It's the least wonderful time of the year
December 14, 2009 10:43 AM   Subscribe

How to handle an abusive, alcoholic family for Christmas - now and in years to come?

I am 25 years old, and have managed to (mostly) escape my emotionally abusive, alcoholic family. I only go home once a year...and that's for Christmas. Needless to say, this is my least favorite time of the year, and I'm freaking out about heading home in a few weeks.

I don't have many friends in my hometown anymore, and my family doesn't really venture outside the house. Basically, each Christmas is three or four days of drinking, screaming, weeping, cursing, falling over, and general angst.

Although I hope to eventually not go home for Christmas, right now it's just not an option. What I'm looking for are some good coping strategies to deal with holidays at home. How can I reduce my stress and fill the endless hours? How do I prevent myself from getting hurt when situations like the following happen?

- my grandmother gets too drunk to stand before dinner even starts
- my father screams at my mother to go lay down because nobody wants to look at her anymore and she's an embarrassment to her children
- my mother hides weeping in the basement and when I go to find her, she begs me to "throw her in rehab" if she ever gets as bad as my grandmother

(This was all last Christmas, by the way.)

Things I've done in years past include watching a lot of TV, playing on the internet all day, and altering my sleep schedule to limit the amount of hours my family and I are mutually awake.

One note - I don't drink during the holidays, because I see what it does to my family, and I also have an intense fear of losing control around them and bringing their wrath onto me.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated. I know this probably doesn't sound too terribly bad, but it hurts me a lot every single year and I would love to learn how to make it hurt less. Throwaway email is
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (39 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
No, that sounds awful.

Why isn't just not going an option? You couldn't get me to spend Christmas with people like that if you gave me a chest of gold doubloons.

Bake them a batch of really strong hash brownies. That should quiet them down like nobody's business.
posted by dunkadunc at 10:49 AM on December 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

You feel like you have to go but you don't. And you probably shouldn't. Maybe the holidays are too much. See them on a random day of the year that isn't so overwrought with expectations and emotions.
posted by mokeydraws at 10:49 AM on December 14, 2009 [8 favorites]

This sounds like a pretty bad situation to me.
Is there anyway you can stay with a friend or at a hotel in the evenings? Then, you can go over just for dinner and then escape.

You do not have to tolerate their behavior. Walk away. If you do not think you can, practice at home. Visualize the situation and train yourself to leave the room.

If your family members will follow you into another room, the bathroom is your friend. Stick a book in your purse. Lock the door. Stay in there for as long as it takes the screaming to stop.

Go the grocery store to pick up a can of X. Get stuck in traffic for a couple hours.

I hope that you have other Holiday plans that will bring you joy.
posted by mmmbacon at 10:50 AM on December 14, 2009

This sounds terrible. You don't say what your reasoning is for continuing to go home, but at the very least I would try to stay in a hotel.
posted by something something at 10:50 AM on December 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

right now it's just not an option

It might seem that way, but it is always an option. Will the result of exercising this option be worse than four days of drunken emotional rollercoasting? Probably not.

Holidays can be all about tradition, and it is time to start your own. Take a trip somewhere, or do some volunteer work, or go camping, or skiing, or something else you might enjoy doing. Then when you find something it's "what you do" or your "Christmas thing". Don't get drawn into arguments about it - it's just how it is from now on.

At the same time, shift your once-a-year visit. Perhaps to a long weekend in January or February, depending on where you live and what holidays are recognized. Now you will enjoy your Christmas and visit home at a (generally) less stressful time of year, hopefully making your visit more enjoyable (or at least more bearable).
posted by mikepop at 11:01 AM on December 14, 2009 [3 favorites]

You really don't have to go. If you need to, you can make up a job-related excuse: "They asked me if I could work the Christmas shift, I'm worried about losing my job!" but it's not required.

I can't imagine why it's not an option to not go. Are they threatening to hunt you down and drag you to their house if you don't? Are they going to form a death-pact and end it all unless you're there? Are you looking to inherit their secret millions are you have to keep in their good graces?

But okay, assuming you HAVE TO GO, try to divorce yourself from the proceedings on an emotional level. You exist in the same physical space as these people, but not the same mental space. This takes practice, believe me, but you sound like you have a start on it. The best assistant in doing this is your MP3 player. Act like you're a punk 13 year old kid again, and just listen to your music to help you tune things out. Sit quietly in the corner and keep your hands busy with a craft, like popcorn strings or knitting or drawing in a notebook, and listen to your music. If other people ask you to do something directly helpful to Christmas activities, like setting the table or cooking something, do it, but otherwise, stick to your own space, and don't volunteer yourself for anything.

