Saturday, January 31, 2009

Alcoholism, Addictions, and the Good Samaritan

It will probably be very rare for me to post two days in a row, but one of the things I know about my writing is if I don't get it down while it is fresh in my mind, I will probably lose it.  I think those who compose music could probably relate.  But, I'm also a little sick, so we'll see how coherent this post turns out. 
I thought it would be worth posting a small (and in no way exhaustive) blurb about addictions, since my community had a well-known Jesuit, Tom Weston, come and speak to us about it. Specifically, alcoholic addictions, but the material we learned relates to other addictions as well.  Since any one of us are affected by addictions, whether through our own or through those of loved ones, I thought it worthwhile to share some information relayed to the community. I've written about this before for those who received my mass e-mails 2 years ago, but I especially share this for those who don't know very much about alcoholism.     

Alcoholism- An allergy of the body, obsession of the mind.  (Not drinkin', not drinkin', not drinkin').  Like any allergy, he explained that once you're an alcoholic, you're always an alcoholic in the same way that those allergic to seafood will always be allergic to seafood. Alcoholics have an abnormal reaction when alcohol gets into their system.  So many in our prison systems are alcoholics.  Unfortunately, he said there is concern about alcoholism within the military as well.   That's a scary thought.  

It is important to remember, then, that alcoholism is a physical illness, not a mental one.   

Indicators- 1) Blackouts.  You don't remember anything after the first drink.  (Edit: It was relayed to me that blackouts actually mean that at some point after the first drink, you don't remember.  Not necessarily that you don't remember anything immediately after the 1st one)
                     2) Mood changes.  Your behavior radically changes.  You cannot guarantee your behavior after that first sip of alcohol.   
                     3) Abnormal tolerance capacity at an early age which doesn't last as you get older

Those who enable alcoholics, Tom mentions, aren't any better (codependents).  Alcoholics, he said, are "killed with kindness."  They need to be confronted, but in the right way.  Females are more ready to listen if they think they will lose their family.  Not so with males.  Tom argues males are more ready to listen if their job is on the line.  It involves getting more than one person involved in the confrontation--sometimes even someone's boss.  

So, I implore anyone who needs help, whether you are the alcoholic yourself or those affected by alcoholics--get help.  It's out there. You're not the only one.  

Now, on a different note, I was struck when Tom shared a story about a bishop who had been affected by alcoholism (no doubt I cannot tell this story as well as he).  He went to a house of recovery, but really wasn't responding.  He didn't really see his alcoholism as much of a problem. Around two weeks later, a new priest comes into treatment, and it's clear that he suffers from extreme alcoholism. The bishop notes this, thinking to himself that he was not like this priest.  

One day, this new priest is celebrating Mass, and as Tom recalls, you know the liturgy will be long and painful when the priest is holding the sacramentary upside down.  The Gospel reading for that day, though, was the parable of the Good Samaritan--one of those parables that, if you grew up Christian, you hear over and over again. It's the story of the man in a ditch who is left there both by a priest and a Levite, but it is the Good Samaritan--the outsider--who shows love and compassion to the man in the ditch.  Typically, preachers exhort the congregation to be like the Good Samaritan. 

The parable took on new meaning, however, when the priest began his homily by saying: "I am the man in that ditch."  

The bishop, hearing this, is struck by the power of such a statement.  He began to realize for the first time that he had something in common with the priest--he, also, was in the ditch. To admit that was a moment of grace.  He was powerless, and he needed help.  Such an insight does not relate only to something like alcoholism.  

In a culture that is very self-sufficient, it can be hard for us to admit that we are in the ditch. Just read recent news, where two fathers in the span of a few days went on a killing spree and killed their entire family. There's no hope--many of us are ashamed to reach out to others.  I'm not an alcoholic, but I've had some "ditch" experiences in my life.  I've also experienced denial about being in the ditch. But I've also experienced Good Samaritans who genuinely cared about my well being and helped me.  

