Updated: Jan 14, 2019
I used to love Christmas.
I would go all out and decorate every room of my house down to bedding. My Christmas tree was decorated in a different theme every year. I loved Christmas music and time spent with family. I enjoyed the mess made by opened presents. I loved the candlelight church services.
I enjoyed watching Christmas movies and cuddling on the couch while a fire roared in the fireplace. I loved baking and making homemade fudge. I loved making Christmas wreaths and holiday crafts as gifts for my friends and family. Exchanging gifts was so special. It truly was the most wonderful time of the year for me.
Then I met my ex-husband.
I remember our first Christmas together as a married couple like it was yesterday. I pulled my decorations down from the attic and decorated the house while he was at work to surprise him. I was so excited to turn our home into a Christmas wonderland for him and to spend our very first Christmas together.
We had never discussed Christmas decorating while dating and he was always very laid back, so I assumed he would be great with whatever decorations I put up. Especially since I was the only one who even owned any Christmas decorations. When I married him, he literally had nothing and moved into my house with only the clothes on his back.
I bought us both fun, personalized reindeer stockings and some novelty newlywed ornaments as a surprise. I hung the stockings together over the fireplace and left the ornaments on the coffee table for us to hang on the tree together. I was so excited to have his stocking next to mine! Excited to be man and wife. Excited that one day there would possibly be more stockings and ornaments to hang as our little family grew.
I was still in the giddy honeymoon-phase at that point as we had only been married a few short months. We'd had a few bumps in the road, but nothing we couldn't handle. After all, we were so in love... Right?
I wrapped a few of his presents that I had saved up for and put them under the tree. I lit some fragrant holiday candles, put dinner in the oven and waited for him to come home from work.
I was sitting on the couch watching a movie when he arrived home. He walked in, looked around the living room, rolled his eyes and stomped angrily back to the bedroom. I was taken aback. That was not the reaction I had anticipated.
He walked back into the living room a few minutes later and made his anger about the decorations known. He told me he hated multi-colored tree decorations and ornaments and then raged that the house looked gaudy. He hated that my Christmas tree had white lights instead of colorful blinking lights. My head was spinning. He made no sense. I thought he just said he hated colorful decorations?
The personalized stockings I had made for us were hideous. He demanded I take them down. Immediately. He didn't want anyone to see them. They were an embarrassment. He demanded plain, fuzzy red and white stockings and I was to use nothing else from then on. No more reindeer nonsense.
I remember holding back the tears. I apologized and told him I was only trying to surprise him. He would not accept my apology. He only glared at me and gave me my first ever taste of his favorite submission tactic, the silent treatment.
I didn't understand how I could have messed up so badly. I truly had good intentions! I spent the rest of the evening apologizing over and over for my mistake. Begging for his forgiveness.
How could I decorate without asking for his input? How selfish of me! I felt like an idiot. The silent treatment lasted the rest of the evening and he stayed as far away from me as humanly possibly in our tiny house, sitting on the sofa in the living room until I had cried myself to sleep in our bedroom.
While he was at work the next day, I took down most of the decorations and threw our new stockings in a box, never to be used again. I removed every ornament that wasn't red, gold, or silver from the tree and put them back in their storage containers, then back into the attic. I felt ashamed that I had done something so incredibly dumb. I was already failing horribly at this wife thing.
I remember him opening his presents a few days later on Christmas morning. He was thrilled with all the presents I had bought him. I went overkill and spent more than I should have, but I wanted him to be happy.
He was excited that I had filled his fluffy red and white stocking with goodies. I was relieved he was satisfied with his gifts because, to be honest, I was worried he would find a reason to be angry with me and I desperately wanted to make up for my foolishness of decorating the house without his approval.
Our first Christmas together was also the first of what I now refer to as my 'Annual Holiday Punishment'. My stocking hung empty over the fire place. Under the tree was one tiny package for me, not even wrapped. A small green bow stuck to the original, damaged box. It was cheap iPod holder for my car from Walgreens.
I didn't even own an iPod.
Every Christmas from then on became a walking-on-eggshells and don't-piss-him-off event. I was expected to shower him with gifts. Some years he would buy me something small and useless; some years I got nothing.
I would always try to be courteous and ask him about the decorations and what he wanted prior to putting them up. He would tell me it wasn't his problem and that I should do what I wanted. I was selfish anyhow.
He left me in a state of confusion, wondering what I should do. He refused to help as he conveniently always had a prior engagement at the bar, so I decided I wouldn't play his game and decorated the tree however I wanted.
There were always consequences for doing so. Every time I tried a different theme with our Christmas tree, he would become mean and hateful. He would give me the silent treatment for days on end and call me atrocious names. He would back me into a corner and scream in my face about how I was a horrible wife for not doing what he wanted.
I was determined to enjoy the holiday that used to bring me so much happiness, and every year I bent the rules a little more.
When our children were small, I let them make fun, colorful ornaments to hang on the tree. He wouldn't get quite so angry about those ornaments; however, as the children grew older and started to enjoy the fun and funky, his anger and hatred would spew onto them as well.
Seven years ago, I decorated my tree for the last time. It was decorated by my children and I in a peacock theme while my husband, as per his usual, spent the night at the bar with his friends and one of his many girlfriends.
The children and I spent hours on that tree. It was stunning. So sparkly and amazing. We were so proud of our hard work. My children loved it. Watching them ooh and ahh over their homemade ornaments and all the peacock feathers on the tree melted my heart.
When my husband arrived home from the bar and saw the tree, he immediately started yanking the ornaments and decorations off of it and throwing them onto the floor. The children had already gone to bed and thankfully didn't witness his rage.
