in discipline has gone about as well as I could hope.

Of course it has not been without its struggle.  For example, after a five hour, highly charged governance meeting, I wanted nothing more than to have a bourbon in my hand when I collapsed into my living room chair.  The other instance when I found myself severely tempted occurred last weekend when I was out with friends celebrating a birthday.

After our initial plans fell through (thanks Erin Express for turning University city into a zoo where every restaurant had a 90 minute plus wait) we headed west to Dock Street.   While it was odd to be in a place dedicated to good beer (Man Full of Trouble Porter anyone?) I had no problems ordering and fetching the first round for my companions while sipping away on ice water.  Yet I still found that I had to consciously check myself, not in combatting the desire to order a pint of my own, but in resisting the urge to sample the beers my companions ordered.

This was not so much about the alcohol as it was about a different dynamic- something fundamentally social. One of the joys of going out with close friends is sharing what we order.  When the pizzas arrived we all shared a slice with anyone who wanted to try it and tried some of theirs in return.  It seems to me that such practice not only improves the meal by expanding our culinary horizon, it also strengthens the bonds of friendship.  As a result I had to actively resist the urge to ask for a sip of their Belgian Quad or Kolsch, not because I wanted the booze but because I wanted to know what it tasted like.  While it was a good learning experience, it wasn’t particularly fun.

So here I am at the halfway mark.  And while I know that twenty booze-free days (and nights) still lie ahead, I am not worried.  For I also know that with few exceptions it will only get easier as I go along.  And even when it’s hard, I know those times of trial and temptation create the greatest opportunity to learn.

Please keep those questions and supportive thoughts and prayers coming!

No bourbon, no scotch, no beeeeer.

Every year I give up some pleasure or another in order to observe the season of beer  (Lent is a liturgical season which lasts 40 days during which many Christians chose to give up something pleasurable or destructive as a spiritual discipline) Often it has been something like deep fried food.  Last year I added beer which is certainly my drink of choice, but did not extend the fast to include all alcohol.  This year I am going the distance.  Starting today (Ash Wednesday) its no booze till Easter.  For the record I should note that I will get to drink on Sundays because they are not part of Lent.

Now some of you, who go through whole weeks in which you might have one or two drinks total, may be thinking what’s the big deal?  Others, who consume considerably more, might think I am crazy.  Certain beer retailers in the area may be starting to worry about their cash flow.  Still others, who know their Bible, might be wondering if I am acting like those religious leaders that Jesus condemned in Matthew 6:1 when he said,  “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them.”

So here’s my logic, both for the undertaking itself and for making it public.  I have chosen to give up alcohol for several reasons.  First, is that over the years I have found myself drinking more on a regular basis.  While I do not believe that I have a problem with drinking (insert your claims of denial here), I do realize that I sometimes use it to help cope with stress and anxiety and so I am interested to find out just how much I may have come to rely on it to cope with the pressures of life.

Second, I look forward to finding other productive ways to relax and to use my time.  Finally, the fact that I have avoided taking this step in past years makes it clear to me that I need to bite the bullet and close up the beer fridge in my basement.  As a bonus, I am also hoping that this fast will lead to some weight loss since apparently and lamentably, beer has calories.

As to why I am sharing this experience with you, well, since I want to learn and grow from this fast, I want to make sure I am really reflective and conscious of the experience of going booze free.  The best way I can think of to accomplish this goal is to make sure I write about it regularly.  I may not share everything I write, but I plan to share what this is like with you several times during the next six weeks.  In addition, it may be that  what I have to share may be of help to someone else, especially those who also might be wondering about the role that alcohol plays in their own life.

In the meantime, I invite your thoughts and comments, your encouragement and your prayers or positive thoughts.  Here’s to the next 45 days.