Changing Views on Drinking

One of the defining aspects of Latter-day Saints, is their abstinence from alcohol, tobacco, coffee, and all kinds of illegal drugs. In this regard, I continue to be the poster-boy for Mormonism. I haven’t had a single alcoholic drink, cigarette, cup of coffee, or illegal drug in my entire life. Only recently, after having distanced myself from the Church, have I started to truly consider my reasons for maintaining this abstinence. For this blog post, I’ll be focusing on alcohol portion of the Word of Wisdom.

Alcoholic drinks were never in the house while I grew up. My world was alcohol-free, and I remember being told on numerous occasions that it was evil and dangerous to drink. My parents would even make the odd derogatory comment whenever we’d see someone drinking on TV. This type of teaching method didn’t work in the way I believe my parents intended, in that I made the correlation that bad people drink, opposed to the drinking itself being what was bad. I had always been warned that I should not be friends with anyone who drinks, and that if I found myself in a situation where alcohol was present, I should leave. Again, strengthening the idea that it’s the people who were bad for drinking, rather than the drink. Only bad people drank alcohol, or so it seemed.

This idea was compounded by the younger of my two older brothers, who was the iconic rebellious middle-child, who began to smoke, drink and do drugs by the age of 14 (I was about 10). My parents made every attempt to use him as an example of what not to do, but instead of being fearful of the substances and activities my brother was doing, I became fearful of my brother. Shortly after my 13th birthday, my brother completed suicide (he was 17). My mother ramped up her discouragement all of the ‘bad’ activities he did because she now saw these as being strong contributing factors in his death. This correlation that my mom presented (that heavy metal music, smoking, drinking, sex, and drugs, is what caused his death) cemented my fears.

Mormons will claim that the Church promotes the philosophy “hate the sin, not the sinner” however, the way in which a ‘sin’ (such as drinking) has been connected to one’s worthiness and eternal salvation, is really promoting a judgmental mindset among its membership, since Mormons tend to keep a mental score of how mild their sins are compared to others. This judgmental attitude was, unfortunately, instilled in me too.

I had never been exposed to people drinking until after high school (I had never actually seen my brother drink), but even then, I was usually with my LDS friends who would be there as my backup if needed. At this point, I was quietly judgmental of all those who drank, and I would become incredibly uncomfortable if someone drank in front of me. My mind would drift from the conversation as I stared at their beer/wine/etc. and I’d start thinking of ways to politely excuse myself. Later, a couple of my non-LDS (and even a some LDS) friends began to drink, and I not only feared the activity, but began to judge my friends as going down a path of which I didn’t want to be a part.

Because everyone in my world knew I was Mormon, the first time I was even offered a drink was when I started to date my non-LDS girlfriend after high school, and her father asked if I wanted a beer. I couldn’t believe how uncomfortable I was with the idea that he not only drank himself, but that he was okay with me having a beer in his house! This situation was incredibly uncomfortable for me, and I even started to second-guess my decision to be there. Thankfully, this discomfort wasn’t enough to pull me away from the woman who later became my wife.

During the years that I was an inactive member of the Church, and struggling with my own beliefs, I never once attempted to ‘explore’ alcohol. I was known as the guy who didn’t drink, and it became part of my identity. I began, as I always do, to use such unique identifiers as a way of getting attention and being recognized – better to be known for being a downer than to not be known at all. My abstinence from alcohol made for many awkward moments when being invited out for drinks with co-workers. I always turned them down since even the idea of going to a bar or pub, where alcohol was present, frightened me. Eventually, I realized that such an irrational fear was costing me valuable relationships, not only in the business world, but personally as well. I came to the realization that I didn’t need to drink in order to hang out with drinkers.

Over the years, I’ve slowly become more comfortable being around those who drink, and I’ve stopped avoiding these situations. As with all things (whether it be a particular religion, culture, or activity), the more one learns about and experiences something, the less one fears it. However, bars and pubs remain a place of discomfort for me, because I tend to stand out like a sore thumb when I order a Coke or Pepsi, and I’m frequently asked why I don’t drink. To this, I’ve never had a clear answer. I had gone through periods where I believed I didn’t drink because I don’t like the idea of losing control (which remains true to some extent), while other times I’d place my reasoning on my brother.

Today, thanks in part to my ‘coming out’ of the ex-Mormon closet, I feel as though I’ve finally shed the judgmental attitude toward those who drink. In fact, I’ve recently started hanging out with a group of local Ex-Mormons who all drink, and I was surprised at how comfortable I was around them (it helps when everyone’s like-minded too!). This realization, that I had finally let go of a judgmental attitude of which I wasn’t consciously aware, has been one of the most freeing experiences of my life so far. I didn’t realize how trapped I was by my own judgement of others. I had an unnecessary & unhealthy fear of people which was harbored in my Mormon upbringing. I’ve even been able to look back on my brother’s short life with a new perspective: one of better understanding and compassion, rather than fear and confusion. No matter how one slices it, if you’re taught that something is a ‘sin’ and those who do it are condemned, you will inevitably judge the person, despite any contradictory teaching like that of “hate the sin, not the sinner.”

I’m not entirely sure why I still haven’t even had a single drink, as it’s not like I haven’t had ample opportunity. It’s almost as if I’ve got this idea in my head that my first drink is like losing my virginity (which, oddly enough, wasn’t too difficult of a decision to make) and will cause some kind of irreversible harm. I don’t think I’ll ever make drinking alcohol a regular thing in my life, as I seem to be doing just fine without it. However, I don’t want to feel as though I have to continually go out of my way to avoid drinking, nor do I want to limit my life’s experiences based on unfounded and unreasoned thinking.

Whether I decide to drink in the future or not, I have learned that it’s rather trivial in the grand scheme of things and doesn’t have the dire moral and eternal consequences I was raised to believe. (This isn’t to say there aren’t serious issues with alcoholism or drunk driving, just that drinking, if done responsibly, is not the end-all be-all of life.) I feel as though I can finally set aside my fear of the unknown, let go of my judgments of others, and start to explore for myself.

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Posted on 2011-05-22, in Culture, Mormonism and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

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  3. New Identity

    Whoa. With some of the details changed this was like reading the same struggle I’ve been going through. I’ve wanted to try drinking, but I attribute my father’s absence and eventual death to drinking. This combined with being raised Christian and then converting to LDS, I can’t bring myself to do it. Up until about a year ago, I’ve judged people (incorrectly and unfairly) for drinking, passing up opportunities to meet new people or network with co-workers, or even enjoy being at a function where alcohol was present. I eventually realized that EVERY non-church person I know drinks, and they are all kind, intelligent, and amazing people. Just like the few extreme LDS people that give the church a bad name by example, the few people who drink irresponsibly give drinkers a bad name by example. I’ve come to grips with my decision to leave the church, but it becomes such a part of your identity that it can be torturous trying to sort out what you truly believe.

    • The judgemental attitude toward drinking that is instilled in every Mormon is quite amazing. Since writing this post I’ve begun having the occasional drink, experimenting with the different beers, liquors, and wines. It’s definitely an acquired taste, and I’m still rather cautious about having more than one drink in an evening, but I’ve discovered that social drinking and flavour exploration can be quite enjoyable.

      I’m sorry to hear that you have had to experience the same struggles in overcoming the stigma of drinking. I recommend taking it slowly, and drink only when in the company of trusted friends (or fellow Ex-Mormons, as they are a great group of exploritory people who respect that not everyone will jump on the drinking bandwagon). The stigma does wear off.

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