And lay plans for next year. "Oh I was thinking about staying home for Christmas next year. They have these fun lights downtown!" or "Random Friend mentioned that they want to go to the Bahamas for Christmas next year, how could I turn that down?" Your plans can continue to be vague until they fall through at the last minute - "Oh well, too late to get a ticket now. What about I visit some time this summer? It'll be nicer without the holiday stress."

Best of luck.
posted by Mizu at 11:02 AM on December 14, 2009

What you're going through sounds truly awful. I know you say you don't have many friends in town, but I think now is the time to invent some. If you only see them once a year, they don't know who you keep in touch with and who you don't. Keep a book in the car (rent one if you don't already), drive to a distant coffee shop, and hang out for a few hours.

Look, I don't think you're going to get much advice on coping with this that doesn't involve leaving it. I can't see any strategy that would help a sane person easily deal with that kind of terribleness, other than removing yourself from it as much as possible.
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 11:05 AM on December 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Get out of the house every day -- go for a hike, go "christmas shopping" and see a movie, go help an elderly neighbor put up their Christmas decorations, in fact volunteering somewhere in your home town (at the library, at the senior center) gives you someplace to go. And don't engage. When and if the shenanigans start, don't get involved.

In the future, avoid the holidays. Holidays are typically stressful for normal people; it can be a total miasma of chaos for dysfunctional people. Plan a visit in the spring or between thanksgiving and Christmas and then get involved with something Christmas day -- a volunteer position at a soup kitchen or something.
posted by amanda at 11:06 AM on December 14, 2009

Wow, I'm 23 and this sounds exactly like my holidays situation, except that my dad is the only drunk and crazy one, who verbally abuses everyone around him. It was sort of a relief this Thanksgiving when he just went out drinking all day long and missed the actual dinner. Last Christmas Eve, he disappeared most of the night only to reappear, piss his pants, and moon the entire family. Very mature for a 60 year old man.

Anyway, my holiday relief/escape plans involve, like yours, spending a lot of time in my room watching TV or movies and playing on my computer. I'm not terribly close with my siblings, but since Christmas is often the only time I see them (I'm in school out of state), we usually go to the movies together at least once, and sometimes go shopping. It really helps to get out of the house if possible. Maybe check out the local sites of your hometown, since it sounds like you don't visit much. I like to visit the museum and stop by the library to see what's new. I also enjoy just driving around town if the weather is okay to see what has changed since I moved away.

Obviously, these solutions work best if you have your own mode of transportation, but even if you can't drive or ride the bus or whatever, try to take a walk around your neighborhood. Hopefully that will give you a calming break from the onslaught of crazy.

Like you, I look forward to when I'll be financially independent enough to celebrate holidays on my own terms. If you ever want to commiserate about the crazy drunks, memail me.
posted by mesha steele at 11:07 AM on December 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Thirding getting out of the house for some hours each day. It would be best if you can meet up with someone (anyone!) just for the reality check that sane people provide just by behaving normally.

If there's really no one there (or even if there is), call people while you're gone. They'll all be busy, too, so leave a bunch of messages so that the odds are better that one of them at least will be up for a chat. It can keep you from feeling so isolated in the insanity.

Getting a big chunk of distance every day can help keep you detached enough that you can see it's just them, doing their thing again, and that it's got nothing to do with you.

And if you want to talk to people who know EXACTLY what you're going through and (usually) are able to see the humor in the insanity, go to an Al-anon or ACA meeting. They have extras this time of year for exactly this reason.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:23 AM on December 14, 2009

I am 25 years old ... Although I hope to eventually not go home for Christmas, right now it's just not an option.

25 can be a tough age. Maybe you don't quite believe that you are an adult yet. If you live away from home and support yourself, you are. You really, really do not have to go. You get to decide what you do. What your family says to and about you does not have to influence your actions or emotions if you don't let it.

Decide what you want and then do it. This is the power you get when you are an adult. Use it and you'll never look back.
posted by fritley at 11:32 AM on December 14, 2009 [11 favorites]


Each time will be the same until something happens to make it different.
You, personally, can't change even one of these people.
And they will not change for you.
Only your actions will change the situation for you.

