Each December when visiting my dear home country, Finland, I remember how seriously Finns take alcohol and Christmas; alcohol is a government owned monopoly, Santa resides in Finland and everybody loves the annual Christmas Peace Declaration.
I have a bone to pick with one Christmas tradition; an annual Anti-Alcohol Campaign with a tagline “Give Your Child a Sober Christmas”. The camping is running strong for over 20 years already and being backed up by 35 NGOs. I feel divided with it because for one hand it’s so powerful and wakes people up, but on the other hand it might feel ignorant from alcoholic family’s point-of-view. Now, let’s study the advice from a a non-drinking- and drinking -family perspectives.
I think Christmas ought to be a time for the children to feel safety, warmth, trust, peace, togetherness, and enjoyment of good food and preferably hard Christmas presents (no more socks, please). If we accept that every child deserves safety and authenticity, then it logically follows that only a non-addicted parents can deliver.
Every child hopes their parent’s wouldn’t drink.
The motive for the advice “Give Your Child a Sober Christmas” is then honest and idealistic.
Photo 103826153 © Evgenyatamanenko — Dreamstime.com
Random appearances from chemical persons (wasted parents or wasted Santa) would surely spoil the mood and create memorable disappointments for a child. If there’s choice in normal conditions, sober parents are always better than drinking ones, no question about it.
The music changes a bit when we look the advice “Give Your Child a Sober Christmas” from a drinking family’s perspective. I can think of at least six arguments to show how ignorant and counter-productive this advice can be.
Photo 104376614 © Elnur — Dreamstime.com
First, focusing merrily on Christmas alone is a bit of a double-morale. Why would the Christmas Eve be important than the other days of the year? Surely the thinking isn’t that one sober day with presents and singing together compensates for other 364 drinking days. Come on!
Second, the advice is impractical. Neither a non-drinker parent, nor an alcoholic parent care about drinking advice. A healthy person doesn’t over-drink so the advise misses the mark. An alcoholic’s will is dysfunctional, so the advice doesn’t even notably register. Any advice aimed to alcoholics comes always too late. Therefore, only someone on the edge of falling into alcoholism benefits from advice, since their will is still functional.
Third, it’s a guilt-trap. This is not what an alcoholic parent needs, because they already are devastated by pain and guilt. To drink is to try avoid pain. To keep drinking is to try avoid guilt. Appeals to guilt makes alcoholics feel even worse and enhances the need for the next drink. The mechanism is identical for all substance abuses.
Fourth, the advice is probably based on a wrong assumption that the drinker, in their sober state, would actually shed mental capacity for their family. Bollocks! An alcoholic is focused only about their drinking and they are always planning about next possibility to drink.
Fifth, an alcoholic who is forced to put the cap back on for Christmas can easily turn into a Dry Drunk. They are like a cornered animals trying to find even a smallest ‘reason’ to begin drinking again. There will be endless showcase of drama, manipulation, accusations, jealousy traps, threats, and covert drinking (at night when others sleep). A “Stimmungskanone” the family drunk is not.
Sixth, a Sober Christmas in an alcoholic family is quite stressful since sober roles are unknown. Family members know how to “run the theatre” (minimise the damage, hide the knives, lie to neighbours and police) – that standard stuff. With the dry drunk it’s stressful because nobody knows their theatrical lines anymore. There are no prompters in alcoholic families. Without withdrawal therapy for the drunk and co-dependency therapy for the family members nobody ever will know their true lines.
I don’t condemn anti-alcohol campaigning, but just want to point out that we might be kidding ourselves with some of it. I showed that Christmas-timed alcohol advice is indeed morally sound, but at the same time offered six reasons why it might be ignorant and counter-productive for alcoholic families point of view. In an alcoholic family’s gritty reality a real catharsis is not reached until the family drunk is convinced to enter rehabilitation.
Christmas wakes us up with most powerful message: Birth of Love. We can’t (and shouldn’t!) reject Christmas Spirit’s call for goodness. We ought to be aware, however, that such a high ideal makes us susceptible to feel-good narratives. In our Christmas-high we could be collectively accepting half-truths, just to restore faith in humanity again. After a soul-slamming world events of 2018, I guess we all need to restore some faith again. If this Christmas can fix anything, let it!
ID 100263472 © Elena Nichizhenova | Dreamstime.com