Some people have a tendency to avoid the opportunity to enjoy themselves. With quite irrational reasoning, they are convinced that they don’t really deserve it, want it, or need it, they are afraid the let go and share themselves with others, or they are certain that something bad will happen. I am one of those people. My upbringing influences this tendency to deprive myself of good times. But in the rare chance that I let go, the latter reasoning runs pretty strong, especially if enjoying myself involves alcohol.
Living in small town, there really isn’t a whole lot to do when it comes to date nights. My husband has tried to encourage me more than once to go out to the local establishment for dinner and a drink. But the moment I hit the door, my sensory alarms go off—fried food, cheap beer, stale smoke, dim lighting, classic rock—the entire feeling of a bar tells me that this is NOT a place that I want to be. It tells me that this feels like a place that something “bad” could easily happen. I have a very low tolerance for drama. I’m one to cut right through bullshit and tell everyone involved how they are wrong. I’ve been there too many times. So I opt to stay home, where I can cook up just about anything that we can’t get in town and enjoy drinks in a comfortable space. But still, young parents need date nights! What’s a girl to do?
I have been slowly tuning into the local community activities and events. I have been hearing an increasing rumble about wine tastings that are going on every two months or so. I figured that would be a different atmosphere, and while I regrettably know very little about wine (a shameful confession of a self-proclaimed foodie) I might just find some folks to fit in with. I have an allied relationship growing with the one who oversees the wine club and tasting events. So, I was sure it wouldn’t seem completely foreign and I had a pretty good sense that at least one person likes me enough to be glad I had come.
We arrived fairly early, which is completely out of character for me… but seeing as our babysitter was there, the kids were ready for us to go, and we only had to walk 2 ½ blocks, being early only seemed logical. The atmosphere was so elegant, with tables set up in bistro fashion. But, the feeling was casual. And even though I missed the hidden step in the seating area TWICE, I felt comfortable with being me and meeting other people. This event was a special one in the works, in that only one wine was featured, a common table wine from Spain. But, the wine was used to make three very different drinks. Kalimotxo, Mulled Wine, and Sangria.
After sampling all three, we were entitled to a full glass of one of the featured wines or a selection from the bar. Since this experience is about trying new things, I opted for a selection from the bar and had Vinho Verde. We returned to our seats (and yes, that is when I stumbled down the hidden step for the second time!) and chatted for a while. Then my husband left to get another selection from the bar and GASP! I was alone. I gathered up some courage and went over to a crowded table of ladies who were busy chatting and giggling to introduce myself.
I felt like the awkward high school girl approaching the popular table. I suddenly became aware of my lack of self-esteem. Little did that inner critic, full of cynicism and lies, know it was about to get a jolt of a lifetime.
In some of my previous posts, I have eluded to the dysfunctional families in which I grew up. I use the plural form of family because the two sides were so extremely different from each other, that it is no wonder I often felt bipolar. But as I learn more and more, I see that fundamentalism and alcoholism are not that different from each other.
The denomination of Bible Believers Baptist that predominately influenced my understanding of spirituality had some very distinct “rules” when in came to women, family, and obedience. The underlying theme of self-sacrifice was apparent in the dressed down “modesty”, the simplicity of wool and denim fashion, and the common mannerisms that made me feel like I was going to burn in hell for using the slightest element of slang. Dancing was a path to temptation and drinking is not even spoken of. I learned that as humans we are worth nothing without the light of Jesus to guide us. I learned that any other version of spiritual understanding that did not align with the gospel of God’s word was as good as evil. I learned that it was my responsibility to help those who were lost on the path of life become saved. That is an overwhelming amount of responsibility for a child to bear. Especially, when deep down I wasn’t comfortable with living the way of life that was set before me. I could not accept the rhetoric that said enjoying oneself led to the temptations of Lucifer, that being submissive to men is the best place for women, and that disregard to the worldly things will bring eternal happiness in the glory of heaven. Amid the promises, something was missing. Something very important was missing.
And the same thing was missing on the other side of the spectrum.
In alcoholic systems the rules were more complicated, they were not written. In the mind of a child, they felt something like this—life is miserable, drinking makes it bearable. But don’t drink too much and don’t get angry, because that is when things get broken and people get hurt. And don’t ever tell anyone else if that happens, because we don’t talk about our mistakes. Don’t call the police, because someone will get taken away. Don’t state the obvious. Don’t try to ask for anything to change. Never ever try to argue with someone who is drunk. I could have easily fallen into that trap as well: as humans we are not worth the possibilities of life, being destructive is the only way to maintain control, and silence is the only way to ensure that no one gets hurt.
Now that you know the rules, lets go back to the wine tasting event, shall we? I was approaching the table of ladies, feeling nervous, scared, and certain that something was about to go wrong. Instantly, I connected to a woman who has lived here in town just a little less than myself. We shared a little about ourselves, talked about the wines we liked (or maybe didn’t like so much), we joked about how bad we were at organizing and maintaining a routine. I teased my husband—“If I ever have her over for afternoon tea, I’ll be in trouble… the house will never get clean!” She chimes in, “Yes, but we would have a wonderful time! And that is what is most important to me is the relationships and the connections.”
That was what was missing in the dichotomies of my early existence, the value of relationships! That’s why I studied anthropology and ecology! That’s why I fell in love with my husband! That is what I wrote my thesis about! That is what kept me going when I was burning out! THE VALUE OF RELATIONSHIPS! Even more, the value of myself in relationships! I still want to scream it to the world and drown that cowering self-esteem forever.
The rules have changed. The rules never applied. I didn’t believe in them, but I was still grossly in tuned to them. What shattered all this in the moment was not just what this woman said, but who she was. She had come to our town to serve as the pastor at a church, she had worked as a missionary in Japan, she was drinking wine, she valued relationships, and she was beautiful and vibrant. She did not preach to us. She appreciated us for who we were. I wanted to hug her at that point. (And maybe would have if I had one more glass of wine.) She gave me another version of reality that I didn’t fully realize was possible. She gave me permission to enjoy myself and my own spirituality, in a way that worked for me.
We walked home, unchilled by the subzero temperatures, enlivened by the world around me, and holding on to the words that kept me afloat as I bounced between dysfunctional extremes. Grandpa Pepper would tell me, almost every time I saw him, “You are so special to me, Rachel. God made you special because he loves you.” I didn’t understand how that would all work out when I couldn’t foresee myself going down the paths ahead of me, but it gave me a secret weapon against that inner critic of mine, some bit of truth that I could believe in. And even now, as I am getting more and more comfortable with being myself and sharing that true self with the world, Grandpa’s words remain in my heart. I am worth something. I am something worth sharing.