Blog#96 – Messy Christmas

Search blog

Dear Readers and Listeners,

I hope that the imminent closing of 2023 is bringing you some respite and a chance to re-evaluate things after what has been a challenging year in the world. Follow this link if you’d prefer to listen. While I would love to be offering you some Christmas cheer with this latest and final blog for the year, I’m not going to pretend that I am full of cheer. The truth is I do not like Christmas. There, I’ve said it. I get that, for many, it is a time of celebration and giving. But why do we need to wait until the end of the year to muster kindness? Why don’t we make the most of any opportunity we may have to give of ourselves throughout the year? Christmas is a religious event for Christians but how many real Christians do you know? Call me cynical, but I am pretty sure that, as a percentage of the population, hardly anyone really thinks about Christmas in terms of celebrating the birth of Jesus. Every year I pay my respects by attending mass and celebrating that such a person existed, a person who believed in the goodness of others and was willing to accept them for all their faults and flaws. I do this even though I’m not religious. I do this because I honestly love the serenity and peace that is to be found in a congregation of people who share the same love for humanity and want to help make the world a better place. Because I attend mass, I see the empty seats. Then we go to the beach to cool off in the ocean (last Christmas day temperatures reached close to 40 degrees Celsius!) and I see the thousands of red-faced people making the most of the chance to eat, drink and be merry with impunity, from as early in the day as possible. There’s nothing wrong with people having a party, it’s just the excesses of the season that make me feel uncomfortable knowing that there are so many people struggling in the world. It’s as though the worse the situation becomes for the ‘have-nots’, the harder ‘the haves’ must party in order to block out the reality. It’s a bit sick, don’t you think?

A Christmas I prefer to forget

A world-famous brewing company is now using the tagline ‘make it a Christmas you’ll remember’ to promote its alcohol-free beer. It’s a bit clever, I must admit, and more power to people who are able to abstain from alcohol. I know that the benefits of not drinking far outweigh those of getting pissed. This will be my fifth sober Christmas in a row, so you could say that I now have some experience under my belt. But I also know how hard it can be to manage the powerful urges that come knocking on the door when everyone else is saying, ‘sure, come on, it’s Christmas’. Not to mention the desire to escape the stress that is brought on by the pressure of having to rally around family, of the need to spend money stupidly, to put on a frock, to stuff our faces with food that makes us feel lethargic, and to be excessively merry. Even now, after all these years, I still feel deeply sad at this time of year. I look back at all the Christmases I spent completely blotto. I cringe at the countless gifts I bought with the best of intentions only to leave them behind in pubs as I crawled from one to the other on Christmas eve. It usually culminated in me ‘the drunk’ singing with a choir in a random midnight mass, as the Leonard Cohen song goes – trying in my way to be free. I am glad that those days are well and truly behind me. Sadly, in more recent years, I had probably THE worst Christmas of all time. It was the last one that I spent with extended family. Every Christmas since has just been with my husband and my kids and it’s been so much less stressful. The Christmas I prefer to forget is a learning opportunity for others which is why I am going to share it now, after keeping it buried in my psyche for a decade.

