Originally posted on STIGMAMA.com at Holiday Drinking Triggers Me, by Kitt O’Malley.
Holidays I find unsettling. Not only are the days far too short, but visiting family can destabilize me and trigger bipolar symptoms. I acutely feel a genetic predisposition to alcoholism, drinking minimally, but craving intoxication, more so when triggered. The holidays trigger me for I am surrounded by family members who drink, some who drink to excess daily. In spite of thirty-two years of psychotherapy, it still pains me to see those I love dearly drinking or worse-yet drunk. What pains me the most is seeing my once vibrant father suffering from alcohol-related dementia. His cognitive abilities deteriorate quickly throughout the day and evening as he gets progressively more intoxicated. Both my mother and I become more emotional labile, sensitive, and reactive as we drink. Such is a recipe for repeated family drama.
Still, I desire the intoxicating effect of alcohol. When watching TV, I track alcoholic beverages. In The Big Bang Theory they hold and gulp wine in every episode. In Blue Bloods, Tom Selleck drinks whiskey. When grocery shopping, I am very aware of the aisle with alcohol and try to avoid it. Unfortunately, the wines face those snacks my husband and son enjoy. When I socialize with people who are drinking, that deep craving, that yaw opens, and I, too, drink. I do not drink to excess, but I drink for a biochemical reaction, for my brain to be slowed down and numbed, for that feeling of intoxication, not because I enjoy the flavor. I am no connoisseur. I am, perhaps, an addict who drinks minimally. Likewise, I still remember what marijuana smells like. I still have a visceral reaction when remembering that heady scent, when recounting how I used marijuana decades ago for relief, to slow down and be stupid.
Certainly wouldn’t hurt to try one out.
Yes, the 12-step programs are great. I went to a few. Should have gone to more. Am hoping my craving for alcohol is now long gone. Still sometimes comes the urge but one sip and my mind becomes mush and emotions take control. Dangerous. Good luck with the holidays. My family is mostly dead and I miss them but not the alcoholic situations of madness. Maybe you should try a 12-step program…
You are not alone. Many struggle with binge eating over the holidays. Too many temptations and too many triggers.
Kitt, as always I applaud your honesty and efforts towards staying well. The holidays trigger so much for so many. My struggle during the holidays is binge eating. Please know you have my support always!
Actually, I’ve been told by now three alcoholic/addicts in 12-step recovery that my obsession/craving is a sign of addiction and that I would benefit from the 12-steps. When I was in my 20s, I attended a couple of 12-step meetings for Adult Children of Alcoholics and Al-Anon (dated an alcoholic for one year), and I didn’t like defining myself in relation to my alcoholic parents. Although, yes, obviously their drinking affects me, it does not define me, it does not control me. I wanted to break free from the dynamic. Perhaps I have. Perhaps I have not.
Don’t mind me, Kitt. I am what my alcoholic father would have called, a “reformed drunk” and he said there was nothing worse. I am sure you are on top of things. But Bipolar and alcohol– bad combo. xxellen
I am supporting my wife’s fight against her alcoholism by not going to our companies Christmas party where the booze is free and everyone is hammered.
It is nothing more than one massive trigger.
Abstinence is wise for those of us with bipolar disorder or a family history of alcoholism.
EVERYONE would benefit from a 12-step program in my humble opinion.
Yeah. I probably would benefit from a 12-step program… Who knows.
Actually, in my opinion, it is good to be mindful of the fact that in every group there are alcoholics and to offer choices, not to ban alcohol altogether. Jesus did turn water into wine. Many Christians use wine for communion, as Jesus did at the Last Supper. He didn’t say this juice is my blood. My issue is not how alcohol is used in church or even in everyday social situations, but how it is difficult in the midst of alcoholic family dynamics. I am not in favor of another Prohibition era.
Thank you for the good vibes.
Sounds like a mine field. Thankfully, I can be honest with my family. In fact, I use bipolar disorder as the reason I do not drink, that and the stated belief that I have a genetic predisposition to alcoholism. I’ve been the identified patient for years and will take on that mantle if it means that I can speak and say what others will not. You are right, though, that in doing so we expose ouselves to injury.
