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 Christmas. Indeed, I enjoyed shopping for those especial or unique gifts for both family and friends. I found decorating the house to be a wonderful creative outlet. And I took pleasure in dressing up to attend parties, as well as hosting some of my own. Yes, what a joy it was to see the usually dark dining room come alive with the presence of smiling guests chatting amicably across the fine china and sparkling crystal. Plus the sterling silver flatware’s patina, etched by memories of joyous holidays past, was only being further enhanced.
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 my attempts to make this a festive season. But then one year, that all changed.
My husband went back to drinking.
'Twas the Night Before Relapse
My husband hadn't been abusing substances at the time I met him. However, I must admit that 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 in my family?). Actually, while I wasn't aware of it at the time, I suspect he resumed to abusing perception drugs about this time, too.
That first Christmas wasn’t too bad, actually. He'd probably only recently rediscovered his attraction for the bottle. furthermore, he started back down that pathway, the one toward full-fledged alcoholism, by sipping on Bailey’s Irish Cream. that seemed pretty innocent. Only later would he allow vodka or whiskey to slide down his throat instead.
Perhaps because of what he was drinking, he also falsely believed he could both become, as well as remain, a social drinker. Sadly, this wasn’t to happen. Hence, by the following Christmas, things had deteriorated immensely. He was an active alcoholic again.
As a result, the time came when I’d pull out the boxes of gleaming balls and strings of colored lights, lay them on the Oriental rug that stretched over much of the den’s tiled floor to see which worked and what ones might need to be replaced, silently pondering what outburst of negativity this particular holiday season might bring. Then, a couple of weeks later, as I slowly removed those same lights and gleaming balls from the tree, I would wonder if this might turn out to be the last time I ever saw this house decked out for the holidays.
Actually, I had this conversation with myself for at least two years. But then the day arrived when I realized I didn’t want to endure one more holiday season ruined by my husband’s angry outbursts. After all, even though he'd been through treatment and was sober, his raging and abusiveness had not ceased. Therefore, I chose to leave him in early December. I would spend my Christmas in peace.
I was Hardly the First Wife of an Alcoholic who'd Endured This
Earlier that same year, while my husband 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. he two of them became friendly. As a result, I knew who this man was. I also knew his father, mother, and sister were there to attend family week. Furthermore, both the father and sister had been to through this very program themselves. So, despite their extreme family wealth, and despite the fact they owned a company whose products you likely use in your own home, they'd not been spared alcoholism and the damage it leaves in its wake.
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'd once loved the holidays. And then I shared how, in more recent years, I'd come to dread them because of the way my husband behaved. I also stressed how much I regretted having this special time of year ruined by my husband’s alcoholism and his behaviors which it it fed. I stressed that I hadn’t forsaken trying to make this season special, but he and the alcoholism inevitably ruled (and ruined) 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, her family wasn’t in a position to do these things. She stressed that they had to host holiday events as well as attend others because of their prominence in both the business world and their community. She spoke of how, as such a holiday event wore on, her husband’s behavior would change because of the amount of alcohol he'd consumed. People would turn and look at both him and her with surprise written all over their faces. They weren't used to seeing this leader behave thusly. She explained to us at this family week session that ultimately, she found herself telling people that while this type of behavior was not preferred or desired by any of them, it was also to be expected. After all, her husband was an alcoholic—and it was alcoholism that drove this 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 that I believed myself to be alone in my plight. Indeed, this had fueled my self-pity.
This woman’s comments, however, reminded me that even enormous amounts of money couldn't protect one from the trials and tribulations of living with an alcoholic. Yes indeed, the disease of alcoholism took its toll not only on the alcoholic, but on all people in the alcoholic's midst. Of course, this meant the immediate family was particularly hard-hit.
The Benefits of Honesty and Authenticity versus Keeping Family Secrets
As this same woman demonstrated for those of us in attendance at this session that day, sometimes the best way to deal with the alcoholic and alcoholism isn’t to pretend to the world that the problem doesn’t exist but instead, to step forward and label the problem for what it is. So, just as she modeled, you go ahead and tell people that your husband is an alcoholic. You go ahead and tell people that alcoholism leads people to behave in some predictable ways--resulting in some predictable consequences, too. You don’t keep these things secret because indeed, to do so only keeps the craziness intact. And frankly, loved ones of alcoholics have had more than enough of that.
This dysfunctional system needs to be toppled. Its power to destroy must also be destroyed by bringing its realities into the light.
Certainly, this woman couldn’t change her husband’s behavior. No, he had to do that. But what she could change was her own behavior. And in labeling what was happening, or by providing a reasonable explanation for the behaviors her guests were observing—by proclaiming that her husband was an alcoholic—she 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'd felt compelled to try and pretend that everything was normal when people could quite easily see that things were not, she's likely have found herself overridden by anxiety.
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 have given yourself as well as provided to others, don’t you imagine?