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How The (Alcoholic) Grinch Stole Christmas

Think about what you were like before you were a recovering alcoholic. Did you hate your noisy neighbors during every morning hangover? Were you mean and petty without much love to go around? Had you isolated yourself from everyone around you? Would Thomas Edison have been impressed by your inventiveness in enabling your addiction? Could you use your quick wits to lie your way out of any jam? Were there a whole lot of terrible things you regretted doing and needed forgiveness for? Join the club. And prepare to meet your unlikely literary avatar: the title character from How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

“…All the Who girls and boys
Would wake bright and early. They’d rush for their toys!
And then! Oh, the noise! Oh, the noise! Noise! Noise! Noise!
That’s one thing he hated!”

The Grinch lives on a mountain above Whoville and yet is so sensitive to noise that he is horrified by the thought of waking up to small children playing with toys a mile away. His perpetually red eyes are narrowed in hatred at the thought of the disturbance. Sounds like the Grinch has some regular hangovers! I wanted so badly to be a good father when I was drinking but it’s hard to have patience or a sense of humor when you’re constantly hungover. My adorable, loving children became shrieking monsters to me during my morning hangovers.

“The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason…
But I think that the most likely reason of all
May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.”

The Grinch hates himself and everyone else. His tiny heart has led to his permanently scowling, frowning disposition and complete lack of friends, family, and neighbors. Even his dog Max looks perpetually put-upon to be near the Grinch. Like many addicts, his self-isolating behaviors have led to a spiral of declining mental health and increasing addiction. Being social becomes much more difficult when you’re turning into a feral, barely functional jerk. My therapist would probably suggest that the Grinch try some positive affirmations every day. And maybe consider medicating with a prescribed SSRI instead of alcohol.

“’All I need is a reindeer…’
The Grinch looked around.
But, since reindeer are scarce, there was none to be found.
Did that stop the old Grinch…?
No! The Grinch simply said,
‘If I can’t find a reindeer, I’ll make one instead!”

The Grinch has no friends, no vehicle, and seemingly no job. His plan relies entirely on scraping together solutions using whatever he can find in the most creative manner possible. This resourcefulness is common in addicts, with no plan too intricate or impossible to get our next high or drink. As our addictions take over our lives, our schemes to get drunk can take on Rube Goldberg proportions. I’m reminded of the plans I used to buy alcohol while traveling last Christmas. I don’t think I even fully remember the Byzantine explanation I gave my wife for why I alone would need to run errands without her during lunch—errands that happened to take me by the nearest liquor store.

“[Little Cindy-Lou Who] stared at the Grinch and said, ‘Santy Claus, why,
‘Why are you taking our Christmas tree? WHY?’
But, you know, that old Grinch was so smart and so slick
He thought up a lie, and he thought it up quick!”

When the Grinch’s crime spree is interrupted by a doe-eyed two-year old, he immediately summons a lie about taking her tree to his workshop that is preposterously bold and utterly believable to continue his hijinks. This kind of quick thinking is supposed to sound impressive to the average person, but to the average addict this is just another day in the life. I was so desperate to get drunk every night that I had lies stacked on top of lies, about everything from grocery shopping to why I was constantly nauseous. I could barely function in other avenues of my life, but I could spin a lie at the drop of a hat to cover my tracks.

“Well… In Who-ville they say
That the Grinch’s small heart
Grew three sizes that day!
And he… HE HIMSELF…!
The Grinch carved the roast beast!”

The book ends with a brief, tantalizing image of the Grinch’s new life: sitting with his new Who friends, carving the roast beast for Christmas dinner. The Whos display the same resilience and compassion that many of our loved ones have shown in forgiving our past transgressions. Smiling broadly, the Grinch could be on Day One of a long-lasting recovery—or his pink cloud might be about to burst and turn to relapse. Either way, he might consider making some serious amends for that whole thing where he robbed the entire town blind on Christmas Eve.

I’ll admit this is a fanciful interpretation of a sixty-year-old children’s book. It’s hard to say if the Grinch was really supposed to represent an alcoholic or if alcoholics inspired some of his antics. I think it is a useful way to think about our addictions, though. If you find yourself at a holiday gathering this winter and your nephew wants to know why you used to be so much more irritable, self-centered, and untrustworthy, maybe skip the lecture on dopamine pathways. Instead, use the story of the Grinch to describe how addiction can hide the good in a person.

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