You don't have to live like this. That you think you do is an indication of the severity of the problem. It's an impossible situation, I know. I'm sorry. At one time they probably loved each other. Below it all, they love you. Remember that. And believe that long ago, before all of this started, they would have wanted better for you.

But they are products of their days, their pains, their mistakes and decisions. And at some point they became who they are now. You owe it to your future self to stop this now.

So go home for the "holiday" if you must. But go home to say goodbye, if only in your own head. A new year is coming. Make it yours. You owe it to yourself. And if you plan to have a family one day, you owe it to them to break free of what your family has become.
posted by nickjadlowe at 11:48 AM on December 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

Get a hotel room and just come over for meals and other structured activities. If anyone asks you why, tell them that you are stressed out by the environment. Be as honest and calm about it as possible.

This is my strategy. My family/home life has improved a lot since the bad ol' days but in short you can only manage yourself and your time. You do not need to become part of the drama and in fact it's totally acceptable to, instead of going to find your mother weeping in the basement, leave. I know it seems really callow and cold and terrible and uncaring, but it's is caring, it's just caring for yourself and not ignoring your own feelings at the expense of people who are not behaving decently.

I agree with what other people have said and suggest not going at all. That said, if this is impossible, I'd find ways to not just "check out" but actually actively carve out space for yourself which you defend. So

- have your own vehicle
- have a place to stay/sleep that is not your family's place [this is worth cash money if you can manage it]
- keep your own counsel and don't be dragged into the OMG drama of holidaytime
- do not respond to drama with drama and if possible respond to it by leaving the room/house/town

At the very least you can get up and go in another room when the hollering starts and refuse to come back in. If someone threatens you, it's a perfect excuse to get up, leave and not come back until people can behave civilly. You can't make people treat you decently, but you can refuse, flat out refuse, to be around them if they treat you poorly. I have a much more distant relationship with one family member who thinks my getting up and leaving when the verbal abuse starts is in some way snotty of me. I don't care. At some level if people can't treat you with a basic level of decency [to me this is no yelling and no nasty teasing or bringing up embarassing childhood stories in front of my friends] after you've asked them nicely to, it's totally okay for you to be an adult and leave.

I'm sorry you have to deal with this. I'm here to tell you it does, and can, get better, but the change may have to come from you.
posted by jessamyn at 11:55 AM on December 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

As someone who's been subjected to Racist Uncle Dave's drunken "jokes" for many Christmases past, here's what I've done:

Whittle your time down to once every other year, and travel to visit at other times during your Good Christmas years. Treat being there as if you're an anthropologist studying the habits of a people who are not your own. Read. (Even if you have to fake it, this is an activity that is respected in my family.) Watch TV. Take deep breaths, and know it will be over soon. And when things become impossible, say you need to go for a walk. Definitely always have a car that will enable escape. Also, yes, pretending to be asleep in your room ("gosh, i think i'm coming down with a cold!" "wow, I've been working such long hours! I'm so exhausted.")
posted by RedEmma at 12:08 PM on December 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Also, become a writer. Try to record the most outrageous bits for your future best-selling hilarious novel. Try to get the words *exactly right*.
posted by RedEmma at 12:09 PM on December 14, 2009

I know it seems really callow and cold and terrible and uncaring, but it's is caring, it's just caring for yourself and not ignoring your own feelings at the expense of people who are not behaving decently.

I just wanted to underscore this. Taking care of yourself is the most important priority for you right now. And "taking care of yourself" isn't just an abstraction; it's a series of specific choices that you can make and that you have the right to make as an adult and as an autonomous individual. If taking care of yourself would be best served by not going back at all, as others have said: really, you do not have to go.

If you do still go, then by all means draw the line as calmly and as clearly as possible when people start behaving indecently. Stay at a hotel and/or be sure to get your own car. Refuse to engage any of the conversations you've already had a hundred times with any of the players in this drama. Go to your room, or go out for a walk or a drive.