In our real moments of brokenness, God can touch us in the profoundest of ways.  That is truly how I came to believe in God's work and love in my life for the first time through the hands of others.  Still, it is nice to be reminded of that.  And, in Jesuit life, I know I can be very much ashamed sometimes to be open and honest with my superiors.  But, there's a real experience of freedom that I've experienced, a huge sigh of relief, to that vulnerability.  Only by saying, "I need help" did the road to healing occur.  

Well, I need to promise that I will not post anymore until I get some homework done.  Whole chapters of Augustine's Confessions await.  Also, look forward to the next post.  I intend to educate some of those Jesuit Brothers who have only witnessed Filipino "stick dancing" on comedy shows and have not seen the real thing.  (No, it is not something we casually do at parties!) =)

Friday, January 30, 2009

Race (Gasp!!!)- No, you can't talk about that!

Well, I am.  

I was watching a TV show with a number of my Jesuit brothers today.  I don't remember what the TV show was called, but the main actor was one of the main writers from Seinfeld.  He was a strange mix of George Costanza and Jerry.  Well, anyway, this was the first I'd ever watched the show. Larry David?  I think that's his name.  

Well, in this episode, Larry is walking with a friend by the beach.  As they are conversing, a friend of the friend Larry is walking with happens to jog by.  They do the whole hey-it's-great-to-see-you-how-are-things-going spiel, while Larry, of course, smiles awkwardly at the person he's never met.  He's a dermatologist, and he happens to be black.  

So, the friend introduces Larry to his jogging friend, sharing with him that he is a dermatologist.  Then Larry I think says something like: "Oh, even with the whole affirmative action thing?" 

Dermatologist gets angry, Larry apologizes profusely and says he was only joking, Larry needs his help later for a skin prescription for his wife later on in the episode, etc.  You can imagine what the episode was like.  

Now, I don't pretend to know everything there is to know about race.  Sure, I picked up a few things here and there as a sociology major and taking a race and ethnicity class.  But, by no means do I feel I have some authority on the subject as a result.  I do, however, have my observations and own lived experience as a Filipino-American, which no doubt are shaped by that college degree. 

When I was working at Gonzaga Prep High School in Spokane, WA, I had a lunch session with the diversity students about the issue of race.  I wrote on the board the major categories that we tend to classify race here in the United States--white, black, native, hispanic, asian.  Then, I asked them to list stereotypes or things you often associate with each "racial" group  

White stereotypes: uncultured, uptight and/or paranoid, good with money, preppy, suburban, "bourgeois"

Black stereotypes: 'gangstas', criminal, rappers, dumb, watermelon and fried chicken, fat ladies with fashionable hats and a big voice, gospel and soul, sports

Native Stereotypes: drunks, casinos, indian feathers, voodoo dancing, "whoop whoop", pipe smoking, pow wows, in unity with nature

Hispanic Stereotypes: border hoppers, takes away American jobs, gangs, tacos and enchiladas, can't speak English, religious

Asian Stereotypes: math nerds, knows kung fu, ching-chong, "model minority", passive/compliant, stingy, dry cleaners

Now, I'm not really interested in going into much detail about the validity of these stereotypes or how these general categories conglomerate very diverse groups of people into one . Some may be grounded in reality.  As far as I have observed, it is much harder to come up with 'white' stereotypes then the other ones.  Even if they aren't real, if someone thinks they're real, then the effects of that thinking are quite real.  

I watched a musical here in NY a number of years ago called Avenue Q.  One of the songs in the musical was: "Everyone's a little bit racist." I think it's silly to think that we are not racist at least on some level.  And, I'll admit it, I'm a little bit racist myself.  When I walk down Fordham Road (which is primarily African and Latino), I can feel a lot more uncomfortable than walking around Upper East Side Manhattan. Sometimes, I don't like riding the subway--makes me feel uncomfortable going into the Bronx.  