Susan, thank you for your blessings and prayers. God bless you. Peace be with you.
Thank you, Ellen. You are right that alcohol and bipolar disorder do not mix. I did have two glasses of sparkling wine on Thanksgiving day, but that was it for the long weekend. I find I have a problem when I drink daily over the holiday visit and then return home. I would then find myself craving alcohol. When we returned after this trip, I did not find myself craving it. That, I feel good about. I could have declined the sparkling wine, but I’ll take the improved outcome as a step in the right direction.
Important for us to take care of ourselves. The holidays are indeed difficult. Overwhelming.
If drink just one glass of wine a night, you are drinking within acceptable levels. My parents periodically “quit” for short periods of time to “prove” that they can, but they drink more than one glass per day. Rethinking Drinking (rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov) offers a tool for evaluating drinking patterns:
I appreciate your struggle. Alcohol certainly permeates our culture and many families (including mine). Personally, I find the only way to cope is to abstain.
The craving and obsession are tell tale signs of alcoholism. Its amazing that you can control your intake. I never could. 12-step program keeps me sober in recovery. Great honest post, Kitt. I can relate.
Thank you for being so honest, Kitt.
I’ve never struggled with alcohol; I grew up in a family that didn’t drink, I was never around alcohol, and I’ve never wanted to drink. I had some kind of alcoholic drink as an adult, and I thought, “Yuck!” The second time was communion at my mother-in-law’s church, when my husband didn’t tell me that the communion wine would be, well, WINE and not grape juice. It was a bit startling. To be honest, drinking alcohol is a “controversial” subjects in the churches I’ve attended. Some folks say that drinking it is a stumbling block, and others claim that they have the freedom to drink or not. (And sometimes, those in the latter group force their freedom on others and create uncomfortable situations.)
Your struggle put a new light on this church issue. If being around alcohol at all creates a problem for you, even though you’re not an “active alcoholic” (is that a good enough term? Language is so imprecise!), then I have to suspect that there are others like you in the churches I’ve attended. And those people are put in awful situations when their fellow Christians force their freedom upon them. Next time a situation of drinking-in-church comes up, I’m going to speak up and mention your post and story, if that’s okay. I think it might make the drinkers think twice. I hope.
You are so open in your writing. I ENVY you – in a nice way of course. Sending good vibes your way. And you’re right Penny uses mostly wine, sometimes a kick in the crotch, to deal with just about everything!
Holiday with family is trigger enough. I had to cut myself off for years until I had enough sense of self to reengage and hold my own. They have no idea I’m bipolar, and frankly it’s a topic I won’t discuss with them. I only reveal certain things to keep myself safe. I connect, I support my nephews, I have dinner once a month with my older brother. Other than that, I have strict boundaries. I have dear friends who are my true family; I can be wholly myself with them, and they love the good, the bad and the ugly. The same for me with them. That’s my definition of family love.
Blessings and prayers to you during the rest of this season, Kitt. One day at a time. <3
Thank you so much for writing this – it’s a very timely subject & as always, it’s so helpful to read your perspective. xoxo
In a word, don’t. I drank for years, starting as soon as I came home from work. My doctor tried to stop me. Finally I found it was making me sick and stopped. I miss it from time to time but it was the best decision, aside from marrying my husband, that I made. I avoid all drunken parties. Too many of those horror shows. I wish I had never drunk any alcohol. Years were spent in an alcoholic haze. Lost forever. For someone Bipolar, it is a terrible mix. At one point, my doctor said for social situations, to take a tranquilizer instead– that was better than drinking in his opinion. I wish I had listened to him sooner.
So many triggers in one month. It’s too much for me. I opted out of family holidays a couple of years ago. I love my family–just not all at the same time. It continues to be a hard decision to choose every year, but so much better than the cycling.
I struggle with not drinking a glass of wine a night. Still I never considered myself an alcoholic… Still, I decided to challenge me with a month of not drinking any alcohol at all. And I decided that this month has to be December. So an extra challenge… The first week was surprisingly easy. 🙂