Wednesday, January 11, 2012

To the Souls of All Those Who Drink: That They May Have This Spirit to Be With Them

Last weekend my husband and I took a very big step in our journey away from Mormonism: we tried alcohol for the first time. From a purely academic perspective, I had stopped believing in the Word of Wisdom a long time ago (especially the version of the Word of Wisdom as interpreted by the contemporary church). But doubting the Word of Wisdom on an intellectual level is fairly different from experiencing it first-hand. I tried tea for the first time on my anniversary trip to Las Vegas last August. (I know, I know... It's pretty lame to go all the way to Las Vegas just to try an iced tea.) And I had tried coffee for the first time during Conference Weekend last October. Neither tea nor coffee had felt like that big of a deal. But alcohol? That was taking it to a new level.

So, last weekend we gave it a shot (pun intended). Read on if you want to see how the whole experience turned out and what I learned as a result.

The Context
By now, my husband Chris and I have been in a few different social situations where people were drinking and where we could have joined in if we had wanted to. There was a dinner party back in July with Chris's coworkers and I felt acutely awkward being the only couple who weren't drinking. Ever since then, I had thought a lot about if, when, and how I would try alcohol for the first time.

I hate to admit it, but fear was the driving motivation behind choosing to abstain from alcohol for so long. It's a very scary thing to try alcohol for the first time when you've been programmed your whole life to view alcohol as something evil and sinful---a slippery slope into Satan's open arms.

Last week I was was chatting online with my friend Brad (a long time ex-Mormon) about alcohol. I mentioned that for most never-Mormons, your first alcoholic drink is probably fairly unremarkable. On one level, it's a rite of passage. But on another level, it's also kind of mundane and ordinary---the sort of thing everyone does, so it's ultimately not that that big of a deal.

It's anything but ordinary for a Mormon. For a Mormon, it is the psychological equivalent of losing your virginity---with nearly all of the same psychosocial ramifications (only to the nth degree). When I mentioned this, Brad fully agreed. He said that having his first drink felt much scarier than having sex for the first time: it was taking your status outside of the church to a whole new level.

My conversation with Brad eventually drifted over to how Chris and I were probably going to try alcohol soon at a future dinner party this month. Brad started giving me some advice about what to try first and what things to avoid, how to drink appropriately, etc. But the more he was talking about the finer details of alcohol, the more I started to feel overwhelmed by the entire prospect.

Since it became apparent that it was going to be a psychologically difficult thing to do, I began to realize that I wanted my first experience with alcohol to be under ideal conditions. For me, that meant:
  • It needed to be in a social or psuedo-social situation. Alcohol's main function is to be a social lubricant, so it wouldn't make sense to try it in total social isolation.
  • But it needed to be a safe social situation. I didn't know how I would respond to alcohol in my system. Would I be friendly and sociable under the influence of alcohol? Or would I be really embarrassing or annoying? I needed someone who wouldn't judge me either way.
  • At the same time, I felt I needed to be introduced to alcohol by someone who came from Mormonism---someone who would understand if I wanted to take it slow because they knew what a big step it was emotionally. I needed someone who wouldn't get mad if I decided to chicken out. And someone who wouldn't get upset if I took a sip of $60 wine and said, "That's disgusting!"
  • Lastly, I needed someone who could humor my husband's need for scientific experimentation. I definitely wouldn't be doing any drinking unless my husband Chris was with me, but he had always insisted he wanted his first experiment with alcohol to be under controlled conditions in which he could closely monitor the effects it had on him. In other words: he needed it to appeal to his intellectual side (which is where he feels most comfortable and safe).
As I thought more about it, I came to the conclusion that I needed my friend Brad to help introduce me and my husband into the world of alcohol. He was the perfect one to do it: he and I had been friends for more than a decade, he was an ex-Mormon and had supported me during my entire faith crisis, he was a connoissuer of fine wines, and he was spontaneous enough to be willing to fly over to Utah to share my first drink with me and my husband. When I mentioned it to him, he was totally excited about it and booked the next weekend flight out from California.

I felt enthusiastic about the decision at the time, but that enthusiasm quickly started to wane and turn into anxiety in the 48 hours leading up to our little alcohol party. Visions of disapproving parents danced through my head. ("You'll become an alcoholic after just one drink! It's in your genes!") I started seeing the signs that I was getting stressed: my muscles tensed up, I started getting migraines, and I began yelling at my kids more frequently. I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to go through with it.

