Measure the Cost

March 19th marked an unusual anniversary for me.

Eighteen years ago on that very day, I drank my last drop of alcohol.

Yes, it’s true.  I am a tee-totaller.  But before you declare me intolerant of those who drink, please hear my full story and how I came to the conviction of no longer drinking.

I never was a big drinker.  I really didn’t like to put any substances in my body which would have inhibited my intellect or athletic abilities.  I never tried any illegal drugs, and I especially abstained from alcohol when I was playing football.  (I played high school and college ball.)

However, in the off-season, even when it was not legal for me to do so, I would drink a beer or two.  Gin and tonics were my drink of choice in college.  As an adult, I acquired a taste for cheap champagne.  When I got married, I learned about the refreshing taste of Long Island Iced Tea, a mixed drink with five different shots of alcohol.  I “celebrated” my successful defense of my doctoral thesis by drinking two of these concoctions, but I don’t remember much of the “celebration.”

Still, I was not given to drunkenness very often when I was still drinking alcohol.  There were periodic lapses in judgment, in that regard, but I generally maintained my self-discipline.

I maintained such self-discipline, that is, until Friday, March 19, 1993.

On that night, spring break began at Urbandale High School, where I served as Principal.  Since, in my own mind, I had so much catch-up work from the first three academic quarters of the school year, I stayed behind in Iowa, while my wife Cheryl and daughter Molly ventured to Nashville for time with family.  So I had the entire week before me to work in the office.  (My addiction to work is the topic for an entirely different commentary.)

But I “gave myself permission” to do some more “celebrating” before the work began.  On the first Friday of spring break – March 19th – I accompanied some of my friends to a nearby restaurant.  At no time did I consume any food of substance besides chips and salsa, but I did fill my stomach with marguerita after marguerita.  The drinks were flowing freely for me and for my friends.  Alcohol relaxed the “governor” of my brain, so I lost inhibition, and I believe I can safely recall cacophonous laughter among my peers.

Good sense lost out that night.  My brain also should have “told me” not to drive after I had drunk so much.  But drive I did.  I do not recall very much about the trip from that restaurant several miles across town to a friend’s house for a continuation of our escapades.  Once again, I showed poor judgment by continuing to drink and by mixing my drinks.  I don’t even know what I was drinking, but I believe there were some “experimental mixtures” of ingredients.  Still, I had not eaten dinner.

At some point, I must have tired and indicated to the rest of my literal party that I should drive home, which was just a few blocks away.  Again, I don’t recall the trip at all.  But I made the drive home safely, stumbled into bed (perhaps with all of my clothes on), and settled-in for what I thought would be an uneventful night.

The night was not uneventful.  At some time in the early morning hours, I awoke with a start.  There was a knifing pain in my stomach.  I tried to roll over and ignore the sharp twisting of my gut, but to no avail.  My mind was still in the throes of alcohol- and sleep-induced stupor, but I could tell that something was very wrong with me.  I figured I could get up and “walk off” this physical infirmity.  So I ventured to the kitchen.  I looked out the window over my kitchen sink into the still, dark night.  I hunched over the sink.  And, then, I experienced something I hope to never again experience in my life.

The dry heaves hit me.  Perhaps you know this feeling yourself.  I hope not.  In my 52+ years on this earth, I have only experienced dry heaves this one time.  I will spare you the gory details, because this is not a pleasant experience at all.  I hate being sick.  And I hate being sick with the flu – when a person IS able to empty the contents of his stomach and at least find some relief from the pain.

The dry heaves allow for no relief.  Nothing comes up, except a gagging reflex which causes the entire body to shudder with pain.  The worst of the night was probably only a few minutes in length, but the pain played tricks with my mind, and I suffered through one of the most horrible maladies of my life.

Of course, I wanted sympathy from my lovely bride after I awoke and recounted the ill effects of my evening to her by telephone the next day.  I rightly got no sympathy.  I had brought the horrible experience upon myself, and I had suffered the natural and logical consequences of my poor decision-making.

Worse that that – when I did return to my right mind – I thought about some other outcomes which could have – but by the grace of God – did not occur.  During both of my drives in a drunken state, I could have easily been picked up by police officers for operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol.  High school principals who get arrested for such offenses generally get fired, and they do not find better jobs.  Worse that that, I could have wrecked my car and killed myself or someone else.

I played all of those scenarios out in my mind, and I, quite frankly, shuddered in fear.

So I made a vow to myself on that night that I would never take another drop of alcohol, and, incredibly, I have honored that vow for 18 years now.

Do I believe ALL people should give up drinking alcohol?  No, absolutely not.  My Bible commands me, “Do not get drunk on wine.”  The Bible does not tell me, “Do not drink wine.”  My conviction, after a VERY dramatic experience, is to not drink alcohol.  Another person can have a much different conviction.

Still, I should be clear about drunkenness.  I abhor and I am appalled by the practice, which is rampant in the world.  I am amazed when I read about people who get picked up for multiple drunk driving offenses, and we all know in our hearts that they are driving MANY, MANY other times while under the influence of alcohol.  Why can’t they stop their drunkenness and drunk driving?  Don’t they care about their own safety and the safety of others on the road?  I understand the power of addiction, but such is no excuse for endangering others.

I made that very point once in front of a large audience when I was very openly sharing the experience I had on March 19, 1993 and my subsequent decision not to drink.  I was working very hard not to sound judgmental.  I wanted others to learn from my example.  No dramatic testimony should go unwasted, if the story can help even one person in an audience.  But I was roundly criticized for my words and for using the bully pulpit of my leadership for this purpose.  I heard second-hand that someone went so far as to say that I was “acting holier than thou.”  (I understood that these words were probably borne of conviction, but they were no less stinging in their effect.)

What’s my point?  Measure the cost.  In the case of this extremely important decision, determine for yourself whether drinking in excess is worth the most negative outcomes.  Decide whether drinking and driving is really in your best interests or the interests of others.  I am not asking any adult of legal age to follow my example, because each of us must live our own lives.

From my faith persuasion as a born again Christian, I am accountable to God for my decisions.  I will do everything in my power (and, hopefully, under His supernatural power) to honor and glorify Him.  Such is the acid test for me.  Will my thoughts, words, and actions honor and glorify God?  I must be willing to answer this question in the affirmative.

Abuse of alcohol has become a menace to individuals, marriages, organizations, neighborhoods, and whole communities.  But alcohol is not the problem in and of itself.  Our own sin and poor decision-making is the problem.  Alcohol only exacerbates the problems – leading to a greater incidence of sexual promiscuity, divorce, crime, parental estrangement from children, financial ruin, lost work time, and loss of human life.

Any adult of legal age has the right to drink alcohol.  But he also has the responsibility to drink wisely.  I did not drink wisely on March 19, 1993, and, now, I choose differently – to resist a temptation which could have had far-reaching effect on my own life and the lives of others.  Every person must make a decision for himself.  Every person should come to her own conviction.  All of us must exercise our wills to rid our culture of a scourge which will seemingly not go away anytime soon.  Will you?

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