Christmas with an alcohol-addicted partner
The holidays are almost here and although this should be a festive and happy season, for many, Christmas with an alcohol-addicted partner can be the total opposite. That living with an alcoholic is not easy is an understatement. It’s a constant roller-coaster between love and hate, care and let go, happiness and sadness and hope and disillusion. Come Christmas the tension can become even more intense. If the alcoholic is having a period of sobriety it will still be a time of worry for the partner. With all the temptation in the shops, coming into the living room through television adds and certainly also at office, family and friends parties … alcohol is never far away. However, if your alcoholic is still drinking you will be likely to brace yourself and just try to keep the family together at home, as best as you can, without the possible interference and judgement of others.
I remember it all too well. There were many moments of desperation and fear. Fear of him getting into a binge and ruining Christmas. My ex partner was from the UK and I’m Dutch. When I was growing up in The Netherlands Christmas wasn’t all that important. I would spend Christmas Day with my parents and the next day with a friend. There were no obligations, no rituals, no exchange of gifts, just some nice food and a few drinks. But then I met him. He loved Christmas.
Months before he started buying lovely gifts for me, all totally to my taste and always very generous, which was somewhat peculiar as he didn’t contribute much during the years we lived together. I was the one taking care of all the bills. But during the Christmas season he would spend a lot of money on me. I also bought him presents and really loved doing that. It was a special time.He also insisted on preparing Christmas lunch, he was an excellent cook, and the left overs turned into a delicious bubble and squeak the next day. We spent most Christmases together at home, just the two of us and our dog and cat. He was almost always sober on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. I think he loved it so much that it made him strong enough to not touch the booze, but I do remember that fear in the back of my mind me that he would.
I learned to love Christmas with the unpacking of presents in the morning. Lots of food for lunch, with Christmas crackers and silly hats as part of the ritual and then watching television. It was very special and I cherish the memories.
Then came the very last Christmas we were together. This time it was different and I wrote in my diary:
“I feel so guilty. It is Christmas week and I wish I hadn’t made a fuss. It’s raining and has been all day. It seems never ending. It is seven o’clock in the evening, dark and there is even some thunder and lightning, it makes everything feel even more dramatic. My house is cold. I have no money for a large heating bill so I just wrap up warm with several layers. With the thermometer reading only four degrees outside it isn’t easy to stay warm. Two pairs of fleecy slacks, a vest, two long-sleeved T-shirts, a warm jumper and a cardigan. My face and hands are still cold, which make the warm tears streaming out of my eyes and down my cheeks even more obvious. I feel a little sick; sick of worrying. He went out in his slippers, bought from the cheap pound shop a few weeks ago. Black plastic ‘crocs’ with a white fake sheepskin insole to keep his feet warm. They will be wet by now. I had to confront him because he doesn’t stick to my ultimatums. I am sick of asking him to stick to my ‘if you choose to drink you choose to sleep somewhere else” ultimatum, and so disappointed that instead of not drinking, spending Christmas shopping as planned and enjoying the weekend together, he chooses to kill himself. That is what it feels like; I’m watching him slowly killing himself.
Only three days ago, after a week and a half of sobriety, I found him fast asleep on the sofa. It was still early in the afternoon. I was shocked and thought he had died, he was lying there so quiet, his face so attractive, hardly any wrinkles. It reminded me of my mother, just after she died, her face so beautiful and relaxed. But he wasn’t dead. He was still breathing. For a moment I thought he was sober and just having an afternoon nap, but I was wrong. The smell surrounding him a clear give-away. Usually he would hide-away any evidence of his drinking, but this time he was obviously in no state to think clearly. I felt an indescribable sadness when I saw the empty bottle of vodka sticking out of the yellow plastic garbage bag.
The following day I calmly brought up the matter. Describing my worries to him. He waved them away and said, ‘surely I am not doing that badly… I haven’t been drinking for a week and a half’. I knew he was in denial. Again. But the day turned into a non-drinking day and my ‘sparkle’ of hope was re-ignited. I still get the sparkles, but they’re in spite of my better judgement, because a day of sobriety is not enough for him to give up his addiction.
Yesterday he left me a note, explaining he would be in a hostel for the night. That he was sticking to my ultimatum. He decided to do the drinking outside my home, but also decided to rub it in afterwards by telling me how expensive my ultimatum was for him.
I had mixed feelings, sad that he was drinking again and happy that at least he had stuck to the non-drinking in my house ultimatum. But there is no logic in the brain of someone under the influence of alcohol. There is no normality. He returned in the afternoon. Clearly on the edge of total drunkenness, talking just a bit too much, just a bit too hysterically. Totally trying to convince me of his sober state, but it was too blindingly obvious. He went outside and sat down at the plastic table on the terrace, only slightly covered from the rain. A terrace with a beautiful view, despite the fact that it was pouring down. Low clouds embraced the mountain tops, but the plastic bottle containing vodka mixed with a tiny bit of lemonade next to him on the floor painted a less romantic picture.
I knew it would have been better for me not to have said anything, better to just wait till he was sober. But I couldn’t, I had to confront him, so I did. A totally useless conversation that I could never win followed. It only took a little while for him to make it sound as if it was my fault. I was the intolerant, abnormal one. I was the cruel selfish creature judging him.
I did not ask him to leave there and then, but that is what he heard, so he got up, slammed the door behind him, and left the apartment building. I watched him walking down the street in his slippers and with a shiny red Christmas ball attached to his knitted woollen black hat, in the pouring rain…
I feel so guilty”
(Excerpt from “Cheers” – see below)
Reading the words I wrote back then brings it all back to me and I feel for the ‘partners’ who are still in a similar situation. I know the pain, I read the messages in the Facebook groups. A safe place to share your thoughts and not being judged. I want to react to them all, hug those posting and tell them it will be OK. I like to convince them that when the moment is there, they too will be able to spend that very last Christmas with their partner and find the strength to leave and start a new life! Or wishing them a happy live with a partner in recovery. In my thoughts I’m sending white ‘healing’ light to all who are having a difficult time during their Christmas with an alcohol-addicted partner and hoping it will be a Merry one nevertheless!
Wishing everyone who reads this a Merry Christmas and a healthy start of the New Year
My name is Renate van Nijen. I am a Dutch born, artist and writer living in Southern Spain. On my website, www.renatevannijen.com you can find more information about my books, including about Cheers, the hidden voices of alcoholism, and my art. If you are affected by the drinking of a loved one please feel free to subscribe to my blog and you will get instant access to two chapters from Cheers! I will also upload one chapter of my book every month!