When living with/loving an addict, the holidays aren’t always so jolly. Whether it be Christmas, Thanksgiving, Labor Day, or Mother’s Day, the stress levels have risen which puts them at a risk of relapse and puts you even more on edge. How can it not? There is usually alcohol at the family parties, work parties, and other social gatherings. There is new stress with the thought of seeing family members you do and do not want to see. You are hosting company (and your guest towels have been used to wipe off the dog), you are cooking food (that you know your aunt will judge critically), and you have your own expectations for the day. Add a garnish of addiction to your list of worries for the magic touch :). Of course you become a scrooge! Maybe you don’t. Maybe you have found the perfect recipe for handling this…but I have become the definition of a scrooge. Bah Humbug!
*One of my subscribers asked me to write about the holidays. So, I am going to break my timeline I have been following to share a story. If you ever have suggestions, please provide them. I want to write about things you want to read!*
I think what is hardest about the holidays now is trying to pretend you are excited. I used to own my distaste for holiday events. I didn’t mind telling people that I’d rather be alone or travel than spend time with family. But then you get tons of questions. Why don’t you like Christmas? Why aren’t you excited to see your family for Thanksgiving? Why isn’t your family doing a cookout for Memorial Day? And sometimes I would answer truthfully. Sometimes I would lie. The problem with the truth is that it brings people down. Nobody wants to hear your sad story when they are so excited about the upcoming holiday. I hate to bring down people’s excitement so I lean towards lying (a lesson I learned in the story I am about to share).
Before I share one of my sad little Christmas tales, I will start off by saying again how much I love my parents. They have been incredibly generous and loving towards me. I know that my mom’s addiction is a disease and I have forgiven her for these past indiscretions. She tries really hard to get sober but she isn’t always successful. I still love her and I always will. However, it doesn’t take away some painful memories. This is the reason I am writing this story. I want to let this hurt go. Maybe if you read it, you will take some of it away from me. At least, that is my hope.
Remember when you still had that Christmas hope as a child? Maybe you still do! That feeling when you go downstairs or come around the corner to see the Christmas tree with presents underneath? Is there any feeling comparable? It’s the feeling of hope, excitement, joy, and gratefulness. It is such a pure feeling for a child. That feeling was taken from me one Christmas and I haven’t gotten it back.
It was Christmas Eve and my mom had been drinking. My brother, sister, and their families were out of town with their in-laws so it was just my parents and me. My dad was furious with my mom for drinking and refused to go to the Christmas Eve church service with me. I couldn’t take my mom either because she had been drinking all day. I decided not to let it bother me. It was Christmas after all. My parents would surely make it up to me the following day.
I decided to ignore my depressing home and I spent the evening at my sister’s empty house. A friend came over to watch a movie with me. We didn’t talk about my family and we watched the movie in silence. He didn’t ask what happened and I didn’t ask how he got away from his family during the holiday time. It was nice not to be alone and I decided to focus on that. After the movie, my friend left and I went home after I knew my parents would be in bed. I wanted to go to sleep in a good mood.
I snuck downstairs and hid their presents underneath the tree. I noticed there weren’t any other presents but I assumed my mom was going to put them under the tree in the morning because she knows I peek at night. I went to bed feeling excited. Even though my mom had been drinking, I knew she wouldn’t disappoint on Christmas Day. We would still have a good holiday and we would forget this lonely Christmas Eve. I fell asleep thinking about the hot cocoa we would drink together in the morning while opening our stockings. I pictured their faces as they opened their gifts. I decided to be hopeful.
The next morning I got up around 7am. My mom should have been up for over an hour by now. I got dressed excitedly and threw on a festive robe. I went downstairs hurriedly and peeked around the corner full of that pure, childish Christmas spirit. I looked at the tree and the only presents were the ones I placed the night before. I stood there confused. I walked to the front room and my stocking was empty. I looked around and saw my mom passed out on the couch. From her sleeping position, I could tell she had gone to bed drunk or was still drunk. I tried to shake her awake and her eyes barely opened. She was wasted. She must have started drinking again in the middle of the night.
I ran to my parent’s bedroom and woke up my dad. He came out and looked at my mom and started yelling. She stumbled up and started bringing my presents into the room, none of them were wrapped. I was confused and tearful. I slowly brought my parents’ their presents and my dad opened his in silence. I didn’t have anything to open because none of my presents had been wrapped. I tried to look busy looking through them so they wouldn’t see me crying. There were only one or two gifts, if I remember correctly, it was a book and a shirt. Nothing I put on my wish list, no special surprises like the years past.
My mom finally sits up long enough and opens my present to her. It was a rotating picture frame with pictures of us and her with the grandkids. She smiles at me but drops the rotating frame and it breaks. I can’t hold it in any longer and burst into tears. My dad begins screaming at my mom that she ruined everything. He starts taking presents and throwing them away saying that “Christmas is over”. I run upstairs with the book I got for Christmas and grab my keys. My whole body is shaking and I am sobbing uncontrollably. I tell my dad I am leaving and going to my sister’s house and he waves me away and continues yelling at my mother who is too drunk to acknowledge or remember anything he says. I left completely devastated.
I drive over to the empty house like a mad man and cry for about an hour. My head starts to hurt from crying so much and I search the cabinets. I find some hot cocoa and sit there drinking it trying to calm myself down. At least one tradition is in tact…I did have cocoa. When I finally finish, I call my brother and tell him what happened. His response is one I will never forget. “What am I supposed to do? Are you just trying to make sure no one has a good Christmas?”
Ouch. That one hurt. I hung up the phone angrily but realized he was right. There was no point in spreading my misery (which is why I now lie to people about my dislike for the holidays or I just keep that opinion to myself). I had never felt more alone or depressed than that Christmas day. It was one of the longest and loneliest days of my life. I got calls and texts that I ignored from friends wishing me a happy holiday. I spent that Christmas alone reading the unwrapped book I received. When she broke that frame, she broke my spirit. I was completely hollow. I got back to my parents late that night after they had gone to bed and I arrived to the rest of my presents in my bedroom. I pushed them aside and fell asleep without hope that things were going to get better. Hope is too dangerous. It leads to too much pain.
My mom sobered up a few days later. She never addressed it and I didn’t either for months. I held in my anger and disappointment because I didn’t want to do anything to trigger another relapse. It was too heavy for me to be bearing alone but I didn’t know what else to do at the time.
Every Christmas, I still go to bed nervous. Even now that I don’t live with my parents anymore and I am married, I still have terrible anxiety around the holiday. My heart catches in my throat every Christmas morning when I go to look under the tree…praying that a gift is there and that my drunk mom is not. Praying that I won’t end up alone. Praying that my dad won’t be heartbroken and throwing away his own gifts. Praying that we can go to church. And praying that the pain will eventually fade.
Even though this story is about Christmas, there are many other holidays that have been affected by my parents’ drinking. Holidays are not easy for everyone. If someone tells you their family doesn’t handle the holidays well, don’t act shocked. Don’t call them a scrooge. Don’t ask what’s wrong with them. Wonder instead what has happened to them. Those scars take time to heal. Even as I wrote this story, over ten years later, my hands shook as I typed. There’s nothing quite like losing a part of your childhood due to your parent’s addiction.
I hope that maybe this brought some awareness to you if you have never lived with or loved an addict. I hope that those of you who can relate can take comfort in the fact that you aren’t alone. Please share this with your friends if you think this would help and please subscribe if you want to read more! My next post (per the request of a subscriber) will be about how to deal with advice from those who have not had any experience with living with/loving an addict. Thanks for reading!