No doubt, the holidays can be a stressful time for just about all of us. But for someone suffering from a drinking problem, Thanksgiving and Christmas-time can be wrought with extreme emotions, stress and substance abuse.
In order to help raise awareness of alcoholism in the U.S. (where 17.6 million people have a drinking problem; that’s 1 in 12 adults), we have the story of one woman, Carolyn Jones, who says she coped with the holidays by getting drunk by 10am on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
This became a vicious cycle of inadequacy. The holidays are a hard time for a lot of people, and for Carolyn it was a very lonely time.
“I felt very alone during the holidays, even when I was married, and I felt guilty I didn’t have loving feelings for my family members. After all, the holidays is when you’re supposed to show your love, right? Well, I had very ambivalent feelings toward them, especially my parents.”
She dealt with that by drinking. Most days she started drinking at 5pm. But on the holidays, she started as early as 8am. It started with champagne and orange juice, or a Bloody Mary if she was hungover from drinking the day before. “By 10am, I was blitzed, making it difficult to fix the holiday meal, or to communicate with my family by phone.”
On Christmas day, Carolyn and her husband and I spent the day doing a hobby of their own choosing, separate, not together. That saddened her and she kept herself company by drinking more and more, feeling more and more isolated. And then it became a vicious cycle:
“Christmas especially was difficult for me, as I was so worried that I had not gotten someone the “right” gift and I felt guilty about my usually meager offering. That led to more drinking to numb those feelings of guilt. Then there were my friends, who got angry at me for drinking so much during the day. When that started happening, my husband and I started going away for Christmas, to visit some special place. That way, we could drink to our heart’s content, and drink we did, so much so that I have a very foggy recollection of those holidays. Yes, drinking on the holidays caused me to miss out on quite a bit of the specialness of the day.”
But where did it all start?
“I felt guilty I didn’t have loving feelings for my family members. After all, the holidays is when you’re supposed to show your love, right? Well, I had very ambivalent feelings toward them, especially my parents.”
For her, drinking was always a way to deal with emotions she couldn’t handle. Carolyn began drinking at 21 when she was a senior in college. Devastated by a breakup with her high school sweetheart, she found out via a letter that he had married someone else.
“Alcohol took away the intense pain… I continued drinking and my “drinking career” got into full swing when I moved from Ohio to Colorado to live with a friend. I now know I drank to escape from feelings of worthlessness, low esteem, and deep despair.”
But eventually she realized she was drinking more than most, and she learned to hide the amount of alcohol she consumed.
“I isolated and bought my beer at different stores so they wouldn’t know how much I was drinking. After Colorado, I moved to California to live aboard a sailboat with my husband, and when I went to buy groceries, I’d put the beer in the bottom of the bag and cover it up with other food, so no one could see the beer. I didn’t have to hide it from my husband because he was a drinker, too. I hid it from my work because I got a job working from home, so they couldn’t see the hangovers I had the day after drinking myself into oblivion.”
But eventually it got to be more than she could control:
“I made a fool out of myself while at restaurants, hotels. I could barely walk straight. Also, I forgot entire vacations -just couldn’t remember them.”
Finally, Carolyn decided enough was enough.
“I got sober on March 6, 2001 by attending AA, 4-5 times a day for the first year of sobriety. I was dealing with extremely difficult emotions… rejection, my worthlessness and low esteem, hopelessness, despair, and I sought counseling for that. Also, I was diagnosed with major depression and major anxiety, for which I agreed to take medication. Additionally, I was diagnosed with PTSD, and sought treatment for that. I began to learn how to open myself to others and a friend helped me tremendously to learn that not all people would slam me when I made myself vulnerable. His input has helped me go a long way in my recovery. So did the help I received from a sympathetic sponsor and spiritual advisor. Finally, I journaled daily, which was a huge life-saver.”
Eventually she turned some of those journal writings into a book called Opening the Gates of the Heart: A Journey of Healing. She says that going through the process of creating the book led to more healing where she has been able to heal and forgive her parents and her past.
Now, ten years later, she says, “Life as a sober person is filled with wonderful magic, and I want everyone who has a drinking problem to give up the drinking so they can experience it.”