I have never had any first-hand experience with Al-Anon, but I strongly agree with the suggestions that it could be very useful to find out ahead of time when and where the local meetings might be scheduled over the holidays in your parents' town. That way, once the screaming and weeping starts, you have the option of not just removing yourself from such an awful situation, but also of walking straight into a supportive situation where you will be welcomed and understood right off the bat.
posted by scody at 12:11 PM on December 14, 2009 [3 favorites]

Yes, to finding Al-Anon meetings in town and going to as many as possible while you're visiting. I went for a while some years ago and it was incredibly helpful in giving me new/different perspectives on crazy family stuff. And nthing getting a hotel if at all possible. Good luck, and next year, don't go. Make a different plan, tell your family you're not coming home for Christmas, and stick to it. Good luck!
posted by rtha at 12:44 PM on December 14, 2009

N'thing just don't go, or get a car & hotel if you really can't get out of it. Also wanted to add another idea, if you could arrange it: bring a friend. Oftentimes people are at their absolute worst when surrounded by family, but they manage to act reasonably civilized when strangers are around. Even though it sounds like a situation you'd never want to drag a friend into, the presence of that friend might change the behavioral dynamics profoundly. (Grandma probably won't want to get falling-down drunk in front of company.)

This friend should be a total stranger to the family, or somebody they have only known as an adult. Not your best friend from grade school who barfed at your birthday party, or your high school buddy who served up their burgers and fries while wearing a ridiculous paper hat. You need someone who looks like a grownup for this. Good luck! (and really, just don't go)
posted by Quietgal at 12:50 PM on December 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

I know this probably doesn't sound too terribly bad, but it hurts me a lot every single year and I would love to learn how to make it hurt less.

Actually, it sounds really truly awful. You don't need to apologize for feeling pain and stress when you're with your family, and you don't need to unlearn those feelings. They're telling you something: they're letting you know that how your family behaves is not normal or healthy, they're letting you know that you're entering a toxic situation when you visit your family for Christmas. Listen to those feelings.

You don't need to spend time with them, and I agree with the suggestion early in this thread that a major holiday might be too much pressure--if you want to spend time with them, don't do it on an occasion when they're guaranteed to be at their worst. Also, definitely give yourself breaks from seeing them--stay at a hotel or with friends, not at your parents' house; rent a car or otherwise allow yourself periodic escapes from their house throughout the day.

The way you minimize pain is not by numbing yourself around the painful thing, or unlearning the pain response, it's by minimizing the painful thing. If seeing your family drinking and acting awful for three days straight is painful: don't spend three days with them while they do nothing but drink and act awful toward each other.
posted by Meg_Murry at 1:14 PM on December 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Add some physical violence, and you've pretty accurately described my family of origin.

I haven't seen my mother in almost 12 years.

I was disappointed in my last al-anon meeting because they insisted that I could safely contact my family with enough faith in my higher power.

I spend my holidays with people who love and respect me. I hope you're able to do the same.

For the record, I'm 28, and even after so many holiday seasons, I still desperately want a mom this time of year. But it gets easier. The anxiety is instantly diminished, and there's no long recovery from holiday trauma.
posted by bilabial at 1:46 PM on December 14, 2009

Oi, bilabial, that sucks about your al-anon experience. I'm impressed you didn't smack them.
posted by small_ruminant at 1:57 PM on December 14, 2009

Part of the pain of becoming an adult is realizing that any boundaries you are to have between you and relatives with this level of dysfunction will have to be drawn and maintained solely by you. That might mean anything from staying in a hotel to just not going at all. The worst thing that can happen is they harangue you from afar about not coming to see them. But it will be FROM AFAR!

This kind of sanity-preserving boundary keeping is a lifelong effort, I'm sorry to say. So you really do need to get started on it now so that 5 or 10 years from now you're really, really good at it. Just think of it: you won't give a second thought by then to spending Christmas with friends, or however you really want to do it.

In the rare times I still find myself in the lion's den, I pretend I'm a documentarian: I take photos & videos of the craziness, and I tweet the shit out of all the stuff that is said. It provides a lifeline between me and my friends back home, and it also divorces me from having to live in the reality of my crazy relative.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 2:14 PM on December 14, 2009

At the risk of sounding like a know-it-all: OP cannot skip the holiday with this family without a "valid excuse" or they will incur far more grief in the process. Skip this holiday only if/when you're prepared to give up the family altogether -- because instead of scapegoating each other for ruining the holiday (like they probably do habitually), they will instead all gleefully pin it on you for years to come. There is something far worse than a family full of miserable people being mean to each other, and that thing is a family full of miserable people being mean to you.

