Once, did you love the holidays and other special times of celebration? Was that before they were transformed into something negative by alcoholism—by your alcoholic husband’s hurtful or embarrassing behaviors,, perhaps?
I used to so look forward to Christmastime. Indeed, I enjoyed shopping for those especial or unique gifts for both family and friends. Decorating the house was a creative outlet. I found pleasure in dressing up to attend parties, as well as in hosting one of my own. What a joy to see the usually dark dining room come alive with the presence and chatter of guests. The sterling silver flatware’s patina, etched by memories of joyous holidays past, was only being improved.
Yes, for me, Christmas time was special. Furthermore, I tried to make it that way for my husband. And certainly, for several years at least, he seemed glad to participate in making it a festive season. But then one year, that all changed.
My husband went back to drinking. For indeed, he wasn’t abusing substances at the time I met him, but he did have a history of alcoholism and addiction to prescription drugs, too. (I was naïve enough at the time I’d married him to think that, because he’d been through treatment at an inpatient center, he was cured. Was this because I didn’t have a degree in clinical social work yet, and I had not been exposed to alcoholism via my family?) Well, he resumed his abuse of prescription drugs, too. In other words, he became ruled by the chemicals. But of course, it would have been so much better if he’d had dominion over them instead.
That first Christmas wasn’t too bad. After all, I believe he’d only recently rediscovered his attraction for the bottle. Also, he started back down that path, the one toward full-fledged alcoholism, by sipping Bailey’s Irish Cream. Later, he’d allow vodka or whiskey to slide down his throat instead.
Perhaps because of what he was drinking, he also falsely believed he could become and remain a social drinker. But of course, this wasn’t to happen. And so, by the following Christmas, things had deteriorated immensely. He was an active alcoholic again.
As a result, the years came when I’d pull out the boxes of gleaming balls and strings of colored lights, laying them on the Oriental rug that stretched over much of the den’s tiled floor, wondering what outburst of negativity this holiday season might bring. Then, a couple of weeks later, as I slowly removed those same lights from the tree, I found myself wondering if this was the last time I’d ever see this house decorated for the holidays.
I had this conversation with myself for at least two years. And then the day came when I realized I didn’t want one more holiday season ruined by my husband’s outbursts—even though he’d been through treatment and was sober, the raging and abusiveness hadn’t stopped. Therefore, I chose to leave him before the holiday season started.
Earlier that same year, while he was in treatment, I’d discovered I wasn’t the only wife of an alcoholic who found the holidays a challenging time. While my husband was in treatment at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, I had occasion to attend what was referred to as family week. (Actually, despite the name, it ran from Thursday night until Sunday morning.)
A man, slightly younger than my husband, was going through this treatment program at the same time my husband was. The two of them became friendly. Thus, I knew who this man was. I also knew his father, mother, and sister were present to attend family week. Furthermore, both the father and sister had been to this very program themselves before, but as inpatients. Despite extreme family wealth and owning a company whose products you likely use in your own home, they had not been saved from alcoholism and the damage it instills.
During one of these family sessions, I was commenting, as we were asked to do, on how my alcoholic’s behavior had impacted me negatively. I spoke about how I once loved the holidays. And then I shared how, in more recent years, I had come to dread them because of the way my husband behaved. I indicated how much I regretted having this special time of year ruined for me because of my husband’s alcoholism and the actions it fed. Sure, I hadn’t forsaken trying to make this season special, but he and the alcoholism inevitably ruled the day.
After I made my comments, the mother of this man spoke up. She explained how she’d come to find the holidays difficult because of her husband’s alcoholism. She pointed out that while some might have kept this family secret hidden, by choosing not to entertain during the holidays and declining invitations, for example, her family wasn’t in a position to do this. She stressed that they had to host holiday events and attend others because of their prominence in both the business world and their community. She told us that as such an event wore on, her husband’s behavior would change because of the amount of alcohol he had consumed. People would turn and look at both him and her with surprise in their eyes. They were not used to seeing this leader behave thusly. She said she ultimately found herself explaining to people that while this type of behavior was not preferred or desired by any of them, it was also to be expected. After all, this man was an alcoholic—and alcoholism drove his behavior.
This woman’s willingness to share her story had a huge impact upon me. Perhaps this was because at the time, I was having trouble coping with how my seemingly good life was being destroyed. And perhaps it didn’t help any that I believed myself to be alone in my plight, either. This had only fed my self-pity.
This woman’s comments had reminded me that even enormous amounts of money can’t protect one from the trials and tribulations of living with an alcoholic. No, the disease of alcoholism takes a toll not only on the alcoholic, but all people in its midst—and particularly, the family.
The Benefits of Honesty and Authenticity versus Keeping Family Secrets
As this same woman demonstrated for us, sometimes the best way to deal with the alcoholic and alcoholism isn’t to pretend to the world that the problem doesn’t exist. Rather, it is to step forward and label the problem for what it is. So, you go ahead and tell people that your husband is an alcoholic and furthermore, alcoholism leads people to behave in some predictable ways--with some predictable consequences, too. You don’t these things because indeed, to do so only keeps the craziness intact. And frankly, loved ones of alcoholics have had more than enough of that.
Instead, the system needs to be toppled. Its power to destroy must be lessened.
Certainly, this woman couldn’t change her husband’s behavior—he had to do that. She could change her own behavior, however. And in labeling what was happening, or by providing a reasonable explanation for the behaviors the guests observed—by professing that her husband was an alcoholic—she also freed herself to relax and enjoy the festivities.
Sure, she probably didn’t enjoy these social events as much as she would have if her husband didn’t abuse alcohol. Nevertheless, she freed herself up to enjoy them to at least some degree. On the other hand, if she had felt compelled to try and pretend that everything was normal when people could quite easily see that things were not, she could easily have found herself overridden by anxiety.
And in truth, it would have made it more uncomfortable for those in the presence of this couple, too.
So, I hope that you can enjoy future holidays or family gatherings despite the antics of your alcoholic husband. And perhaps you can give yourself a better chance of doing so by being authentic and honest versus striving to keep skeletons hidden?
Remember, your own honesty and authenticity may prove helpful to others. Indeed, they may be grateful that you’ve provided them with an opportunity to bring their own skeletons forth into the light of day. In fact, this may prove to be the best gift you could give yourself as well as provide others, don’t you imagine?