I took my 2yr old to see the beloved children’s musician Raffi on the weekend. It was a much looked forward to event for both of us, and it was a joy to see and hear Raffi in the flesh. What I remember about the event though is my discomfort with the drunk woman we sat next to, and concern for her family. It brought me to consider the upcoming holiday season and how it can intensify problems.
A story: “Raffi we love you”
On arriving in our seats I started chatting a little to my neighbour, a 60-something woman – I imagined she was a grandma to the 3(ish)yr old girl by her side and mom to the woman on the other side. I admired outloud that she was enjoying a glass of wine and maybe I fancied one too.
Before Raffi appeared she initiated a chorus of “Raffi, we love you” in the audience. I thought this was unusual, but endearing. No one really participated. As Raffi appeared and started singing her hollars were still quite regular. It was only then that I put the glass of wine she was nursing and her hollaring together. Her heckles got more frequent and her daughter placed her hand on her mom’s arm, saying “please, a little more quietly”. This was clearly a familiar evolution for the mom.
I tried to stay relaxed inside but the hollars became quite distracting, resulting in an increasing amount of head-turning around us. Then thankfully grandma left for a bit. Very sweetly my son and the little girl held hands. The mom and I exchanged smiles about their connection. They danced in the space now available between the seats.
Then grandma returned… this time with 2 glasses of wine in hand. She stumbled down a step in the aisle spilling her wine. The audience gasped around us. She had to be helped into her seat. Oh boy. “Here goes the next level” I thought as I pulled my son on my lap and felt a little too close to her and her smell of too-much-wine.
“I’m sorry Raffi”
Tired of remaining silently annoyed I asked the woman (kindly) to stop shouting. She glared at me and increased the volume and frequency of her heckling even more. Except now it was “I’m sorry Raffi”!! I could have guessed I suppose. Once she seemed passed out I took my son down to the front of the balcony to find a different seat and to play with the grand-daughter who’d found some more space there too.
Then a wobbly grandma stumbled down and into the low barrier over the balcony. I grabbed my son from underneath her and a burly man stablised grandma. The mom seemed withdrawn. Maybe she was arranging back-up. I asked if I could help as she went down to get her child.
Family outing turned gong show
Said burly man led her out at the beginning of the last song. She stumbled again as she passed by and I broke her fall with my hand to avoid her squashing my son and I in our new seats. As she left the local audience exchanged looks. I felt relieved.
On my way out I saw the grandma’s forgotten purse and the child’s coat in our original seats and took them to give to staff. I found the mom holding the crying grand-daughter in the entrance way and returned their belongings directly to them. I asked the mom if I could help in any way and if she was okay. My help was not needed. What was she going to say anyway I suppose?
I felt unnerved after all this. I walked us home to calm down. I wondered how often that happened to the mom, and what her experience was. I wondered about how the alcoholism was handled in the family and what the impact would be on the grand-daughter. I realised how hard a time I have witnessing this kind of thing without being able to take an active supporting role.
I imagined the holiday season to come in that household, and so many others where alcoholism is a daily feature.
The reality of Christmas holiday stress
Indeed at this time of year I start to talk to more clients about how they can manage the holidays in their households without loosing their s**t. I also see clients who’ve lost a loved one this year and can’t fathom the Christmas period without them. Many others suffer in silence.
Some factors that make this is a difficult time include difficult family dynamics, addictions, a recent significant loss, an eating disorder, depression, social anxiety, problems with money.
I give a talk at Locke St library next week offering some ways of coping with the holidays. If you’re expecting the holidays to be challenging it can be useful to prepare so that you can have realistic expectations and a few tools in your sac.