The Demon in the Bottle, part II
Drugs and alcohol alter our brain chemistry in ways that mimic pleasure and peace. They are tempting escapes when the stresses, anxieties, and disappointments of life knock at our doors. But many young people get involved with these personality modifiers because of their ability to relieve our natural inhibitions. This liquid courage can make you more free to be funny or to talk to the opposite sex. Finally, a young man or woman can be the socially suave person they always wanted to be.
But, like almost any chemical, drugs and alcohol can be addictive, trapping their users in a lifetime of physical and emotional destruction. By God’s grace, I never became addicted to the chemicals I was putting in my body. But like millions of people around the world today, Meriwether Lewis was not so lucky.
On the expedition, he was the commander of dozens of men and completely in his element. He always knew what to do and his men trusted him without question. But back in civilization, life was different. He was a former Army captain, with no men now to answer his call. He had been given the role of governor of Louisiana Territory by President Jefferson, but he avoided even showing up in St. Louis for over a year. His political skills were lacking and he made more enemies than friends. He courted multiple Virginia and St. Louis ladies but scared each of them off in various ways. And his debts were piling up. His reputation began to crumble, and those invaluable journals had still not seen the light of day.
On a trip in 1809 from St. Louis to Washington to defend expenditures made in pursuit of opening the American west, Lewis had enough. He was drinking heavily, talking, even arguing, with himself, and hallucinating that his best friend William Clark was just behind him, coming to defend him against Washington’s accusations. In a night of drinking and passion while staying at a small cabin in Tennessee, he took his own life in a violent and pitiful manner, shooting himself multiple times and slicing his arms with a blade. Many hours later, in the cold dawn light, he finally breathed his last. (In all fairness, I should note that there is still some debate as to whether Lewis took his own life or was murdered. Most serious scholars contend that he indeed killed himself. I doubt we’ll ever know for sure!)
Meriwether Lewis was a man of incredible success by the standards of most people. Yet he was left empty, grasping for meaning and identity after concluding the expedition that had consumed him for decades as he planned, executed, and then celebrated the voyage. When combined with his lack of success finding a bride and his addictions, the recipe was for nothing short of disaster.
I once heard Christian author Jim Burns say that he had three reasons for not drinking: Christy, Heidi, and Rebecca (his three daughters). Today, I don’t use drugs (for obvious reasons) and I don’t drink either, partly because my employer frowns on it and partly because I saw the ugly potential in my earlier life. Freedom from alcohol and drugs doesn’t mean freedom from troubles. But when troubles come, as we know they do, I am sure I can handle them with a clear mind and a heart focused on the Lord.
Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 5:18
Questions for thought
What’s your view on alcohol and drugs? Do you have any reason to think they might have more sway over you than you’d like?
Have you witnessed alcohol or drug abuse among family or friends? What was the impact on their lives or the lives of others around them?
How might the use of alcohol, even in moderation, impact your judgment in times of crisis?
Heavenly Father, this life is challenging and we need every edge we can get. Keep our minds and hearts sharp. Teach us to avoid hiding our pain in unhealthy ways, and to turn to you to meet all of our needs. Your word promises us that you are sufficient – may we know that to be true and live our lives banking on that promise. In the name of Christ, amen.