Although this was my 2nd sober Christmas it felt like the first one. 2 years ago I’d stopped drinking on the 15th December. 10 days in I was raw, ashamed and shell shocked. This was new territory. I remember how lovely and kind my girls were that year – as if I was sick which in a way I was. I think their reaction made me realise how much of a problem my drinking actually was for them. Functional alcoholics don’t function where it matters most – in their families. The world may be fooled but your loved ones aren’t.
This year after an interlude of moderate drinking (who was I kidding?) I’ve been alcohol free for 8 months. I hadn’t even thought too much about whether it would be difficult – it’s just the way it is now. I hadn’t anticipated the ghosts of Christmas past paying a visit.
Christmas Eve is spent cooking and sending C out shopping for all the last minute things then my mum comes round for dinner. We’re all in the kitchen and my mum makes a comment about how too strict parenting messes you up in later life like it did her. I didn’t react or even clock my thinking at the time but not long after I got incredibly wound up. I wanted to scream or cry and to be alone. By the time we sat down to eat I’d infected everyone with my bad mood. J tried to help me calm down which just led to tears rolling down my cheeks at the table. I felt awful as of course I wanted things to be perfect and I’d achieved the opposite effect again.
I got back into a more grateful positive space before the evening was done but when I woke up I was sad. I wanted to push it down and get on with the day but C encouraged me to talk. I made the connection with the comment from my mum. I thought back to my own childhood Christmases. I don’t remember them that well. The worst was the year my mum was living in a bedsit with her alcoholic partner and my sister, younger brother and I visited. I was in my early twenties. The car broke down as we got there and there was nowhere to sleep. My mum was drunk. We wanted to leave but couldn’t. My sister and I walked the streets until we found a B&B. We got through Christmas somehow. What possessed us to go? The idea that it might be different I guess. Humans keep hoping they will get what they need from their attachment figures even when the evidence is telling them otherwise. If we hadn’t hung in there with this seemingly false hope we wouldn’t have our mum today though.
Anyway in the recounting of fragmented memories of Christmases past I got angry – ‘never mind your fucking childhood – what about mine – I hate you’. C exclaimed ‘there it is’ and I smiled through my tears and my body relaxed.
The rest of the day was lovely. We all loved our presents (the painting of my dogs on this post was my favourite); dinner was produced without the drama of the night before; games were played and we all had fun. Nosecco was a fabulous drink to have with my Christmas dinner. I realised that I usually spend most of Christmas Day trying not to appear as drunk as I actually am; which takes up progressively more of your attention as the day goes on until you are clock watching and planning your exit. As I watched the Gavin and Stacey Xmas special with my girls it hit me how much more relaxed I was without this internal struggle.
It’s interesting that although I think I’ve resolved a lot of my feelings about childhood, and certainly do not harbour anger or resentment towards my parents; Christmas stepped on the landmine buried in my subconscious. So much expectation and effort helped blow it up. I missed my anaesthetic – how I’ve always dealt with it in the past. I suspect this happens for so many people this time of year. We dare to hope only to have our past disappointments colour our present. Past emotions running roughshod over our present like an unwelcome visitor. I had several moments when I thought about having a drink – I’m so glad I didn’t. Once I’d allowed my feelings they settled back down and freed me up to have a really lovely day with the people and animals I love most. I hope the ghost of this Christmas does visit next year!