04 December 2009

The Christmas letter

Every year, for some considerable time now, when I write my Christmas cards, I include a computer-written round-robin letter in them, telling people what we have been doing during the past year. First, it saves having to hand-write a letter to every one of the hundred or so we send cards to, secondly it keeps people we haven't seen for a while up to date and thirdly I actually love receiving similar kinds of letters from other people at Christmas. If I have been unable to see them for two, three, four, ten years, it is a nice way of catching up with their news. I also keep copies of my own letters, so over a period of time, I can look back and see what we did in any given year. One of our acquaintances has said in the past that they felt insulted receiving the same printed newsletter from us sent to all and sundry, but apart from that one person, most have said they look forward to receiving them and hearing our news.

Over the last few years I have had increasing trouble knowing what to write about Greg. Only a small handful of people know there is anything wrong with Greg apart from his diabetes and heart trouble. They know nothing whatsoever about the alcoholism. The first person I ever shared the problem with, about four years ago, was Greg's sister and for a long time she was the only other person who knew. Then my mother witnessed things at first hand when she stayed over with us one Christmas. Then a year or so further on, Greg's mother (who is sadly no longer with us) found out. Gradually I felt brave enough to share my dilemma with my two closest friends and finally, eighteen months ago, Kay's teacher, who needed to know in case Kay's school work suffered. In fact, it was the telling of the teacher that finally pushed me into writing my blog, because that was the first (and only) person outside close friends and family whom I had told and that seemed to give me courage to get things off my chest into cyberspace. However, apart from those six people, the rest of our circle of friends, neighbours and family know absolutely nothing at all. Some might have guessed (certainly neighbours in recent months), but most have no idea at all. I have often had to make excuses to others about Greg's absence from social gatherings, about why he doesn't drive anywhere these days or about his hospitalisations. The usual excuse is that he has problems resulting from diabetes and the poor circulation in his legs. It is true he has those complaints but they are not of course solely the reasons for his absences, inability to drive or hospitalisations. I have even blamed his absences on the fact that he has to babysit for the dog. I sometimes wonder if I should just come clean and tell everyone the truth as the situation arises, but then I feel I might somehow be disloyal to Greg, doing the dirty on him, washing our linen in public. (I suppose the same could be said of this blog, but then I do try to cover up our real identity, so Greg's privacy is protected.)

Up until this year there was always equal news in our newsletters about all three of us. However, my Christmas letter this year contains lots of news about Kay and myself. There is a very small paragraph buried in the middle just to say Greg had been ill in hospital again and was now housebound. He read my draft through a few days ago and commented "there's not much about me in it". What more could I write? That he drinks all day? Watches TV from morning till the following early morning and naps on the dining chair at odd times of the day? That he has all sorts of illnesses building up from the excess of alcohol? That his hygiene has gone to seed? That he never goes anywhere or does anything? Perhaps I could make up something, such as he is planning to climb Killimanjaro or has taken up stamp-collecting? I asked him what he would like me to write instead. He thought for a minute and then said my draft was fine.


DogLover said...

I am always surprised when I hear people say they don't like these Christmas letters. I always find them interesting and think it's a great way of telling friends what's been happening.

You know my history, Rosiero, and will be amused that I also tended, like you, to say that my partner's problems resulted from diabetes!

laurie said...

alcoholism is the elephant in the room. it is the secret that controls the family. it is the big thing that must never be mentioned.

silence and secrecy are the ways that alcoholics control us.

there are many books about this, and i found them helpful to read when my father was drinking too much. (he spent about 10 years drinking too much, after my oldest brother died)

i think your christmas letter sounds completely appropriate.

Anonymous said...

Hi Rosiero,

What a fantastic idea. I think that would be a great thing to find with your christmas card. I'm glad you have kept copies. These could be really valuable to future generations if passed down as well as the obvious value to yourself in the present.

I know what you mean about not knowing what to write about Greg. My wife used to struggle when asked by people what I was doing with myself, why I wasn't working, why we couldn't visit, etc. It was one of the reasons that I let her tell people how things were. It wasn't fair that she should feel awkward because of my problem.

