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 :)

4 comments:

Sarah M said...

When I chose to abstain from drinking alcohol for 567, I found conflict in my support systems. When I went out with friends for our weekly trivia nights at the local pub, I explained what I was doing and why it was important. Luckily, many of those close friends were not big drinkers anyway. Ordering a raspberry tea was more of the norm than ordering a beer.

The hardest week was when I went up to our family cabin in northern Wisconsin. Being up at the cabin included having fires, being out on the boat, visiting inside on rainy day and all while drinking, etc. all while consuming alcohol. A cooler full of beer outside the backdoor that was transferred to the boat for an afternoon on the sandbar happened as often as we could. Cocktail hour in the early evening was a tradition. Collapsing in bed with a dizzy head and clothes smelling of campfire was a nightly occurrence. This was how my family socialized. It was difficult to imagine those activities minus the alcohol. It was even more difficult imaging dealing with my family without the pacifier of alcohol. While I was initially met with support and "oh, good for you!" it did not stop any of them from drinking like fish the entire week, as expected. Actions spoke louder than words.

Though you express having yet to experience that pressure (passive aggressively or blatantly) in the US, let me tell you, it is quite an issue in this culture too. Beyond our supportive and understanding counseling cohort, you will get shit for refusing a drink. Luckily, there are people like our current peers, people will give up drinking (like you and like some of my family members *hurray!!!*), and you will find people who either just don't drink (good for you!) or drink at a social level you are comfortable with (yay for me!). You will find this happy place if you continue to seek out said relationships and surround yourself with people who are like-minded and supportive of you, versus those who are toxic, just like the toxins you are desperately trying to avoid.

:)

Global Chick said...

Thanks for sharing, Sarah! It's certainly nice to see that Czech Republic is not the only country where not drinking equals not normal! It could be that I have the perception of America being more tolerant because I mostly socialize with people related to the mental health field, who in general tend to be more accepting than the general population! I absolutely agree that it's about people - and toxic ones are anywhere, on any continent

Rae of Sunshine said...

I am so very glad that I read this post of yours! I now know your back story and reasoning behind your decision and I would like to share that I am very proud of you! It takes some guts and a very strong will to do what you are doing, but like us counselors know...if you want to do something and you want to make a change...you CAN! Congrats to you for doing what you know is best for you and your body and not letting other cultures, other people's feelings or thoughts bring you down. If you ever need extra support or just someone to scream, rant, rave, and rage to...don't forget about your Rae of Sunshine :) :)

Global Chick said...

Thanks for your support and kind words,my Rae of Sunshine, and yes, I know where to find you if I ever needed to scream, rant, rave, and so on... Friends like you make all my struggles wort it :) Thanks for reading!!!