The next afternoon (Saturday), Brad showed up on my doorstep with more alcohol than I had ever seen in my life: two cardboard boxes and 6 grocery bags worth of beers, wines, and liqueurs. The alcohol he brought filled up my entire kitchen counter. There wasn't room in the fridge for much else after putting away all the alcohol that needed to be chilled. I was awestruck by how much cold, hard cash Brad had invested in my first experience with alcohol. (THANK YOU, BRAD! That truly was a beau geste.) And while it was thrilling to see all that alcohol, it was emotionally overwhelming at the same time. (Incidentally, Brad didn't intend for us to drink all of it: just to experiment with the full range of alcohol to see what we liked. See: I told you he understood my husband's scientific mind.) Eventually, I couldn't put it off any longer, and it was time to begin...

What We Tried and What We Liked/Hated
We started drinking around 7:00 after our kids went to bed. Chris had made an elaborate Japanese dish called Nabe that is eaten over the course of an hour. We ate dinner and sampled a few different wines from the gamut of white to red, light to strong. I wrote down that we tried:
  • Frog's Leap - a classic Chardonnay (white wine)
  • A to Z - an unsoaked Chardonnay from Oregon (white)
  • Ridge - a Sonoma County (Geyserville) Zinfadel (white)
  • Riesling
  • Caymus - an expensive Cabernet Sauvignon (a strong red wine; this was Brad's drink of choice for the rest of the night)
Chris hated all of them. The smell and taste of the alcohol was just too strong for him. For me, the taste was just fine. That's probably because I've always had a very open palette. (I absolutely loved sushi the first time I tried it, for example.) For Chris, some of the wines caused an intense burning sensation going down. I didn't really experience that. I had a light burning sensation, but it was much lighter than the burning sensation I get from drinking something like Coke (which I drink on a fairly regular basis). The only drawback was that since the wines were young, they had a really strong finish. This made it so that the wine tasted stronger (and therefore not quite as enjoyable) with each sip for me.

Later in the evening (like around 9:00 and going as late as 1:00), we moved on to hard liquors. We tried:
  • Amaretto Sour (Amaretto with Sweet and Sour mix; had a sweet taste)
  • Buttery Nipple shots (Buttershots liqueur with Irish cream; had a butterscotch taste)
  • Red-Headed Sluts (cranberry juice and Jagermeister; a drink that tasted like black licorice)
  • Long Island Iced Tea (a variety of alcohols in this one such as tequila and gin; imitates the taste of tea)
  • Caribou Lou (pineapple juice, coconut rum and 151 proof alcohol; had a tropical taste)
  • Lime Ricki (we did it with grape-infused vodka, lime juice, etc.; had a sweet taste)
As for me, the Amaretto Sour was my favorite drink of the night, but I appreciated the taste of all of them (for the most part). The Long Island Iced Tea was a little too much for me because the gin was too strong. Since I have a sweet tooth, I probably would have liked the Lime Ricki a lot better if we had used regular Sprite instead of Sprite Zero.

Chris ended up having a sensitivity to the taste of alcohol and didn't enjoy any of the drinks. He preferred shots because they were over quickly. The Caribou Lou was his favorite drink of the night because, although the 151 was (obviously) a very high proof, it wasn't as noticeable since the alcohol ratio was fairly low compared to the pineapple juice.

We never got around to trying any of the beers Brad brought, so I'll have to report on those later when we get around to opening them.

How We Acted While Under the Influence
Brad talked about the different levels of intoxication. Here's how he defined it:
  1. Sober: Little to no alcohol in your system
  2. Buzzed: You can start to feel the effects (such as a slight buzz), but they will be fairly light
  3. Well-lubricated: You can't concentrate as well and the effects become stronger
  4. Drunk: You'll have trouble with coordination and the effects will be fairly strong
  5. Blitzed: Your brain won't be in control of your body very much (for example, you'll want to walk one direction and go the other)
Chris and I floated between level 2-3 for most of the night. Brad broke some of his personal rules and floated between 3-4 for most of the night.

It had surprised me how easily and how quickly you could increase your level of intoxication---and also how subtle the differences were from one level to the next. In that moment, it made a lot more sense why alcohol could potentially be abused if you were not trying to deliberately remain in control of your rate of consumption. That being said, I didn't think it was that difficult for me to drink smart and responsibly. I think I will be able to maintain control of my alcohol consumption as long as I make the decision beforehand how far I will and won't go in general.

