This year, I got everything I wanted for Christmas, a few things I didn’t ask for, and a spectacular surprise gift wrapped as a grumpy mother.
Christmas morning, I awoke with a half swollen upper lip that looked like a botched Botox job. I think the culprit was one of those horrendous, under the skin pimples that are so painful and inflamed they need constant doses of Tylenol. It had been brewing for a week and continued to grow despite my counter attack with dabs of rubbing alcohol.
My old drinking self would have skipped the coffee and gone straight for a mimosa to drown my disappointment that the day would clearly be less than perfect. My sober self laughed, ignored the two bottles of Veuve Clicquot (my favorite!) I purchased for our traditional pre-gift opening Christmas toast with our guests, and told the kids I was beginning my transformation into Jar Jar Binks. Nothing was going to spoil the day.
And, nothing was going threaten my sobriety. I relapsed last Christmas Eve, threw away almost seven months of sobriety, and drank for six weeks before re-entering recovery. This year, I had a lot to prove.
Each Christmas for the past 13 (?) years (I’m not sure exactly when my husband and I began hosting Christmas, but I know it was post-marriage and pre-kids), we have spent hundreds of dollars on cases of wine for our guests. I easily put away three bottles myself and I know I wasn’t alone some years. This year, planning to not drink, feeling uncomfortable with the idea of selecting what others would drink, and hoping to encourage imbibers to take a different kind of responsibility for their own consumption, we announced we’d offer nothing more than the champagne for the toast. Alcohol would be welcome, but we would not provide it. BYOB Christmas.
No one complained. Everyone seemed supportive of the move. Excellent. My mother has always brought her own wine anyway.
Ah, my mother. I haven’t told her about my blog and I don’t think she’s read it. But, her behavior on Christmas caused me to seriously wonder if perhaps she’s been lurking here. I quickly reassured myself – while I’ve mentioned my mother in a post here and there, I haven’t yet truly introduced her character to this story – and realized that, for whatever reason, her true colors had simply decided to appear and shine just for me on Christmas Day.
Despite her recent foray into a slew of volunteer activities, my mother is a woman who has spent her life being catered to, having people take care of things for her. Her reality is so tremendously far afield from mine, I really cannot relate to her any longer. The distance between us has only grown since I got sober.
On Christmas, my mom seemed incapable of being pleasant to me. In fact, she was at times truly unpleasant. There were blatant criticisms, complaints, and passive aggressive digs. The kind of stuff that makes you want to quip, “But, tell me how you really feel …” It’s been quite a long time since my mom has been critical of me – at least to my face, anyway.
When she arrived, my mom walked to our front steps and stopped. She was loaded down with parcels, so I offered to help. “No. I have to wait right here for your father,” she replied. “Because you still don’t have a handrail on these steps.”
Wow. OK. In the 15 years we’ve owned our home, no one has ever expressed concern about the lack of a handrail on the three short and generously wide steps leading to our front door. My mom visits twice each year … if we’re lucky.
I brushed off her comment and respected her wishes to have my dad help her.
A little while later, we were all sitting in the living room, getting ready to open gifts. One of my favorite Trans-Siberian Orchestra songs started playing from our Christmas playlist and my mom announced, “I am so sick of this song … if I have to listen to it one more time …”
I quickly grabbed my phone and skipped to the next song. “Path of least resistance,” I silently reminded myself. “Let it go. She didn’t mean it.”
It was about 70 degrees in Connecticut on Christmas Day. We don’t have central air, so we opened some windows to let the heat of the oven and stove and 17 warm bodies escape the house. But, as we prepared to serve the hot meal, I closed the two windows nearest the table to prevent the evening breeze from chilling the food. As I reached for the crank on the window next to my mother, the 69-year-old hot flash queen snapped at me, “You’d better not close that if you don’t want me to overheat!” I took my hand off the handle and muttered under my breath, “Well, then, you can explain to everyone why dinner is cold.” Her comments and jabs were getting ridiculous.
But, there were great moments, too. Over dessert, we got on the subject of Schweddy Balls and when my Dad kept saying, “sweaty balls,” it became abundantly clear this comedy-loving man had never seen the infamous SNL sketch. We immediately pulled it up on an iPhone and breathed in the magic of every second of joy my parents had watching it. “This stuff is our ‘Rowan & Martin’s Laugh In,'” I explained.
And, there was one of those stories that was so funny I cracked myself up and laughed so hard I cried before I even managed to tell it, only to realize it wasn’t as funny when I said it out loud as when I imagined it in my own head (dang, that even happens to me sober!).
Lest we laugh too much, my mother then declared to me, “With that thing on your face, you’re just going to have to put some rubbing alcohol on it until it dries up. And stop wearing so much heavy make up.” It was pointless for me to explain I’d already taken her advice – I do remember all the pimple remedies she taught me. And, I was only wearing translucent powder over strategically placed spots of concealer. If only the former fashion model had given me a few makeup lessons. Oh well, at least she gave me a gift card for a facial. At a spa in South Carolina where she lives.
Not 30 minutes later, everyone decided it was time to vacate, “get out of your hair” my mother said followed by, “We’re going to leave so you can get some sleep. You look terrible.”
“Mom, I’m as well-rested as I get,” I replied, knowing I looked better than I had in weeks, even with my Jar Jar Binks lip. “I’m fine. I’m just old now. This is how I look.”
I love my mom. I do. A lot. As difficult as it is for me to write about her this way, it’s also therapeutic. My mom has given me a lot. She and my dad are very supportive of me and they are really good to my husband and kids.
But, ouch, Christmas stung this year. Maybe it bothered me more because I was sober and I couldn’t just drink away my feelings. Maybe it bothered me more because that’s not what I wanted Christmas to be about.
My husband and I looked at each other after the last car had pulled away and said we would never host Christmas again. The next morning I processed it all with a rested head and clear mind (perhaps I did need some sleep). My former drinking self would have drowned these feelings and held a grudge. My sober self has graciously accepted the gifts of strength and empowerment my mom’s words and actions gave me. This Christmas, my mom reminded me what we all learned from the Grinch all those years ago.
We never did that champagne toast. The two bottles of Veuve are in my garage. I could still go drink away these emotions. But, I won’t. I’ll give one bottle to my sister to enjoy with her hubby on New Year’s Eve. Not sure what I’ll do with the other. I do know I won’t be the one drinking it.