Of course, I don't feel like I choose to think these things.  It would be nice to not have any of these feelings.  If I had the choice, I would choose seeing every single person, regardless of skin color, as someone worthy of God's love.  I would see them as I believe God sees everybody. But, I realize that I have to mentally work hard at thinking differently.   

I don't think it's impossible for our society to get to that place.  But we aren't there yet.  We have all grown up with stereotypes of other people.  I don't believe in the stereotype, for example, of latinos as illegal (it's absurd), but the concept is in my mind nevertheless.  It's real in the sense that the idea has been transmitted to me.  

Clearly, we are making progress in the area of racism--Obama's election is indicative of that. But let's not kid ourselves.  We're all still a little racist (maybe a lot racist for some).  

When I'm on the subway feeling racist, I try to acknowledge that I'm feeling racist. By being self-aware in this manner, I become able to think that I don't want to feel these feelings, and that I am able to ask God to help me see His people with the same loving gaze that He sees all. I become able to challenge myself to think differently than I sometimes habitually do.  I think if we are honest with ourselves, and with one another, we can make real strides in the area of racism.  I don't think it's helpful at all to pretend otherwise.  Using Ignatian language, the dark spirit wants us to pretend.  The Holy Spirit wants to bring it into the light so that the process of healing may begin.  

Well, I feel I could still write a lot about this, but then I'd probably be rambling.  Maybe another time.  Maybe.  

(It would be rather funny if I was asked to shut down my blog after only one posting.  I don't think that will happen.)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A New Beginning


I embark on my first steps into the blogging world as a Jesuit.  I actually used to write stuff online when I was in high school and part of my college years, but this is the first "official" blog that I've had on an actual blogging site.  Most who know my writings used to receive my frequent e-mails through which I updated them on my journey while I was in the novitiate (we aren't allowed to have blogs in the novitiate).  This blog is an evolution of those e-mails, and it is my hope that I will be able to write on a fairly regularly basis.  By regular, I mean at least one posting a week, if not more.  

Although it has been mentioned to me on a number of occasions that I should begin blogging, I only really started to seriously consider it within the past month or so.  As Jesuits, we are called to be available, to have the freedom to move to where we are being asked to go.  The Jesuits currently have 3 philosophy programs in the US (Chicago, St. Louis, and New York) and one in Toronto that Jesuit Scholastics in the US are sent to.  When I was sent to Fordham, it was not because I lobbied and told my superiors to send me there.  Honestly, I didn't have a preference either way to which place I would be sent.  I think anywhere they decided to send me would have been a good experience.  So, I told my superior that I was open to go anywhere, and that is how I ended up at Fordham for first studies.  

However, we Jesuits have so many gifts and talents.  There is a level of tension we experience in being available while trying to cultivate our own individual gifts.  For me, one of them is music.  The other, as I was praying about what passions I had, was writing--not the academic, research kind, but the deeply personal and reflective kind.  Writing about my experiences in the novitiate gave me life--I had the opportunity to share honestly and openly my budding journey as a Jesuit.

The blogging world, however, can be a nasty place.  You are vulnerable, open to criticizing eyes which can leave their mark with a simple click of the mouse.  I considered this.  This vulnerability is compounded by the fact that I am a representative of the Catholic Church and the Society of Jesus.  Anything I write can come back to haunt me.  

But, this is a classic case for Jesuits of discernment.  Do I choose out of fear or because of life? This first post is the culmination of that discernment.  

So, I really have no idea what will come of this blog (the title, or non-title if you like, of my blog is indicative of that).  My writings will vary in content and form.  One day, I may feel like using this space for prayer.  Other days, I may feel like writing about something in the news, or it could be to share a funny story I overheard in community.  If I feel that the blog is not working out, I will probably close the door on it.  But, we'll see.  If God wills to inspire, then that will be shown here in my writings.  

I end by giving thanks to my superiors who, through prayerful reflection, accepted my request to begin this new experiment into the blogging world.  Until next time!  ~AMDG