Bringing a friend is not only unlikely to help, but a really good way to lose your friend (they can't help but wondering if you are secretly like that, too). I've lost a few friends and more-than-friends this way -- don't risk it.

Valid excuses for skipping are things like a spouse willing to be the bad person and "demand" you go stay with their family instead, or perhaps physical impossibility. The latter is questionable, as I was once "convinced" by days of wailing phone calls to drive 500 miles through a decade-worst blizzard because death was preferable to listening to that for the rest of my life. Despite that feat of stupidity, I still frequently get harassed about that year, over a decade later -- because I almost missed Christmas once for no good reason. I wish I was kidding.

OP, you sound like me, and I am sorry. I've been in "that" family for 37 years, now... and it never gets much better (some years are worse than others). Every year around now, I seriously consider disowning my family en masse, changing my name and moving to the Yukon or something. But what it always comes down to is that I'm not willing to lose the precious few family members who are worth having to get rid of all the miserable ones.

I've done all kinds of things to minimize my pain, and the "good" solutions seem to be those that nobody else wants any part of that are mind-numbing. TV is bad, internet surfing is ok, playing Peggle is great, fixing their computers is ideal. Books are good, music can be... think escapism. In the end, though, there is no cure-all unless you become numb and stop caring -- which is obviously not a good idea.

Whatever you do, good luck... and happy post-holidays. If swapping horror stories will help at all, feel free to drop a line.
posted by Pufferish at 2:15 PM on December 14, 2009

For many years, I just opted out. When I went, I always had an exit plan. People got drunk/loud/mean/unpleasant, I'd head to the car and go to the movies or just drive around.

If you must go, go for one day only. Take some really great videos - cheesy and funny works well. Look up old friends and reconnect. One year, I got everybody playing penny-ante poker, and it went well with the drinking. Put on good music and try to get them to sing. Bring/rent a Wii; bowling is hilarious.

It's very hard to change the pattern of behavior. It's very hard to not participate, to not get sucked in. That's why not going is really okay. Maybe they're paying your bills and you're beholden. Maybe they're holding a sibling "hostage." The sooner you stop participating in craziness, the sooner you get to feel better. I spent a few holidays alone, and it was still better than a drunken family member acting out, then leaving the table, ruining everyone's dinner. It's okay to still love them, but to decline the horror show.
posted by theora55 at 2:39 PM on December 14, 2009

Everyone advising you not to go should read Gulliver's travels. Where are you going to go for Christmas if not to see your family? It's ridiculous to spend one's life rejecting everyone in search of perfect people.

You should go and you should tell them, choosing your moments carefully, and in the nicest way possible, exactly what you think of their alcoholism. That way you're not betraying yourself. Maybe, they'll yell at you, maybe they'll cry. You're a grown man. By 25, you might be ready to assume the role of the patriarch. You should start practicing. After all, this is your family.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 3:31 PM on December 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

I hope you can see that esprit de l'escalier just gave you some very bad advice. You do not have to see your family for Christmas if you do not want to. This does not make you a bad person. Your desire to be around people who treat you with care and respect is not a quixotic quest for perfection. You should not go if you think it will make you unhappy, and that is completely OK if that is what you decide. You are under no duty to tell them what you think about their drinking. They are adults, and you are under no obligation to parent them. You don't have to assume any role that makes you uncomfortable, including that of the "patriarch" (!).

If you do go, please consider the strategies listed by other commenters: ensuring you have your own car, having other places to be. Even if you don't have many friends in town, perhaps you can make other plans (like you "need" to go to a coffee shop and work on an important project). Pre-plan a few excuses to get yourself out of the house, and if you start to feel uncomfortable during a dinner or other such time, could you fake a headache or cold and go lie down in a quiet room?

Seriously, it sounds like you are doing the best you can do cope with a difficult situation that is not your fault. Good for you. I hope that you find a way to make Christmas tolerable if you do go (but you don't have to!). Take care of yourself.
posted by prefpara at 3:43 PM on December 14, 2009 [7 favorites]

Your desire to be around people who treat you with care and respect is not a quixotic quest for perfection.

THIS. 100%. You have the right to be treated well by the people in your life, and you have the right to avoid people who do not treat you well.
posted by scody at 3:54 PM on December 14, 2009

Why should it be "very bad advice"?