Going into the evening, I was very nervous about what kind of drunk I'd be. I was really hoping that I would be a happy drunk as opposed to being a quiet drunk, an angry drunk or a sad drunk. Although I'm sure that I might act differently in a different social context, I was pleased to discover that both Chris and I were happy, sociable drunks. I became a lot chattier, I laughed at jokes more easily, and I just generally became more relaxed and laid back. That was fairly pleasant.

After dinner, we played karaoke until 2am. I have a lot of fun playing karaoke when I'm sober, but I would say that alcohol probably made it 10-20% more enjoyable. (The highlight of the night was the hilarious trio while singing Lionel Ritchie's "All Night Long.") I noticed that I paid significantly less attention to the scores I was getting on karaoke (I'm normally very competitive), but I was still able to sing pretty well. Strangely enough, I had a much easier time sustaining the really long notes without running out of breath (or even getting remotely close to running out of breath). That probably means I was singing with my diaphragm a lot more (which makes sense since it's natural to sing with your diaphragm but somehow we get unconsciously socially programmed out of doing it). That was pretty awesome.

One thing that surprised me was that even though I could feel the effects of alcohol on my body, I didn't feel like I wasn't me. I felt mostly normal and able to concentrate (for the most part). My whole life I had thought that being drunk was like this:

Since I had never aspired to be Homer Simpson, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it wasn't really like that. At the same time, I found that what Brad had said was right: it was much easier to see how alcohol was changing the people around me than it was to see it in myself. I could see how that aspect of feeling mostly normal while intoxicated (when you really weren't) could also lead to potential alcohol abuse or to poor decision-making even though you feel as though you're fully in control. But again, I think if you exercise self-discipline and try to remain self-aware, it wouldn't be that difficult to keep your behavior in check. Better yet: ask your friends to help you remain self-aware.

My social inhibitions were definitely reduced while drinking. Chris looked way more attractive to me---and something that surprised me was that I also perceived myself as being more attractive when I looked in the mirror (during my many trips to the bathroom during the night). Maybe it was that slight flush in my cheeks---I don't know. I also became a lot more open to the idea of having sex and I consequently became more openly affectionate with Chris, which is probably something I wouldn't normally do in the presence of friends while sober (or at least not to that degree). I think for that reason, it's important to make decisions beforehand about what kinds of behaviors you will or will not do while you're intoxicated. It would be slightly harder to make good decisions in the heat of the moment. (But only slightly harder.)

Reactions from the Following Day
Even though we drank a fairly substantial amount, I didn't have a hangover the next morning. That's because, per Brad's advice, we kept ourselves well-hydrated with lots of water (hence the many trips I had to make to the bathroom). We also spread out our drinks over a long period of time which gave our body enough time to metabolize it at a reasonable rate. So, physically there were no problems.

I wasn't really in the best mood the following day, but I'm not certain whether that was a direct result of the alcohol or because I was running on a meager 4 hours of sleep. (The kids got up at 6:30am, the little angels!) Also, in the morning I didn't feel like I was fully able to concentrate yet, but I was well enough to be functional.

The only really negative aspect of it all was that I hadn't been able to find a substitute teacher for my Primary class. I was in a pretty sour mood just by virtue of having to be at church (which generally bugs me anyway) and I didn't have much patience with the kids. It didn't help that I felt pretty hypocritical sitting in church when I had been drinking the night before. Now, when I use the word hypocritical, I'm not using that term to imply that I was experiencing guilt or regret---I didn't feel any of that. It's more like I just felt really lame that I was still stuck in church performing Mormonism and keeping up appearances. I wanted to stop living a double life, to just be out and be done with it. (For the record, we've resolved to leave officially some time between April and July, depending on the circumstances.)

But more importantly, I felt like I had reached a new plateau in my journey out of Mormonism the night before. I felt like I was genuinely not a Mormon any more. It was like an anti-baptism, in some ways. (Heh, heh... Baptism by spirits.) In a certain sense, drinking alcohol for the first time seemed like a symbolic action on par with a religious ritual---entering into a different way of life with different expectations for myself.

I also felt very empowered. I felt like I could exercise constraint and good judgment despite what my mother believes. (Her first accusation upon discovering I wasn't wearing my garments was that I must have started drinking and was on the verge of becoming an alcoholic.) I felt that I no longer had to be motivated to avoid alcohol because of fear or shame, but that I could control my alcohol consumption through self-knowledge and experience. It made me feel a little bit more mature.

