We had years of happy holidays. By our fifth Christmas we were in our house—a charming old Tudor chalet with cathedral ceilings and a Juliet balcony overlooking the living room. For the first time we got a real tree—10 feet tall! It required two ladders to decorate and a shopping spree for more ornaments. As time went on, each year’s trees got shorter–but still impressive. We’d decorate the house inside and out. We’d host Christmas Eve. We had a wonderful life.
Then, like the Grinch creeping into homes in Whoville undetected, alcoholism crept into our marriage. Soon I was sharing the holidays with an alcoholic. If I wanted Christmas—the decorating, shopping and entertaining fell to me.
One year, life with an alcoholic was so overwhelming, we didn’t put up a tree. We didn’t decorate. He didn’t accompany me to my brother’s house on Christmas Eve. We did, however, host our annual New Year’s Eve party. When a friend asked me about the tree, I replied: “We took it down already.” Wielding white lies is unavoidable for the wife of a High Functioning Alcoholic.
The next year I decided to decorate myself. With the CD player loaded with Christmas music, I began schlepping boxes upstairs, passing my husband in his recliner watching TV in his basement man cave, making noises about helping, but never getting up. My trips to the basement were few, my footsteps on the stairs inevitably prompting my husband to hide the Dewar’s bottle. We’d downgraded to an artificial tree years ago and I needed another set of hands to carry the tree.
“Can you help me carry up the box with the tree?”
He sighed a silent groan then walked over to the spot in the basement where the box sat. We each grabbed an end and walked toward the stairs in silence. When we got to the bend in the stairs that required us to angle the box–where it always felt like it was slipping–Robert griped: “I hate this s**t!”
Years ago when we’d get to this point, I’d become crippled with the giggles, almost too weak to hold up my end of the box. Robert loved my laugh and would succumb to my silliness. “Stop!” he’d chortle, trying to keep it together and curtail my laughing jag. It was one of our sweet traditions.
Sweet traditions had been replaced with bitter resentment; the smell of pine swapped for the stench of Scotch.
“I know you just want to get back to the basement and drink.”
“That’s not fair.”
“But it’s true.”
Perry Como was singing “There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays,” as we finally made it into the living room, passing the framed movie poster of “It’s A Wonderful Life” hanging on the wall. My house was mocking me.
I assembled the tree and decorated that year. While it certainly wasn’t one of my favorite Christmases, I couldn’t let him steal another Christmas.
There are no easy answers for loved ones of alcoholics. Do what works for you. At the very least, try to find a little joy in each day, especially around the holidays. The alcoholic will do whatever he/she wants. Decide what you want. Perhaps dinner out with friends. Take the kids to the movies. Bake your favorite dessert. You deserve to feel merry and bright. Wishing you all peace and comfort, hope and joy!