Go ahead, spend your life running away from your friends and family the moment it becomes hard. Maybe you'll get married one day and your wife will be abusive, then what's your plan? "Have a car that will enable escape"? A good divorce lawyer at the ready? One day you might bring a girlfriend or wife home to see these people and then are you going to feel so ashamed that you keep short visits, tacitly asking her not to judge you for their behaviour?

People do change. It's hard work, but they do. What would your father do if you were a mean alcoholic, and he were keenly aware of the reality? Would he not take you aside and ask "Hey, what are you doing? Do you see how you're acting?" or "What can we do about this? Want to go do ___ tomorrow [instead of getting trashed]?" At some point in your life, you will become your dad's dad. If you don't defend your feelings, who the heck is going to?

Or whatever, play a videogame like a 5-year-old child trying to shut out the fighting of his divorcing parents. Never go back. Find a couple great friends whom you love and let them be your only family. Seems like a pretty small life to me.

[Please don't misunderstand my tone: I am merely trying to draw together the ugliness of the complete emotional reality because this is the answer to escapism.]
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 4:09 PM on December 14, 2009

spend your life running away from your friends and family the moment it becomes hard.

This is utterly dismissive of the OP's question and experience, and shows a complete misunderstanding of the nature of abusive relationships vs. non-abusive ones.
posted by scody at 4:11 PM on December 14, 2009 [6 favorites]

Where are you going to go for Christmas if not to see your family?

To a place not described as abusive, I suppose.
posted by chrillsicka at 4:14 PM on December 14, 2009 [4 favorites]

You should go and you should tell them, choosing your moments carefully, and in the nicest way possible, exactly what you think of their alcoholism.

There is no good moment to tell a family member that you think they're an alcoholic, and you don't like the way they treat you when they're drinking. There may be worse moments - like Christmas - but there are no good moments. The bonus of doing it at Christmas is that you'll always be blamed for "ruining" the holiday. Awesome, right? It's not the drunken abuse that ruins the holiday, it's the person who says "I don't like the drunken abuse." I speak from experience. I'm not sure esprit de l'escalier has experience with this kind of situation. It doesn't sound like it.

Staying out of or leaving an abusive situation is not running away, and it's not a quest for "perfect people."

A small life is one in which you believe that Family is always and only the most important thing in your life, no matter how they treat you. An adult is someone who recognizes when it's time to cut losses and live one's life as best one can, even if that means little or no contact with one's family of origin. Being related by blood is not license to abuse, nor is it a requirement to take that abuse.

It's also not your duty, anon, to fix them. They are also adults, and they are making choices about how to live and behave. And anyone who knows alcoholics can tell you that no amount of begging/pleading/talking/crying/etc. will make them change. They will change when or if they feel the need, and there's not a damn thing you can do about it.
posted by rtha at 4:22 PM on December 14, 2009 [3 favorites]

People do change. It's hard work, but they do.

And when they do, he'll be around. Even better, he won't be so burned out that he can't stand the sight of them even though they're sober. He can't fix them.
posted by small_ruminant at 4:23 PM on December 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

I just want to emphasize something that I think is extremely important, though it sounds like you may already know this, in light of esprit de l'escalier's futher comments.

You can't change people. It is also not your job to change any adult person. It is not your duty to try to force an adult to change, even if that change would be good for that person. The only person you can change is yourself.

It sound like your family does not take care of you. I hope that you take care of yourself, starting by allowing yourself to step away from the expectations of filial loyalty that society has created with healthy families in mind. Your family does not have the right to abuse you merely because of their (accidental) blood relationship. They do not have the right to make you miserable.

You have the right to be happy and comfortable. You have the right to protect yourself from people who abuse you or treat you unkindly.

The way your family behaves is not your fault and changing them is not your job. You are not stuck with them. I wish you the best Christmas that you can create for yourself, and I hope that when you have created your own family, you will enjoy this holiday with them and with loving friends.
posted by prefpara at 4:30 PM on December 14, 2009 [8 favorites]

Mod note: comment removed - please do not turn this into a debate. Feel free to take this up in MetaTalk or email. Thank you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:09 PM on December 14, 2009

Something about the posters saying that notifying the nutcases of their appallling behaviour being risky rings true for me. Even saying one tiny thing once caused them to gang up on me, call me a snob, litanize my faults, blah blah. In the scheme of an abusive family relationship, these kinds of responses activate real anxiety and sadness. Even though rationally I can see what they're saying is bullshit, I've had too many years in my body learning to be afraid and worthless that it was really distressing and nerve-wracking to confront them.

