Tuesday, September 24, 2013

FIGHTING THE DEMON



A couple of days ago I shocked my friends on both continents by making an announcement that I decided to quit drinking alcohol – not for a month or two, not for a year, but for the rest of my life.

As expected, the news was accepted with no questions asked in the United States, but caused quite a stir in Czech Republic.

You see, I was born and raised in Czech Republic and that’s what we do there: We drink. When the World Health Organization did a world-wide study on alcohol consumption a little while ago, it turned out that Czech Republic won the second place, right after the former Soviet Republic of Moldova (no comment). You are welcome to read an interesting article about it here.
 
Not that I need WHO studies to know that Czech people drink like fish. The official age limit in CR is 18, but I have yet to see an establishment that would actually card people. When I was a teenager, it was common to start going to pubs and clubs right after one graduated from elementary school, i.e. around 15). I have fond memories of getting drunk for the first time in a dance club with my friends – peach schnapps was our drink of choice. Ever since then, getting drunk on weekends and holidays became a norm. Getting hammered and doing something outrageous under the influence wasn’t considered embarrassing; in fact, the crazier you got, the more proud of you your friends were.

When I got to college, I was already used to heavy drinking. I had a higher tolerance than most of my girlfriends and so I felt often obligated to show off and do 8 – 10 shots of rum in a row to prove to myself and to the world that I could. Eventually I got to the point when I blacked out every single night for a whole week, and yet not one person in my circle of friends saw it as a red flag! Because you know, it was what we did.

Eventually I had to be the one to realize that things have been getting out of hand. I declared a year of sobriety which I successfully completed, despite of most of my friends and some of my family members sabotaging me in every way possible (yeah, asshole, like I’m stupid enough not to smell the rum you secretly poured into my Coke when I went to bathroom!). It was back in that time when I discovered that thanks to my stubbornness I was pretty much immune against peer pressure, which in this particular case might have saved my life.

And that’s how it’s been ever since. I like to drink, but I also have a strong sense of preservation, so I move in circles: Every time when I feel that things are getting out of control (a vivid example to illustrate my point: When you sleep over at a friend’s place and are so trashed that you can’t find the door to go to bathroom, so you pee into his laundry basket. Do I really need to say more?!), I impose a “detox” period on myself. After the detox, I do fine for a while; i.e. am able to have a glass of wine with my dinner or a few drinks with my friends without doing or saying anything too ridiculous. But sooner or later, and I never see when it’s coming because I have absolutely no control over it, it happens again. I personally believe that I must have been assigned several guardian angels instead of one, because it’s the only explanation how I managed to survive without suffering any serious harm until now.

When I woke up on Saturday, September 19th fully clothed in my bed, with my skirt upside-down, with my purse still dangling from my wrist, with absolutely no memories of past night, and so sick that I could barely make it to bathroom, it finally dawned on me: I DIDN’T HAVE TO DO THIS ANYMORE! Just because I come from a culture where most people take it as a personal insult when you don’t want to do a shot or share a beer with them doesn’t mean that I have to submit to it too!

 I had the whole weekend to think about stuff  because with one of the worst hangovers of my life I could hardly do anything else than lie curled up in bed. It’s amazing how many things you discover when you finally give yourself enough time to self-reflect! I was forced to conclude that for past couple of years alcohol did not bring ANYTHING positive into my life. It made me say and do things that I wouldn’t have said and done sober. It made me look like an idiot in the front of a guy that I really liked. It made me physically ill – my body didn’t miss one single opportunity to let me know that it did NOT want any alcohol in the system anymore (my kidneys ached and my insomnia worsened after as little as one glass of wine). So what reason, I asked myself in amazement, there was to continue doing what I was doing?!

The answer is, naturally, that there is absolutely no reason whatsoever. I know that surviving Christmas vacation in Czech Republic is going to be a challenge because most of the people there will never understand my decision and once again I will feel like an outsider in my own country. But first of all, I’m getting used to it by now, and second, if I had to choose between being an outsider over becoming a raging alcoholic, I will take outsider any second! Because, you know, I like myself much better happy, healthy, and sane :)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

THOU SHALL NOT SUFFER A WITCH TO LIVE


When a friend asked me to see The Conjuring with her, I feared the worst, because as much as I love scary movies, I am also a very critical viewer – it’s hard to find a decent scary movie these days! So I didn’t expect much and maybe that’s why I ended up pleasantly surprised. There was, however, one aspect of the movie that pissed me off and I couldn’t shake the feeling of discomfort no matter how many times I told to myself that it was just a movie.

You see, I’m not at all comfortable with the whole Catholic Church versus witchcraft scenario and there are two reasons why:

The first reason is that everyone probably has a different image popping in their mind upon hearing the word “witch.” Someone will picture Harry Potter, another person might fondly remember Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, yet another will visualize the crazy cat lady who used to live in his neighborhood when he was five. And that’s all good, except that most of us don’t realize one thing: There are people between us, for whom the word “witchcraft” means their spiritual path – and they are very serious about it.

Unfortunately, the word has such a stigma to it that even these days, when we should know better, there is a significant number of folks in our country who are hiding their spirituality in the closet because they don’t dare to admit in public that they are practicing Witches, Wiccans, Neo-Pagans, Druids, and gods know what else is out there, because they fear judgment and persecution. Erin Dragonsong, who has been practicing the Craft for more than 20 years, and as such probably knows what she is talking about, warns on her website that outing a person who is not ready to be “out of the broom closet” is just about the worst thing that a novice Witch can do to a colleague. Apparently there are still many places in America where people can (and will) make your life living hell when they discover that your spiritual practices differ from the mainstream. And that’s seriously NOT okay in my books!

