You know ya need to embrace a Lenten sobriety when an impending dread of this 46-day period of denial is felt as early as August. Yep, if not being able to partake of my evening wine feels like the end of the world, then perhaps I really do need to abstain. Ah, addictions, and the nasty way they make you feel. Note that I say “you,” so as to not feel so alone in this. Now, do not feel that I am being flip or insensitive when referencing addiction—I fully grasp the severity of substance abuse, as well as food, sex, gambling, and electronic device addictions, and I sing the praises of those who successfully battle any demon. However, I’d prefer to keep this a bit lighter than rehab. I simply need to rein myself in, and Lent is my time of year to allow the tether of sobriety to take hold. Yet again, I must mention my fear and trepidation as I prepare my hiatus from the high life.
The first time I decided to partake of Lent was on a dare of sorts. A friend, a solid alcoholic, asked if I wanted to join him for a libation-free Lent. I thought if he could do it, so could I. A week into this period of grace, he succumbed to the allure of the bottle (and of the cigarettes he had also tried to give up). Well, “damn him,” I was stuck, as I had made a vow to myself to do this, and I would follow through. That Lent was the first of many such lents to come, and each year, there have been lessons learned.
My first lesson was not to substitute coffee for booze—whoa, that was a high-strung Lent. If you imbibe to keep the stress in tow, then a caffeinated surrogate might prove unsuitable. My second lesson was not to take melatonin, thinking that if it’s good for sleeping, then it might create a calming effect … NOT. When I returned to the herbalist and told her I felt like I was a sleepwalking zombie, she said she’d assumed I had trouble sleeping (didn’t), and that for a normal person (me, normal?), naturally producing normal levels of melatonin, it was like overdosing to supplement it. (Additional lesson here: Know what the heck you are taking.)
Many years of lessons followed. In addition to learning that you will not lose weight during alcohol-free Lent if you sub fruit juice for wine, I discovered that taking up chewing gum for that nervous energy can create dental bills surpassing any bar tab. Oh, and I learned that Lent is not 40 days (who the hell ever put that out there?). It is 46 long days and nights!
Some participants of Lent allow themselves a pass on Sundays (perhaps this is where that deceptive 40 days came from). Those giving up sweets, smoking, caffeine, cussing, and/or drinking for Lent might really wanna rethink those Sunday sabbaticals. There are just so many addictions, pleasures, and bad habits one can fit into 24 hours without serious strain. And then there is the Slippery Slope Syndrome. If you are refraining from something you truly hate to give up, then it just might be painful to return every Monday to abstinence. It’s like approaching Lent six times instead of just taking a one-time plunge. How many times do you want to taste that strip of bacon, only to bid it adieu over and over? Breaking up is hard to do.
Does one need to ascribe to Lent’s religious roots to partake in Lent? No way. This secular, atheistic/agnostic heathen doesn’t need the fear of God to get on board—the fear of my doctor’s stink-eye when we discuss my wine consumption is its own come-to-Jesus-moment. I firmly believe that if you like to drink, you had damn-well better be honest with yourself. Denial of any excessive indulgence does not make that delightful vice less harmful. I look at excessive consumption of libations like having a dance card that gets overbooked, and since I intend to stay on this dance floor for a long time, perhaps I should sit out a few rounds. If you intend to enjoy that fatty food, drink, weed, whatever, for some years to come, then you better use moderation. Savor the indulgences rather than squander them by spinning out of control.
I mentioned lessons learned earlier. I found that I really could cope without a drink (something I wasn’t so sure about 29 years ago when I took that Lenten dare). And I quickly discovered the bonus of money saved. I would put aside the moneys otherwise spent on libations and find a tidy little nest egg waiting for me on Easter Sunday—usually enough to buy all my Jazz Fest tickets! Friends giving up sweets or meat usually find themselves leaner and healthier in this short period of time. And tobacco smokers often find Lent a segue for eventually quitting altogether. There is a yin and yang here: You give up a little, and in the process, you gain a little, perhaps even more than you gave up.
So, I will stock up on my favorite herbal teas and start reminding myself that I will sleep better, drop a pound or two, feel more energized, save money, and gain a sense of control over my more hedonistic tendencies. And for a period of time, the recycling bin will not shame me. Cheers!