This post was originally published on December 23, 2014.
I recently sat down to watch How The Grinch Stole Christmas and couldn’t believe how many similarities there were between Jim Carrey’s character and myself during my days of active addiction.
My heart hurt for him. I could totally empathize with him. I knew his pain and his hurt and understood why he was like he was—an angry, selfish, irritable, discontent, self-loathing, self-hating, resentful recluse. That was me for so many years. Like the Grinch, I stole Christmas from my family for many years. Maybe not in the same way, but in typical alcoholic fashion: I’d show up drunk to family gatherings, starting fights between everyone. The drama…oh, the drama. I derived some sort of perverse pleasure out of making everyone else around me just as miserable as I was.
The Christmas before I got sober, I went to a candlelight service with my family, like we did every year. I’d started drinking earlier in the day, but knew I would need more before getting home several hours later. So, I put three Blue Moon beers in my oversized purse and chugged them in the church bathroom before picking up my candle to sing Christmas carols with the rest of “Whoville.” I felt so uncomfortable with all these joyful people. I resented them for believing in miracles and goodwill. Silent Night? Not tonight, I thought! I couldn’t wait to get back to my parents home and sequester myself in the guesthouse to self-loath over bottles of booze.
In the movie, the Grinch has flashbacks to his childhood and it provides a little insight to the “what it was like” part of his story. Bottom line…he wasn’t comfortable in his own skin. I mean, it was green and hairy, but you get the point. He was different. He felt different and he didn’t like that. He wasn’t like all the other Whos. They all made fun of him and he never felt accepted. So, what does he do? Like any good alcoholic, he finds a way to hurt himself. I’ll show you, I’ll hurt me. It’s true what they say: hurt people hurt people. He held on to all those negative emotions and carried them with him all those years, all the while nursing more and more resentments. Sounds like every garden-variety alcoholic if you ask me.
I was a self-titled “Grinch” for many years around Christmas time. The behavior continued throughout the year but for some reason, it was highlighted around the holidays. Similar to the Grinch, other people’s joy irritated the hell out of me. I was much more at ease being in the comfort of my own misery than being around anyone that resembled a Who.
How sad is that? Well, it’s really sad for anyone who has ever felt like the Grinch. And, like the Grinch, most of us in recovery have had our very own Cindy Lou Who come along. It might have been your mom, your dad, a friend or even a sponsor or a stranger, but whoever it was, it was the one person who saw past all the anger and Yuletide misery and simply wanted to help. There wasn’t anything you could do or say that would scare them away. And if you were anything like me and the Grinch, you tried. I tried like hell to make caring people go away.
Christmas after Christmas, my soul felt like an “appalling dump-heap, overflowing with the most disgraceful assortment of rubbish imaginable, mangled up in tangled up knots.” Yup, I was a mean one and it showed. But then I landed my Grinch ass in rehab and I swear, just like the Grinch, my heart grew three sizes that day. I had a similar situation as the Grinch when he was sitting on top of the mountain, when the sun began to rise and he yelled, “Help me…I’m feeling!” With a tear running down his face, he says, “What’s happening to me? I’m all toasty inside, and…I’m leaking.” I mean, I wasn’t on a mountaintop and the sun wasn’t rising. I was in rehab sitting naked on the shower floor, but whatever. I allowed myself to actually feel for the first time in a really long time. I didn’t feel all toasty inside but there was crying…a lot of crying and I started to care about all those hurtful things I had done to people that I loved—those people who were closest to me who always ended up getting hurt the worst.
Showing up to AA was like being surrounded by a bunch of happy-ass Whos—all smiling and laughing and seeming like they didn’t have a care in the world. Yes, I am convinced the closest place to Whoville is within the rooms of AA—where there is a fellowship, friendliness and indescribable understanding that is unlike anything I have ever seen.
I came in feeling like a monster and my heart was an empty hole, my brain full of spiders with garlic in my soul. I wouldn’t have blamed anyone for not wanting to touch me with a 39-and-a-half foot pole. But all the AA-Whos did welcome me and my heart continued to grow. I don’t know if I would go as far to say I would be crowned Holiday Cheermister, but I am definitely not the Grinch. I know that Christmas doesn’t come from a store, but now that I’m sober, Christmas means a little bit more.
(Yep, I can rhyme just like the Grinch).