Your blog must be an important release for you as it is for so many others. In the real world its not so easy to open up because of the consequences but at the same time people can't bottle it up. I'm glad there are people close to you who you can discuss this with now but also glad you are sharing with us while keeping your family protected.

All the best


Nota Bene said...

Round robins are a great thing to do...for the people you don't see or talk to regularly....I love the ones I get....and quite right to do it as you have done this year...

AnyEdge said...

My grand mother was a vicious drunk. I never knew it until she was dead. My mother kept me away from her.

Once, long after she had died, my mother told me that her father, the great enabler, had told my mother: "Never tell anyone what goes on in this house."

That always struck me as sad, until I was the alcoholic, when suddenly it made more sense: this is none of anyone's business.

But it was. And now, my kid's school knows, because it was hard on him. His friend's parents know, because that's just responsible.

but I'm in recovery now. I'm not sure what advice I'd have. God bless you.

nappy valley girl said...

That must be really hard. To this day very few people know that my mother died of alcohol-related problems; it's such a difficult thing to suddenly tell people.

Mind you, I'd be tempted to write an alternative letter with all the harsh truths about him, and show it to him and ask whether you should send that....

aims said...

I wonder what would happen if you told the truth to everyone you send the letters to.

Would you receive help? Might it be the best thing you could ever do so that you aren't battling this alone?

Or - would they never speak to you again because Greg is a leper.

Hmmm.... I think the first would happen.

It would take a lot of guts to be real.

Sadly I know you would not do this - especially in a Christmas letter.

You could sort of make a reference to it by saying Greg's nose looks just like Santa's all the time....

Elaine said...

I've never had a Chistmas letter but it would be wonderful to get one.

I like the idea of writing an alternative letter and showing it to Greg. I also like the idea of telling everyone the truth so you can get the love and support you so rightly deserve. But I think you probaly won't do either of those things.

Big Hugs. x

DogLover said...

Sorry to come in again. With all due respect to Aims, whose comments are usually so wise, I think the decision whether to go public should lie with the alcoholic. His permission should be sought first. Think cancer or any other dread disease - you wouldn't tell all and sundry, would you.

But anyway, what would be the point of going public, Aims? Might it just be to say "Poor me"?

Marguerite said...

I was very close to an alcoholic for 10 years. Everyone in both of our families knew about his drinking. How could they not know? He was in and out of treatment 4 times, but the last time, when he was close to dying, he had to choose. To drink or to die. He chose to live and I thank God for that because he is a wonderful person who only had a bad addiction. Alcoholism can be overcome and I will keep you both in my thoughts and prayers.

Working Mum said...

I suppose telling people about Greg depends on whether they understand alcoholism. Difficult one.

I like these letters unless, as one of my friends does, it is two sides of A4 of densly packed size 10 font. I don't bother reading that one. I do one with pictures and very little text. It seems to be well received, especially by my parent's generation who I don't really see any more, but like to know what I'm up to.

PS Award for you over at mine.

Working Mum said...

I suppose telling people about Greg depends on whether they understand alcoholism. Difficult one.

I like these letters unless, as one of my friends does, it is two sides of A4 of densly packed size 10 font. I don't bother reading that one. I do one with pictures and very little text. It seems to be well received, especially by my parent's generation who I don't really see any more, but like to know what I'm up to.

PS Award for you over at mine.

Working Mum said...

I suppose telling people about Greg depends on whether they understand alcoholism. Difficult one.

I like these letters unless, as one of my friends does, it is two sides of A4 of densly packed size 10 font. I don't bother reading that one. I do one with pictures and very little text. It seems to be well received, especially by my parent's generation who I don't really see any more, but like to know what I'm up to.

PS Award for you over at mine.

Daphne Wayne-Bough said...

Best say as little as possible. Don't lie, but nobody wants to get bad news at Christmas, and although they'd feel bad for you they have their own lives to get on with and wouldn't want to get involved, or (worse) would say 'well if she stays with him she can't be that unhappy'. When my emails to friends started to be met by silence I realized it was time to act.