Desperately wanting love

It was Christmas day and there I was, slaving over a hot stove, getting spattered each time I basted the ham, praying that the turkey wasn’t going to be too dry – all so that I could give of myself and win the approval of family guests who I hadn’t seen for a long time. These were family members with whom I’d had tumultuous relationships since I was a child. I desperately wanted them to accept and love me. I was excited that we were all together again, but I was also very nervous. The only thing that seemed to keep my nerves under control was the wine. And it worked well. I loved the fact that on Christmas day it is perfectly normal and acceptable to open a bottle of champagne as early as 9am. I took complete advantage of this. I glugged down the wine throughout the morning and all through the Christmas lunch preparations. When the roast potatoes were perfectly crispy, I did a little jig around the kitchen thinking that I had nailed it. My husband was in the living room with one of the visitors building Lego with the kids. And then a visiting family member who I will not name crept into the kitchen where I laboured alone and said, ‘I was just thinking about those awful things you did when you were younger. Have you ever told Damien about that? I wonder what he would think if he knew?’ They then went on to recall the details of things that had happened in my life that I had never shared with them. I had no idea that they knew these details. There is no need to go into the details here, maybe another time I might share them, but suffice to say that it came as a complete shock to me. There was nothing but judgement and disgust in their tone. I was speechless. I looked at them in disbelief. My gut reaction was to run. So I raced to my bedroom and threw myself, lipstick, greasy apron ‘n all, onto my bed and broke down in a hysterical fit of crying. I was catapulted back to that traumatic period of my life that the family member had reminded me about, a very difficult time when I was 21, lost, confused and in a great deal of pain. I could not be consoled. Eventually my husband found me. He was scratching his head wondering what the hell had happened. One minute I was happily in the kitchen preparing a massive feast for my family and guests, and the next I was a hysterical mess in my bedroom with snot and tears ruining my make-up. When I finally pulled myself together and managed to clean myself up, I explained what had happened. His reaction was to barge down there and ask them to leave. But he refrained. Damien, (aka Himself) by the way, married me warts ‘n all. I have never kept a single thing about my past from him. We managed to calm ourselves down and regain our composure enough to see the feast and the day through. But each bite of food felt as though it was going to choke me. I had to drink more wine to wash it down.

Raving, drunken, angry woman

The damage was done but I kept a lid on it. I wanted my kids to enjoy this special family time. The same person brought up more stuff from the past in an accusative way but pretending it was funny. It always felt like a sharp knife was being thrust into my side. The wine took the edge off, for a while. Before the week was out, I’d had more wine than I was used to. It was like a powerful fuel that was being added to the pressure cooker in my stomach and slowly, over a 48-hour period, the pressure grew and moved from my stomach to my head until one night I flipped my lid. I hadn’t dealt with the Christmas day attack at all in the days afterwards and, of course, the other family members in the visiting party didn’t have a clue about what had taken place in the privacy of the kitchen that Christmas Day. All they could see was a raving, drunken, angry woman.

They left soon after that on a very bitter note, leaving behind the gifts that we had bought for them. It was the ultimate two-fingers to us.

I felt like a horrible person, hated and shameful. I blamed myself for the entire debacle. It was only when I finally stopped drinking six years later in 2019 that I was able to revisit episodes such as this one with the help of counselling and understand the role that I had played in how it all unfolded. I was able to see that what had been done to me in the first instance was very wrong, but my drinking had meant that I did not have the clarity of mind to deal with it in a way that would serve me, rather than be to my detriment. The greatest lesson I learnt in my early days of sobriety is summed up in the quote from Holocaust survivor, and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, ‘Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.’ When I think about how differently things could have panned out had I been sober all those years ago, I remind myself that what I do now is what matters. I can’t change the past. But I can choose how I am today.

My message to anyone who might ever find themselves in a similar situation is this

Choose carefully who you surround yourself with. Just because someone is family does not mean that they have your best interests at heart. They might be so deeply affected by their own experiences that they are unable to see you as you truly are. It is a sad fact that some people are more messed up than us. If you do choose to be around people who behave in a toxic way, then remember that drinking heavily is likely to backfire and you’ll be the one who comes out smelling of booze while they smell of roses. Do not give them that power over you. You are better than that. If the only way for you to be around certain people is by drinking heavily, then you are probably better off finding somewhere else to be. If you can keep your head when all around you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, you will be at peace with yourself. You will be the change that we all wish to see in the world. It’s no easy task. Our emotions can very easily get the better of us, but with awareness and a commitment to self-care and self-peace, it will be much easier.

Wishing you courage and strength to do your best to take good care of yourself and others during this often emotionally and financially demanding time.

Thank you for all your feedback, love and support this year. I wish you all the best and hope that I can make a valuable contribution to your life in 2024.

Love, Gill xx


Gill Kenny - the Writer & Blogger

About the author – Gill Kenny

I have been writing for as long as I can remember. Through my blog, I aim to provide you with a place where you can feel valued by inviting you to share your journey too.  I will regularly have guest writers who wish to share their views or experiences on each topic. I am open to ideas and happy to cover any topics that interest you, so please feel free to share yours with me.

Thank you so much for being part of my blog community.  To ensure you get to read all my latest posts please subscribe using the form below.

Love, Gill x