When I Got Drunk. Like, Recently. And I Mean Hammered.

I woke up unsure what time or day it was. Since I’d started grad school this wasn’t too big of a surprise, but my stomach didn’t normally feel like this. And my clothes weren’t normally strung all across the floor. And I never woke to an alarm clock that said 11:30.

So it suddenly struck me – I’d gotten hammered drunk the night before! My memory left me pretty early in the evening, at which point the Chicago Cubs were getting pounded by the Cleveland Indians in Game 4 of the World Series. I remembered we were at a bar. Did I dance? Yes, I think. What’s this bruise? No recollection of any fights or any falls.

I sat on the side of my bed trying to pull more clues, but most of it was lost in the couch cushions of my memory. So I jumped out of bed, startled. I hadn’t been drunk in 9 and a half years! (Okay, I must be honest, that streak probably ended in recent months, but not this kind of drunk).

And this feeling of knowing what I’d done bothered me, but not as much as the gut-grabbing lack of information. I had no recollection.

My History With Alcohol …

… goes like this: Growing up I was much less the guys in ‘Dazed and Confused’ and much more Dennis The Menace or The Beav. I never had a buzz from alcohol until my senior year of high school, and never got drunk until my sophomore year of college. Then I started drinking like a fish.

Getting personal here? For this blogger-reader relationship to work, especially since I write on matters of Christian faith and am a firm advocate for brutal honesty with self and others, I must go here.

My college experience taught me I have an addictive personality: When I find something I like, I do it. Again and again. Again and again and again. Until my body becomes numb to its effects and I must increase the intake. Until I become a slurred-speech fool. Until I wake the next morning and have only fuzzy, weird, jagged memories of an odd night. I think I had fun? It’s akin to loading up plate after plate at a Chinese buffet and not remembering it, not even getting to enjoy the taste, just feeling bloated the next day.

Worst of all, this isn’t just an innocent lil’ release. I used drunkenness as a tool. During that sophomore year of college I went to many house parties, and at one of them I sat next to my friend, confiding about a lady interest at the party.

“So why don’t you go talk to her?” my friend asked, to which I raised my red Solo cup.

“Just another one more of these first. Liquid courage, bro.”

I’d heard this line used in movies and finally got to try it. And it worked! After a couple cups of cheap keg beer I asked my crush for her number and she gave it to me. BUT, when I called she was busy and would call me back. She never did. And she never answered of my other calls.

This sort of stuff might serve as comic relief in a movie, but it didn’t end up funny for me. After turning to “liquid courage” for talking to women and all other social practices, two years later I’d fallen into a bad case of chronic depression and, well, a drinking problem. I was popping lithium and anti-depressants and washing them down with rum and Coke. And I was waking up several mornings a week, unclear of what happened the night before.

By God’s grace, I eventually found my faith and with it a peace that helped me put the bottle down. So, to quote Proverbs 26, why was I, like a dog returning to its vomit, returning to my foolery?

A Slippery Slope

As a follower of Jesus, there is one question I must constantly ask myself: Is what I’m doing adding to or taking away from God’s Kingdom? I feel this falls into that “love your neighbor as yourself” column.

To put it without the Jesus lens, are we making the world a better place? Are we putting ourselves or others first?

There are gray areas, and also not-so-gray. My recent path with alcohol was a slippery slope; I’d spent years limiting myself to one beer per day. This way I was able to enjoy the taste of beer without it affecting me, and it allowed me to socialize at parties without hiding behind a Fresca can. So it was a pretty good thing. However, in the past couple years half of me has looked the other way as the other half has ordered another. And another.

And my fear isn’t only that alcohol might cause me to do stupid things, but it’s also a matter of what I might not do. My friends and I were meeting for beers at the end of this summer at a downtown spot with a sidewalk patio. We weren’t drunk, but I was slipping into a buzz with eager anticipation as we were watching playoff baseball on a nearby TV. That’s when a homeless man approached to tell us he needed money for a bus ticket, explaining his hard luck situation.

Yes, it’s likely he was just feeding us lines, but this was a man who needed something (Jesus?), and all I could think of as he stood there was keep moving. We have beer to drink and baseball to watch.

My allegiance to do the right thing had slipped away and my heart was cold. Maybe I only shot daggers with my eyes at the homeless man, but even our rotten attitudes have ripple effects the size of tidal waves.

And I didn’t heed the signals. This interaction told me my spiritual walk was misaligned, but I kept going.

But I Get Up Again

In my walk with Christ I must also every day identify sin in my life. Of course the bible lays out what are sins, but even if that isn’t clear I recognize that it is separation from God (Isaiah 59:2). So if something is keeping me from God, I must remove it from my life.

So when I was under the influence of alcohol I absolutely wasn’t interested in furthering the gospel or bettering society, and that morning after I felt further from God than I had in years. And I felt clammy. And sick. And not only was I failing to position myself to help homeless people, I was overlooking all the needs around me, so I could seek my own buzz and the “fruits” that came with it.

All of this awakened me to the misalignment of my spiritual walk and I’ve taken steps to recalibrate it. Because as I sat on my bed that morning there was a battle going on inside me, akin to when in John 8 Jesus chased away a group of Pharisees condemning a woman for adultery. He then told the woman he did not condemn her, and saying, “go and sin no more.”






  • bobbi gaukel

    Thanks for being willing to be vulnerable with this topic, Matt. Although drinking to excess has rarely been a part of my story, there WAS a time when I felt the Lord was asking me to examine how my rather nonchalant attitude toward alcohol MIGHT be a stumbling block to those who have a tendency to overindulge. Forgive me if I’ve ever been insensitive to you in one of those situations. A good reminder that we all have different walks, and that God is infinitely interested in straightening our paths for our good and the good of those around us. Be blessed, friend!

    • http://www.matthewrennels.com Matthew Rennels

      Sure thing, Bobbi! Not to worry, you certainly didn’t cause any problems, in fact, I can hardly recall you taking a sip around me! And besides, it was something inside of me that I was pursuing more than anything, so I’d find that perspective no matter how hard it might be. And I agree, God is constantly working on me, so I don’t consider this as much of backsliding as much as revealing something that was always there and always needed attention, so here we go! God bless you, too, Bobbi.