A peaceful Christmas to you, Rosiero and Kay. May it pass quickly.

Gill - That British Woman said...

I just wanted to pop by and say a Merry Christmas to you and your family.

Gill in Canada

Furtheron said...

Your last sentence says more about where he is than anything else.

As ever I hold to the hope he'll get the message eventually

Anonymous said...
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Rusty Hoe said...

Alcoholism doesn't just belong to the alcoholic it belongs to everyone in their life. I grew up with an alcoholic and gambling addicted parent. We weren't supposed to speak of it, I think my mum figured if we didn't say it out loud no one would know. She was living in a fantasy land. Everyone knew. How could they not. I think for us making up all the excuses just served to hide and enable his behaviour. He never had to admit he was an alcoholic and we all lost out. But that's my family.

I probably wouldn't put it in a Christmas letter but I wouldn't be scared of saying it either. The reality is if you put it out to the world it wouldn't change things greatly. He'd continue to drink but at least you'd be freed of the burden of keeping the secret. You'd probably be surprised by the number of people who live or have lived with something similar.

Flowerpot said...

Difficult isnt it? Sounds like you got it right - and well done for handling it so well with Greg. You should write a boook about this later. I'm sure it would help ohters ina similar situation.

Robert said...

I like Christmas letters such as yours. I think you've organised the content of your's just perfectly.

Working Mum said...

Just called back to see if you had a new post and I find that I posted my comment three times! Ooops! Must be my cold infused mashed brain. Sorry.

June said...

We all do the best we can with the tools available to us. If you and your husband are comfortable with your Christmas letter's contents it's fine. I think it's good to think about your other options though.

Having been on both sides, I look back and wonder why my mother's alcoholism needed to be such a secret...why we were so ashamed. Is it because uninformed people still see alcoholism as a moral failing rather than the disease that it is...all on its own, apart from its physical consequences.

Surely the drunk creates all kinds of embarrassing circumstances and can smell bad and look bad. But so do people with cerebral palsy and Alzheimer's and any number of other ailments. And aren't we all so supportive and proud of the people who take care of sufferers of "acceptable" illnesses?

It's a sad thing that the disease of alcoholism creates prisoners of everyone involved.

Anonymous said...

We have a family member who lives in Cheshire and always includes a letter in their card - it's amazing what they have done during the year. I sometimes think of doing it myself!

Kay has done so well this year, it is only right that the letter contains mostly about her and you of course.

CJ xx

T. Clear said...

I've been sitting here for a while trying to decide what to say....

Kudos to you for writing this blog. It takes courage and integrity, which you seem to possess in abundance.

My late husband went out in a blaze of alcohol when he crashed his car after an evening at the bar. This was six years ago, and the fallout from that event has been profound. Because of it, I lost my business and had to fight to keep my house in a resulting lawsuit. I've built a new and joyful life in the interim, but not a day goes by where I'm not revisited by something from that previous life.

My heart goes out to you. This is wrenching stuff. May you find joy in something every single day.

Me said...

I love these christmas letters.

I'm happy to say I talked to my husband's step mom and said I think my husband is an alcoholic and she told me she has thought so for years. That made me feel better. If I do leave I want them to sort of know why. I'm happy to say that my in-laws aren't blind.

I kept my life a secret for yrs and it got me no where. Now like you I blog about it. It bugs my husband as of lately as I announced to the world he was recently diagnosed with ADD. I reminded him that the blog doesn't have any names on it and those that read it have just as many problems as we do and maybe they have similar issues and can pass on some good advice. I gave him the alternative of I stay uninvolved in his life and not do any research to help him etc. and he didn't like that option so the blog continues.

I know alcoholism as well as ADD is genetic so hopefully if his other family member finds out about him they will be open to sharing how they are dealing with it and if they are unaware maybe by his coming out with it will help them figure out why their life is going so miserably wrong. That's the hope. And then there are those that don't understand it and are rude and mean. We all have one of those family members. It stinks, but we can all relate to the tasteless and inappropriateness of their comments that make us cry.

Here is my story: http://www.wifetellsall.blogspot.com/