When I was a kid, the holidays were about making a list for Santa, marking pages in the JC Penney toys catalogue, baking Christmas cookies with my mom and siblings and singing “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” like a broken record. It was about going to the mountains to cut down a tree and making homemade ornaments. It meant stringing popcorn and decorating gingerbread houses. It was about everything good in the world. It was the most magical time of year.
But, like everything in life, things change. Whomp whomp.
I remember my first feeling of being ungrateful around the age of 10 when Santa brought me a pony. I didn’t ask for a pony. All I could think as I was standing there looking at this pony that we later named Daisy was, “I hope there are the gifts I asked for inside under the tree.” Pony was not on my list.
And then the bomb dropped that Santa wasn’t real and Christmas became a little less magical as the years went by. Traditions changed and started catering to the stresses of the holiday season. And if you are an alcoholic like me, the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas eventually became a series of hangovers and blackouts strung together through a fog of holiday drama.
It shouldn’t be surprising that I made the holidays about drinking. I made every day about drinking but, like most alcoholics, I loved to justify it and the holidays were the perfect time for that.
I had this emptiness inside of me that no amount of eggnog could fill but it certainly didn’t keep me from trying. The holidays seemed to intensify every single feeling of shame, loneliness and self-hatred I had. I drank to escape that but it was temporary and so the cycle continued.
I come from a family that doesn’t place an importance on alcohol at all, and for years I thought that was ridiculous. So I would have to sneak around and hide my drinking and my bottles.
The Christmas Eve before I got sober, I hid bottles of beer in my oversized Micheal Kors bag and chugged them in the basement bathroom of the church before joining the rest of my family to sing “Silent Night” and take communion at the candlelight service I had been going to since I was an infant.
Looking back on all those years I spent Christmas blitzed, I have very few memories of anything good. I remember a few explosions I created among my family. Everything was dramatic. I was like a time bomb that could go off at any moment and for any reason. A real joy to be around, as you can imagine.
I was nervous about my first holiday season sober. How on earth was I supposed to survive Christmas without drinking? To my surprise, I discovered that the problem all along had been adding alcohol to an already angry, irritable and discontent person. I was the problem. I was the one who brought the drama and caused the mass destruction. Christmas was pleasant and calm as long as I wasn’t drunk.
I’m approaching my fourth Christmas sober and am still learning and creating new traditions that don’t include alcohol. I set boundaries and know my limits. Yes, the holidays can be stressful but so can a random Tuesday. Most importantly, I don’t put myself in situations that are going to take me closer to a drink and I leave situations that make me uncomfortable. I’m sure I’ve disappointed some friends and family by not being the people-pleasing “Yes Ma’am” that I was with a bottle of booze but I try to make up for it in other ways. So yeah, maybe I show up late and leave early to some events but I promise you that the time I am there, I won’t pass out on your couch or cause any drama or engage in any illegal activities.
One of my biggest regrets is not being mentally present for the last few Christmases before my brother died. Most of my memories I only have through pictures. I look at them with little or no recollection of the moment taking place or what was said before or after or why the picture was even taken. I know I was there but I really wasn’t. I spent most of my Christmases in a functioning blackout, leaving me with a photo album of missed memories.
It’s sad to think about all the missed memories I had with my brother. It’s something I still cry over today. But it doesn’t make me want to drink; it makes me want to be present for every single moment of my life so when the day comes that someone else in my life is gone, I will have more than just a photo to tell the story.
Being able to go to bed at night with the peace of mind sobriety gives me is the greatest gift. Being present for even the crappiest of holiday attitudes I come across during the season isn’t a reason to drink. I too can be a bit of a Grinch but I’d like to think I have a little less Grinch and a little more CindyLou as each year goes by.
When I got sober, I realized that maybe Christmas doesn’t come from the ABC store. Christmas today means a whole lot more.