I was 25 and feeling to too scared to take an overt position on Christmas [the way you sound to me OP] so I decided to make excuses instead. It was a gradual detachment. One year I had a car for the first time, and drove away for a few hours [liberty is an escape vehicle, really!]; the next year my visit was for 'one day' due to 'work'; the next year it was feeling too 'sick' 'tired' to drive there; the following year it was 'husband's family'/'going away on holidays with friends' - gradually I wasn't expected to be there at all.

esprit de l'escalier, no one has a 'duty' to endure anything like what the OP endures. An abused child doesn't have to do anything here, except self-preserve.
posted by honey-barbara at 5:10 PM on December 14, 2009

Maybe you'll get married one day and your wife will be abusive, then what's your plan? "Have a car that will enable escape"? A good divorce lawyer at the ready?

esprit, [this may be making your derail worse but] if you are saying that a person should not leave an abusive spouse and instead has a duty to stay around and try to change or fix her/him, I just want to say that it is such bad advice that I'm entirely, totally, baffled by it.

OP, this is the same nonsense you are getting from your family. Please, listen to everyone else in the thread.
posted by fritley at 5:11 PM on December 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh, for fuck's sake.

The OP deserves not to be subjected to drunken insanity. You do not plead with abusive assholes to stop being abusive assholes, you do not dutifully return each Christmas to be showered with abuse. You tell them to call you when they're prepared to behave in a civilized manner, and if you get burned after that you cut them off.

Being family does not give someone special license to be abusive. Screw any of that sentimental stuff about "they're my only dad"... If they're not acting like your dad, then oh well, time to move on to nicer people.
posted by dunkadunc at 5:16 PM on December 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Hi. I am 26 and, from the sound of your post, we have very similar families. Yay! (Just kidding of course.) I hope my comment will help you out by mirroring parts of your experience and by showing you the path I took to get out.

I, too, dread Christmas with my family. Up until last year (when I was your age), I also would stay with my family for several days. Those days ranged from terrible (physical abuse) to just plain bad (humiliation, yelling, you name it). I tried walking out of the room when the bad stuff started (if possible), zoning out on my MacBook, decorating the tree with my (wonderful) little brother, and going for walks. But those visits were still really painful. For years, I didn't even see all of that as abuse - I just knew my family wasn't happy and I actually believed that things that happened were my fault. Some good friends encouraged me to see a counselor and patiently reminded me that I was a good person. Eventually the help helped and I realized that I had to take steps to separate myself from my family or risk ending up like them.

So, last year, I shortened my visit to two days. I told my family that I had to work and, while they gave me a hard time about it, it was worth it. This year, for the first time ever, I didn't go home for Thanksgiving. I was so scared that I didn't tell my family until the day before. I said I had to work and that some friends invited me to join them (which was true, but I chose to work and to accept that invitation). Let me tell you: it was such a relief! I had a great meal with friends and for the first time in years, I didn't cry on that holiday. This year, for Christmas, I am going to go home for Christmas Day only. I am leaving that afternoon to meet a close friend in another city. Next year, I am planning to skip the Christmas visit altogether and briefly visit my family in January instead. I have done this gradually because it is still hard for me to just "walk away" from these family gatherings - I care deeply about a few of my relatives and I feel so guilty sometimes about my decision to separate myself.

But I don't regret it. It's the healthiest decision I ever made and I hope you will able to make a decision that is healthy for you.

There's lots of good advice in this thread (please ignore those comments from esprit de l'escalier - I'm sure they meant well, but I think the advice is misguided). Remember to take care of yourself.
posted by val5a at 6:20 PM on December 14, 2009 [7 favorites]

"Although I hope to eventually not go home for Christmas, right now it's just not an option."

This is foolishness. The only possible reason to claim this is if your family is financially supporting you in some way which is contingent upon you coming to Christmas dinner. In which case, you should seriously GTFO of that situation by getting a job, etc. In every other case, you should definitely just NOT go. It's really easy, feels great, and lets your asshat parents know that they don't get to be around you if they act like horrible people.
posted by beerbajay at 2:25 PM on December 15, 2009

« Older I have no one. He was my life.   |   Risk of a bogus address for school registration? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.