Why I Gave Up Alcohol For My First Lent

“The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul.” —Psalm 19:7

I have spent the past 40 days participating in Lent, which is typically practiced by Catholics, as a tradition of repentance, self reflection and sacrifice during the 40 days preceding Easter (excluding Sundays). It encourages you to give up something that is holding you back from a closer relationship with God, something that often distracts you from really leaning into your faith. Ideally, as a Christian, the goal is to come out of Lent stronger in your faith through confession of your sins and sacrificing, as Jesus did for His people.

Lent can be traced back to the earliest times of the Catholic Church and is more regularly identified in history after Christianity was legalized in the Roman Empire after A.D. 313. The 40 days of Lent correlates to the 40 days Christ spent fasting in the desert before beginning his ministry. During these 40 days, Christ withstood three temptations from the devil: materialism, ego and power. During Lent, Christians recreate Christ’s journey to the desert in our own lives by  facing our greatest temptations and preparing our hearts for a new way. It is a period in which we strengthen ourselves for God’s amazing redemption at Easter and the resurrected life that we live for as Christians.

This is my first year participating in Lent. I don’t identify as Catholic, I am a Christian and that is the only label I live by. I typically don’t practice religious traditions as Catholics do, but there is something about the idea of sacrificing in my personal life to let God do work on my heart and on my soul, that appealed so much to me. So I decided to get out of my comfort zone, hold myself accountable and, essentially, hope that God would change me.

I gave up drinking alcohol. I put all my bottles of Chianti away in the laundry room, gave my friends my deliciously hand-crafted specialty beers and prayed that God would help me survive the coming days. Now, before I tell you how the past 40 days have been, I guess I should explain why I chose to give booze up and the effect drinking has had on my life.

I have a strange relationship with my beloved wine. Over the years, my drinking has matured. It turns out you won’t be able to lead a functioning productive life if you keep partying college-style after graduation. I typically won’t be found out on a Monday throwing them back, and I would never label myself as someone who has a problem with drinking. I have made my share of crap decisions while intoxicated and I have spent many Sundays on my couch having a cheeseburger for breakfast due to a hangover. Other than that, I don’t get drunk and cry, I don’t fight people or stumble around. I don’t blackout or slur my deepest, darkest secrets to strangers after a few drinks. I don’t drive drunk, I typically drag my boyfriend home at a reasonable hour, and most weekends I wake up hangover-free.

But still, something inside me has been telling me for the past few years to just stop drinking altogether. Something in my heart has always struggled with allowing myself to let go, to have a wild night, to have two extra glasses and to just not hate myself after. Maybe it’s because I am a (slight) perfectionist or maybe it is because I am not the best at moderation. Perhaps it is because I am an introvert and I hate the idea that I need a little wine to loosen up around people. I hate that drinking makes me more fun and I wish I was enough without it. I don’t really know to be honest, but something about drinking eats at my heart and has for a long time.

So, naturally, I knew it was what I should give up for Lent. I have attempted to go without drinking for a month here or a month there but have never been successful. There is always an event that comes up when I think not drinking would be strange, or my friends call and want to split a bottle of wine on a Friday night and I think, “Well that sounds fun, I am in.” For this reason, I initially didn’t tell anyone that I was going to be sober for the next 40 days besides my best friend and my boyfriend because I was pretty positive I would fail. I was nervous to tell people because I didn’t want them to hold me accountable or look at me with disappointment when I gave up, which I thought would surely happen.

Somehow, I was forgetting that God was on my side during this journey. I knew after the first week that because I wasn’t doing this for my own selfish reasons and instead, I was doing this for my faith, for my beautiful growing relationship with God, that I would absolutely succeed. And I did, I succeeded and it was a transformative experience. It is amazing to see what God can do in your life when you open your heart to Him, when you admit that you can’t do it on your own, you need and want help. God opens the door so often in my life, my only job is to run through it and Lent was a blessing, another door opened.

Don’t get me wrong, there were trying moments. Temptation was around every corner and many times I sat at a crowded bar on a Friday night wishing my water would turn into wine. During those moments I would say a quick prayer, ask for strength, and the moment would pass as quickly as it came. In return, God made the past 40 days more colorful and vibrant than I could have ever imagined.

I was extremely productive during Lent, I made the most of each day and on the days I was lazy it was by choice, not because a hangover forced me on the couch. I eventually became at ease around friends sober, I learned to ordered hot tea at the bar with confidence. It also turns out I am pretty damn funny and social even when sober as a judge. My personality wasn’t dulled by sobriety; it was enhanced and more enjoyable. I found myself satisfied and happy when the need for a drink in my hand subsided. I had fun sober and I never had the fear of a possible wine headache the following day looming over me, taunting me. I felt clear minded all of the time and I felt like my relationships enhanced. There was something genuine about all of my time spent with those I love without the cloud of alcohol around us. I was healthier, going for Sunday afternoon runs with my dog and cooking more on the weekends. I became more me than I had ever been.

For lack of better words, I just feel good. I feel fresh, renewed, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I feel proud of myself, I feel an immense love for God for this gift and an overflowing abundance of self love. I feel incredibly blessed to have seen firsthand a miracle take place in my own life. What else do you call it when you’ve tried endlessly to do something alone and yet the one time you call upon God, you succeed? I call it faith.

I don’t know what the future holds for my dear friend, red wine. I do know that I will be celebrating the end of Lent by splitting a great bottle of Chianti from Italy with my best friend and my boyfriend, who knew how much this meant to me and supported me throughout (love y’all). I think in the future, when I am feeling disconnected from my faith or drinking is weighing on my heart, I will just walk away from it for a bit and spend some time with God. I know now how important it is to cut out some of the distractions, to refocus and renew and next time I won’t hesitate to jump right in.

“From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace.” —John 1:16.

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