Unfortunately popular culture, including movies like The Conjuring, perpetuates this stigma, if unintentionally. But every time when a family finds out in a movie that a witch used to live in their house and that she was a Devil-worshipper (in this particular case willing to sacrifice her own baby to the Him), I feel like screaming at the movie screen with my mouth full of popcorn: “How can you just accept it without questioning, you idiots?! Witches don’t worship the Devil and never have – if anything else than because they don’t believe he exists in the first place!!!”

I know, I know, a pet peeve! But it’s surprising to me how many people nowadays are still buying into the myth that witchcraft equals Satanism. I found out several years ago at my community college, where I defended Wicca in one of my three mandatory speeches for the general ed requirement, that out of twenty people in the class not a single one had a clue that Wicca has been officially recognized as a religion in the United States since 1985. And that no, Wiccans/Witches (be careful here; some folks use these two terms interchangeably, but some don’t) did not worship the Devil, did not engage in wild sexual orgies in the forest, and did not make little dolls to stick pins into – sorry to disappoint you, fellas!

Frustrating… But how can I blame people when every movie they see tells the same story!? And that brings us to the second reason why movies like The Conjuring consistently raise my blood pressure: The Catholic Church and its members are continuously portraited like the ultimate good guys. Apparently, even people who are not Catholic and don't go to church tend to call for the priest every time when spooky stuff starts happening in their house.

Why?!

I’m not trying to pick on Catholics here - at least not any more than I do on other Christian churches. I have met too many of them in my life who were good people (come on, you know who you are!). But even the most devoted Catholic, unless he downright refuses to face historical facts, would have to admit that the Church doesn’t exactly have the most pleasant history when it comes to dealing with people of different beliefs. I personally find fascinating that an institution that gave us the Inquisition has the nerve to still act like God-appointed warriors against evil. Check out Fr. Gabriele Amorth, the Chief Exorcist of Rome, who supposedly performed “hundreds of exorcisms” over many years. I don’t plan a trip to Italy any time soon, but if I ever had the opportunity to bump into Fr. Amorth, I would probably ask him whether he would consider spending less time and energy hunting demons, and put some thought into hunting down children-molesting priests instead.

I’m sorry if I sound too snarky, but I saw way too many drawings and engravings from old chronicles depicting a bunch of dudes in cassocks standing around a naked woman in chains, trying to establish whether she is or is not a witch, usually with the help of sharp-looking objects. The Catholic Church has committed so many despicable acts of evil over the centuries that every time I hear someone in a movie to decide “let’s call the priest to cleanse the house!”, I start smelling burned human flesh and hearing the screams of tortured women, and I have to fight an urge to yell out loud: “Oh, you gotta be kidding me!”

All things considered, if I had to choose between hearing ghostly footsteps in my house and calling for help a representative of the Catholic Church, even (or especially) if it were Fr. Amorth himself, I would take footsteps any time. And it’s up to you, my dear readers, whether you will consider me overly sensitive, or just, you know, aware ;)

Sunday, September 1, 2013

THE THIN RED LINE


I have always considered myself fairly accepting and open-minded. My life motto is, after all, LIVE AND LET LIVE! I have friends from all cultural, religious, and ethnic backgrounds you can think of (including, and I can’t believe that I’m confessing to this in public, the conservative Christian right). Being “tolerant” used to be one of the most important goals in my life – until I started to question whether it was always such a good thing!

Our counseling program teaches the importance of both multicultural awareness and social justice. But that's the problem: While multicultural awareness requires acceptance of all kinds of beliefs and values, social justice requires standing up for the underdog. And that can sometimes be at odds with each other.

The dark side of learning and growing and becoming more sensitive to signs of oppression is that one suddenly notices how many people in her life are judgmental assholes.

And finding the balance between accepting different values and beliefs, and still standing up for what is right is HARD!

How on earth am I supposed to respond when a male friend publicly shares on Facebook that getting pregnant from rape shouldn't be a reason to seek abortion, because it’s a part of God’s plan and the pregnant woman should be grateful for receiving a “special gift”?! He has the right to have his opinion! But as a woman, I’m TERRIFIED of living in a society that wouldn't allow me to make a choice in case I got pregnant from rape (or got pregnant, period). Women from my friend's conservative Catholic community are welcome to not have an abortion if they believe it’s a murder, but I’m not a Catholic and can’t see any reason why I should live according to their principles. So if my friend actively supports anti-abortion laws that are oppressive to me and to millions other women, what do I say?

Mind you, not all cases are such gray areas! There were many instances in my past when I had little doubt that being tolerant to other person’s opinion was NOT the right way to respond. I will never forget my cousin’s friend back in Czech Republic, who informed me that “the Holocaust didn't really happen, that’s just Jewish propaganda – there were barely 2 millions that died in the concentration camps and honestly, those Jews had it coming anyway”! When upon investigation became known that this individual was a member of the Czech Neo-Nazi Party, I was DONE – and I didn’t give a crap whether I was being intolerant to other person's beliefs.

Because that’s the problem with tolerance: If you, in your quest to remain tolerant and open-minded, just stand by when people advocate for racism, sexism, xenophobia, religious intolerance, and whatever forms of oppression the creative human mind can come up with, than you are not much better than them, really! The changes in the world’s history didn’t start with people afraid to take a stance! I, for one, am coming to the terms with the fact that there is a thin red line between what I can tolerate as a different worldview and what I feel obligated to fight against. I’m bound to make some enemies in the process – it’s been already pointed out to me in some circles that I’m becoming WAY too passionate about societal issues – but you know what? In a fight for a better world, that’s a price I’m willing to pay.

Are you?