Our last Christmas as a couple was in 2020. I knew going into December that if nothing changed, this would be our last time through the holiday season together.
Nothing changed. No Christmas miracle.
Starting in 2021, I found that some traditions and memories were too sad or too hard to continue. But I like the holidays, and I didn’t want to abandon them. Here are a few things I have done, and continue to do, to help make this time of year different.
For a large part of my seven years of sobriety, I had conscious thoughts about alcohol. I was alert for potential triggers. I considered how alcohol would enhance, then ultimately unravel, various situations. I worked to combat the shame of addiction, then the shame of sobriety in a society that reveres alcohol.
I felt pity for people who tried to quit drinking to appease a frustrated spouse. I felt pity for people who tried to quit drinking without a plan for recovery – as though not drinking was some sort of solution. I felt pity for people who put rules around their drinking and tried to control it. I thought about all the people I pitied, and it helped me maintain my commitment to sobriety.
But I don’t have a commitment to sobriety anymore. Not really. I don’t think about drinking or not drinking. Sobriety isn’t my thing anymore. At least it isn’t my thing any more than not drinking Drano or gasoline is my thing. I have no intention of ever drinking battery acid, but I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about not drinking battery acid. It is hard to consider your thing to be something you never consider. How can I claim sobriety to be my thing?
If you are wondering if your relationship is like the relationships of others, it’s probably different. If you are wondering, you are probably too afraid to ask.
If you think marriage and children will fix things, they won’t.
You can’t fix their holes that they had when they came to you. You can’t give them your family as a replacement for what they didn’t have, no matter how much you share and shower them with love and attention. It can’t fix that which never existed.
I can get to the other side of the world in one day. I can connect to the other side of the world in seconds. Human ingenuity is amazing. We are connected in previously unimaginable ways.
And yet, we’ve never been so disconnected, It is killing us.
I have vivid memories of the high school English teacher who ruined writing for me. I don’t remember her name, but she was tall and slender, and she wore flowing, button-down blouses and kept money and slips of paper tucking into her left-shoulder bra strap. I cringed every time she reached behind those shirt buttons and pulled something out.
She was propper and groomed and articulate and full of herself. Her criticism of my writing was consistent. It wasn’t about punctuation or grammar. She corrected what I still remember to this day to be stylistic differences. She only knew one way to write, and if my classmates and I wanted good grades, we had to conform. I couldn’t do that. I wasn’t an idealist or full of confidence and rebellion. I just couldn’t write her way. I lacked the talent. So I dropped out of advanced English down to regular English, and I spent the next couple of decades or so convinced I couldn’t write and feeling traumatized by rare glimpses of money tucked under bra straps.
You deserve to be loved.
You deserve to be respected.
You deserve peace, joy, and security.
You deserve moments of pleasure, ecstasy, and warmth.
Our friendship has been hard lately.
I’ve watched you struggle and fall apart.
I sat on my front porch alone Sunday afternoon. I had just finished a painful, hour-long discussion with my wife about one of our kids. He is struggling with an issue that is not the point of this writing, and so in an effort to protect his privacy, let’s just say it is one of the hundreds of challenges young people face as they grow and mature.
The discussion was painful because Sheri and I mostly agreed about what was going on, but we had a slightly different take on the nuances. It was painful because despite having four kids, this is our first time dealing with this particular issue, so we are a bit lost as to what to do next. But mostly, it was a painful discussion because we are both hurting for our son, and feeling immense guilt for our potential roles in causing his struggles, and for our inability to make the struggles go away. Like most parents, we would do anything to take pain away from our kids, and when we can’t, that is about as helpless a feeling as I know.
Life does not seem fair at all. It doesn’t seem fair that my wife has to recover from my disease. Or that temporary decisions (even made in ignorance) produce life-long consequences.
It doesn’t seem fair that addiction is acquired through joy and discarded through misery.
Addiction is a coping mechanism.
It is not weakness or a moral failing. Addiction is not a choice, although with rare mental and behavioral health education, we can avoid making lifestyle decisions that set us up for disaster. Addiction has very little to do with genetics, and much more to do with generational trauma and familial patterns that can result in a family tree dripping with alcoholics.
That first paragraph is thick with stuff it took me over a decade to learn. You don’t have to understand it all. But if you can’t reject the fallacy that addiction is about willpower, genes and morality, then you’re stuck, and none of the rest of this is going to make any sense.
“There’s more food on the stove. Please have more dinner! I’m glad to see you like my cooking.”
One hour passes.
As you take the Tupperware from the refrigerator, you hear, “You’re eating again?”
Sometimes the judgment is so subtle, it is hard to hear. Keep listening.