The fear of becoming an alcoholic is still in the back of my mind, but it's not a very serious threat to me any more. The only reason it's on my radar at all is because I pretty much enjoyed the taste of alcohol and liked the effect that it had on me socially. But I think that I have the self-discipline to keep from drinking excessively. One reason I think I'll be okay is because I was older than 25 before I started drinking and so my brain is fully mature and more averse to risk-taking than a teenager's brain is. Another reason is that Chris honestly doesn't have a desire to do very much drinking since he strongly disliked the taste of alcohol. So, I won't have very much pressure from him to drink---and he'll be a pretty good watchdog. Mostly I just think the occasional alcoholic drink will help me loosen me up at large parties when I'm in the company of new people---since I tend to be fairly slow to warm up in new social situations. That seems pretty reasonable to me.

The biggest surprise for me was that alcohol is really no big deal. It does help life seem a little bit nicer when you're intoxicated, but it's not like it's a life-changing, mind-altering level of pleasure. It was just nice. And it's not all that horrible and evil as I had been led to believe most of my life. If anything, the effects of alcohol were underwhelming. This weekend I saw first-hand that the church fetishizes alcohol, over-exaggerating its negative effects and making it more important than it needs to be. (A problematic mindset that can actually make you more prone to alcoholism, in my opinion.)

All in all, my first experience with alcohol was a positive one. To be honest, it's how I would want my kids to be introduced to alcohol when they're older, if I could choose the perfect world for them. Thanks again, Brad, for a great weekend!

Now the real question is: where will we hide all the leftover alcohol when my mother-in-law comes to visit in two weeks?


  1. This is awesome. I've only been able to bring myself to drink a mini-strawberry margarita, and it tasted like strawberry flavored paint thinner. I haven't tried anything else since. I always thought because the Church put so much emphasis on not drinking alcohol that it was something I would actually enjoy - a lot. From what I've been told, it's a very acquired taste. I'll have to give it another shot - this time with Mike's Hard Lemonade or something to ease me into it...

  2. Leave it in a cupboard and own it! Nothing to be ashamed of. Good post. I left the church and started drinking a few years ago. You learned as much in one night as it took me 6 months to learn. Funny how things we should have learned when we were 21 (or maybe 18) we learn much much later in life. I was really self conscious about how to walk into a Starbucks and order a coffee for the first time. I had to look it up on line - how to order coffee. Same for ordering drinks at a pub. But it's a fun journey as long as you can take the steep learning curve and the embarrassing moments when you are a little older than most.

    1. Congrats!! Staying hydrated is very good advice -- it can make a big difference in whether or not you end up with a headache.

  3. Great read! I agree with Josh just own it. My husband and I stopped attending church about 2 years ago. I just didn't feel the need to attend weekly meetings where I was made to feel like I wasn't living my life perfectly according to all the teachings. It was the best thing I ever did for my emotional well being. It was about a year later when I started drinking coffee. My husband didn't start drinking coffee until a few months after I started. We talked about drinking alchol but like you we felt that was a bit overwhelming. It was valentines day 2011 that we tried our fist drink when we went to dinner. We ordered a kamikaze in a shot. (equal parts vodka, sweetened lime juice and triple sec). We liked it. For months we only drank when we went to dinner on dates. We didn't even keep alcohol in our house. Our kids didn't know we drank. One of my coworkers teased me about how expensive it is to buy drinks at a bar and restaurant. It was just this April that we finally decided that it's crazy to hide it. We told the kids (17, 14 and 11 year old) and if we want to have a drink with dinner (usually a glass of wine) we do. Alcohol isn't the terrible evil thing the church makes it out to be. If you drink in moderation you will be just fine and you will have some fun along the way. Good for you!

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  5. So true! I loved the analogy of drinking for the first time being somewhat like losing your virginity. I left Mormonism in college and had a wonderful friend who took me under his wing and helped introduce me to various kinds of alcohol safely. He wasn't an ex-mo, but he was understanding and protective.

    Have you tried the beer yet?? I didn't like it at first, but now that I've developed the taste, it's my favorite alcoholic drink by far. It's also (oddly) one of the only things I had strong cravings for when I was pregnant. That and bacon. Weird. It's not the alcohol in it, although I enjoy the social lubrication of a drink or two, it's the amazing flavors and bitterness in beer. Yum. You might not enjoy it if you prefer sweeter drinks, though.

  6. Alcohol is a cool and popular thing among many people, including youth, but is it necessary to consume it frequently? If you believe it doesn't influence your health and body while drinking at all, I'm scared you're totally ignorant. Follow to find out the truth url