He got in my face and screamed drunkenly at me that the tree was the ugliest thing he had ever seen. No one decorated their tree like that! I was completely insane for doing it. I was crazy and stupid and had a terrible eye for design. How dare I not do the traditional red and green colors that pleased him! I was called every bad word and ugly name in the book.
Most of my ornaments and some the children had made lay shattered on the floor. I felt as broken as they looked.
He went to bed after his tantrum to sleep off the alcohol. I swept up broken glass from the living room floor and vowed to never again put up a Christmas tree. It was no longer worth the emotional turmoil. It wasn't worth the risk of physical harm. It wasn't worth his rage.
From then on I refused to put up a tree. He would scream and yell at me and call me derogatory names because I wouldn't decorate for Christmas, but I wouldn't budge. I would tell him if he wanted the tree put up and the house decorated he could do it himself.
He was never sober enough to climb the attic ladder.
The Holidays became a time for him to be drunk 24/7. Gallon jugs of wine and full cases of beer gone in less than a day. Liquor disappearing from the cabinet at an alarming rate. I swear that man looked forward to the holidays in order to have a legitimate excuse to have a drink in his hand at all times.
He would black out constantly. Every family event, every Christmas party, was ruined by him getting completely wasted.
I was always babysitting him. Making him leave gatherings and driving him home when I could tell he had had enough alcohol for 4 people. Embarrassed by his outlandish behavior and his audacity to touch other women in front of me. I was no longer able to enjoy myself.
The holidays became so stressful, so unhappy. His job was suffering from his constant alcohol and cocaine use and I was left to support our family financially. Money was tight, but he was spending it freely at the bar and on his drug habit.
I would save all year and hide money from him so I could purchase gifts for our children.
I played Santa alone every year because he was always passed out, meeting friends at the bar or too drunk to help. The children were always worried that Santa wouldn't come because we didn't have a Christmas tree or decorations up like other families did.
With every passing year, Christmas became more and more unbearable. He began refusing to allow me to see my family on Christmas because they had figured him out and he hated that they knew what he was doing to my children and I. They didn't like him to drink and refused to have alcohol in the house when he was around.
Church services were absolutely against the rules (he had suddenly become an atheist right after we were married). He was becoming physically abusive and dangerous and he didn't like that people could see behind his mask.
Our last Christmas as a married couple was an absolute train wreck. My children were over his constant hateful criticisms of my reluctance to decorate for the holidays. They were starting to understand why I felt so stressed about the multiple family and friend Christmases we were forced to attend. They saw his alcoholism, drug addiction for what it was.
My husband had squandered all our money on drugs, women and alcohol by this point, but had come up with a con. In two days' time, he dragged us around to 13 different Christmas gatherings. Some were charity events, some were his friends' gatherings, and some were gatherings of distant family members of his.
He had told everyone we could not afford Christmas and that we were completely broke. He told everyone that I refused to work and that I had a spending problem and had put us into debt. He told everyone I was a horrible mother and wife and didn't care about him or my children.
He acted pitiful and sad. He constantly moaned about how the children would have no gifts for Christmas. He made other people feel sorry for us and obligated to give our children gifts.
He drank at every gathering and was unable to stand without assistance by the time we were done. At 3 am on Christmas Eve, after begging him to leave the last gathering for several hours, he finally became so incoherent that I had to carry him piggy-back to our car. The children were miserable-tired. It was by far the worst Christmas ever.
After I got the children to bed and he sobered up a bit, he drove to his office and stole several toys from a toy drive his employer was conducting and set them out for the children to open. That was his idea of playing Santa. I was horrified and embarrassed.
After that stunt, I knew I would never spend another Christmas with him under my roof. No matter the consequences. I was ready to face them. I was done.
For a long time after my divorce, Christmas was a huge PTSD trigger for me. I hated it. I continued to avoid decorating and putting up a tree. I would become overwhelmed with the constantly airing Christmas movies and music on television and radio. I avoided them at all costs. The smells, the sounds, everything made me want to curl up in the fetal position in a dark room and never leave.
Social anxiety made Christmas shopping a no-go. Going to family gatherings made me a nervous wreck, especially if alcohol was present. I always felt like he would show up unannounced, staggering drunk like he used to.
I could hear his slurring words of hate repeating over and over in my head. I gagged from the memorized smell of his whiskey and cocaine-laden breath. I was always on edge, expecting the worst.
With each passing year, the PTSD slightly improved. I was blessed that my custody arrangement allowed me to have my children every year for Christmas. We started our own traditions and had fun. I think all of us had become afraid of putting up a Christmas tree, so we avoided doing that, but we did other fun family things and celebrated in our own way.
This year, circumstances have changed. It will be the first year I won't have my children for Christmas. Instead of feeling sad, I have decided enough is enough. I've had a breakthrough.
He will no longer affect me, the children, or affect the holiday we all love so much. He will not dictate our Christmas decor choices or which stockings we put up. He no longer has a say in how my children and I celebrate the birth of our Savior.
We put up two trees this year. All decorated and reflective of who we are. We have fun and happy stockings hung on the mantle; each hand-picked and personalized. We have Christmas movies playing when we are home and we listen to Christmas music in the car. Nativity scenes are set about the house.
We laugh and smile again.
This year I will be attending Christmas Eve church service for the first time in a very long time, and I'm very excited about it!
While the children have to spend Christmas with my ex-husband this year, they have made peace with the situation and know it is only temporary. The traditions and beliefs we hold dear in our new life together will never again be destroyed by him.
My children and I acknowledge the true meaning of the season and are so incredibly grateful our Lord and Savior came to cover us with His Salvation. We are so incredibly blessed to have escaped a dangerous situation and blessed that we have been given the opportunity to start over and live God-fulfilling lives.
We are blessed that Jesus has watched over us and protected us every step of the way and
as long as there is breath in my body, there will never be Unhappy Holidays in my home again.