Many years ago in my past life with a previous husband, I was struggling very hard to cope. It was Christmas Eve and my careful plan was to have a nice Christmas dinner with turkey and all the trimmings at home, open a few presents, and then go to my in-laws for Christmas day. The reason for the two meals was there were certain dishes that were part of my family tradition and they were not served by my mother-in-law. I also loved having leftover turkey to make into a whole variety of special holiday associated dishes such as turkey curry.
At my ex-husband’s workplace they were going to stop work early and then the men would have a couple of drinks and pick up their bonus and come home. My ex-husband promised me he would come home right after work. I hoped he would but I was filled with dread anyway. A few weeks before I had started attending meetings with the friends of Bill W and I had learned a few things there already. Previously I had blamed the bosses at his company for putting out a bottle of Christmas cheer at work. Honestly didn’t they know this was a bad thing to do? With my new friends I learned that the company was not responsible for my ex-husband’s behaviour. He made his choices and he was responsible for his choices.
Inevitably, dinner rolled around and he wasn’t home. There were no cell phones in those days so I couldn’t just call him and ask where he was, not that this would have done any good. I figured I’d wait until 6:30pm and then assume the worse. At 6:25 the wife of one my husband’s workplace buddies, one he often went on long binges with, showed up looking for her husband. I invited her in with her two boys about six and eight years old. She was horribly upset because her husband was missing too. The children were hungry and started crying and the wife stalked about ranting about why oh why was did the company have to ruin every Christmas by getting the men started on drinking.
I called my sponsor of that time. She told me to go about enjoying the holiday. Feed the children and have a nice evening. Just because my husband was out on a bender didn’t mean I could not enjoy Christmas. And so I did. First I calmed down the poor wife by handing her some eggnog and telling her she and her children were staying for Christmas Eve dinner. I put the food on the table and the hungry crying children soon became the happy stuffed children. With a bit of quick rearranging on my part, I was able to come up with a nice gift for each child. We read the poem “Night Before Christmas” and we watched the Charlie Brown Christmas Special while the children played with their new toys. We then tucked them into bed exhausted and happy. The atmosphere felt happy, wonderful and even a bit holy.
The wife and I sat enjoying a glass of red wine by the Christmas tree and we quietly contemplated the lovely lights and shared some laughs. Shortly after 3:00am our men rolled in, drunk as the skunks they were, loudly singing Christmas carols off key and staggering about. As soon they walked in the door the poor wife went from contented tree light watcher to shrieking harridan. They say you can always tell if someone in the family has a drinking problem by watching how crazy their spouse gets and she proceeded to do a very fine demonstration of that fact. Since I had only recently indulged in the same crazies, I simply watched and made some mental notes about how much my attitude had changed. There but for the grace of God went I. Meanwhile my drunk staggered off to bed and fell asleep. I helped them bundle up their weeping frightened boys and they left over my protests because her drunken husband insisted he was capable of driving. I prayed they would get home safe.
Christmas Day dawned and my ex-husband was sleeping off his drunk so the children and I enjoyed the Santa presents and opened our gifts. The drunk finally staggered out of bed about the time I was dressing the kids to go to their grandparents home. He told me he was not going. Tell them he had flu. With my new attitude about making him take responsibility for himself and not enabling him in his drunkenness, I refused but I did not fight with him about it. I did not give me usual lecture about how disappointed his mother would be or how embarrassed I would be or how much he was letting his children down. When all the assorted relatives asked where he was I simply told them he had been out drinking until 3:00am and was too hung over to join us. When they said things like “Why do you let him do that?” I answered honestly and said I had tried everything to get him to stop and nothing I did made any difference. They were free to try for themselves. I then changed the subject and concentrated on enjoying the company of my in-laws and all my little nieces and nephews. I can’t say I had a lot of fun, but my children did and that made it worth it.
I eventually left my drunk, who never did stop drinking and his family who had never stopped blaming me for it. (They now say I broke his heart and that is why he drinks.) I created a new and happy life with my happy nondrinking Jewish husband. There were so many negative memories of Christmas that it was a great relief to simply give it up. When I lit the first candle on the Menorah last night, I reflected on how many wonderful memories I have over my thirty years of celebrating Channukah with him. Virtually every Channukah has been a trauma free event for the entire eight day stretch. My daughter called to wish me a Hag Semeach. She had just come from a wonderful party with her Jewish mother-in-law and we shared some of our favourite Channukah memories. She is young enough that she does not know anything else.
Now before you think I detest Christmas because I gave it up, let me assure you that is not the case. My neighbours have dozens of Christmas lights and now those new blow up figures that are all the rage. I love them! I attended a community Christmas party Sunday and I wore a silly blinking Christmas light necklace they gave all attendees. I laughed a lot. I enjoyed the music and the food and the wonderful sense of community real Christmas spirit brings. It’s just not my holiday anymore. One of the things I liked best about Christmas before my retirement was taking double and triple shifts so my Christian coworkers could be with their family. It was my way of sharing my blessings.
About five years ago I was contacted over Facebook by one of those little boys with whom I shared that Christmas Eve long ago. He said it was the best Christmas he ever had as a child. The experience made him determined that no matter what went on in his childhood, he was going to be happy and he and his wife would have a wonderful peaceful Christmas the way I had demonstrated it should be done. He thanked me. This gave me a wonderful warm glow inside. It also showed me yet again how when a child wants to live happy and well, small acts of kindness and good examples from strangers can help overcome a lifetime of abuse and dysfunction. I can not take credit for that evening. My sponsor taught me that lesson.
The Holiday Season is a time for joy and reflection and peace. Family dysfunction can mar that holiday and the season can bring back powerful negative, even evil memories. Even if you have been blessed with mostly good memories, Christmas can also be a time to grieve a lost loved one who will not be at the table. If you are one of those who has such a Christmas issue, my wish for you is that you are able to find your own way to set aside your pain, to create a positive memory and have joy instead this year. May your days be trauma free and may all your bad memories be placed where they can no longer hurt you. May you be blessed to find thirty years of happy holidays as I have. If you are one of those fortunate enough to be born into non dysfunctional families my wish is very simple. I wish you another Merry Christmas, or another Happy Channukah, whichever applies, and my hopes for you to have the finest and best New Year ever.
Joy to the World!