Monday, December 27, 2010

Shadow Me

I had company this Christmas.

I don't mean the usual company - family and friends coming over to enjoy a meal and exchange gifts - although there was plenty of that, too.

I'm talking about the Shadow Me. 

Shadow Me is the ghost of the woman I used to be: the broken spirit who never measured up in her own mind, who lived in fear and shame, who sought comfort and escape from a bottle every night.

She is always there, but in the hustle bustle of daily life she fades into the background, unseen and mostly forgotten.

During the holidays, she steps out of the shadows.   It happens every year.


My first sober Christmas, three years ago, she was a clanging bitch.   Her voice was a grating soundtrack to my life:  you won't make it without drinking, wouldn't one glass of wine feel so good right now?  Look at how everyone else can drink and you can't, because you ruined everything. 

She was a heavy weight on my shoulders as I wrapped presents, decorated the tree, tried to play with my kids, ate dinner with my family.    She filled the hole left by alcohol with her constant, nagging presence.    I hated her, and everything she stood for.  I felt broken, fragile and useless, like a vase that had been hastily glued back together, but would never hold water again.

I couldn't imagine that she would ever lose her power over me, so great was the guilt, fear and shame that fed her spirit.


This year she showed up on Christmas Eve. 

I was in church, the lights were dimmed and I was listening to a stirring rendition of 'O Holy Night'.    Finn was curled in my lap, sleeping; his cheeks were flushed bright red from excitement and fatigue.    I gently stroked his hair, and sighed contentedly.   

Without warning, Shadow Me slid silently into the pew next to me, her breath hot on my neck.   

You almost threw all this away, she said.   Drinking was more important to you than your children, your friends, your family.    Remember the Christmas you couldn't even cook the dinner?   The time you nearly passed out at the table?  

I closed my eyes, fighting back tears.

I forgive you, I told Shadow Me.   She sank into a stony silence, but remained stubbornly by my side.

Later that evening as my husband and I wrapped gifts, she hissed into my ear again:   Remember that Christmas you didn't have any wrapping paper in the house?  Or scotch tape?  How angry Steve was at you as you wrapped presents in brown paper bags and masking tape?   How you didn't care because you were buzzed?   

Tears welled up in my eyes, but I sent her a silent prayer:   I forgive you. You were doing the best you could.  You didn't know what you didn't know.  


I had a hard time falling asleep Christmas Eve.  My head swirled with thoughts of the past: bleary, blurry Christmases spent groping my way through, living for the next glass of wine to make the fear and exhaustion grow quieter.    I felt the guilt for all the lost days and nights crush me in its cold embrace.

Sleepless, I padded downstairs and sat staring into the dying embers of the fire.   

Then I closed my eyes and faced Shadow Me head on.  

You are not defined by your mistakes, but by what you learn from them, I told her.  It's time to let you go.

Shadow Me flickered and shimmered, reluctant to leave.  Who would I be without her?    She has dogged me for three years, through each milestone, holiday, and countless witching hours.   How can I let her go?

Can I stay strong without the guilt, without the fear?

You have always been worthy of love, I told her.      I forgive you.   I forgive you, and I love you.

Shadow Me flickered one last time, and then faded away.   


Christmas morning the kids raced downstairs, squealing with delight.  

"LOOK!" they cried.  "HE CAME!"

They stood in a stunned silence for a moment or two, soaking in the sight of the stockings full to the brim, gorgeous wrapped presents spilling out from under the tree.

Shadow Me was nowhere to be found.   

I stood with Grace, Love and Gratitude, and together we smiled.


  1. I'm so touched by this. I don't have words for a comment right now...but just to say that I was here, and I read, and I know this Shadow Me of whom you speak, because I have one of my own.

  2. This brought tears to my eyes and I don't cry's lovely at Christmas to read stories of festivity and celebration but to read about somebody remembering darker times, and to see the courage that has helped her fight through them, is really special. This post really resonated with me...I've never had an addiction, but I definitely have a Shadow Me, and I wish that one day I'll have the strength to forgive her. I can't imagine it, but I hope so.
    Your blog has become a frequent stop for me in the last few months, though I've never commented before, so I want to tell you how much I enjoy it...thoughtful, honest, brave, and full of great stories- and pictures of gorgeous jewellery! Wishing you a very happy rest-of-holidays. :-)

  3. Ellie, I have a Shadow Me, too and she was in full force this holiday season. I think the holidays are just especially hard and the seeds of perfectionism with regard to motherhood are the most insidious. I love how you banished yours with love and forgiveness. I really, really, really needed this today. Thank you. --Barb

  4. Beautiful post. This is my first Holiday sober, that shadow me is everywhere isn't she???? This post is something I have to remember to look back on when I am feeling beat down by "her". Thank you and I am so glad you and your family had a fabulous holiday!!

  5. Ellie!! I've got tears streaming down my face... this was so beautiful and hard to read and wonderful.

  6. You brought tears to my eyes, as I read with several nods of recognition. I know just what you mean and am so encouraged by what you've shared.

    I, one of many, am so glad you're now this side of the struggle.
    Happy New Year to you, Ellie!

    p.s. I gave my MIL one of your necklaces for Christmas and she just loved it, as did everyone in the room! :)

  7. I was also brought to tears. Shadow me was out in full force. I almost had to yell at her to quiet down so I could hear christmas carols and talk with my children. You put it so eloquently Ellie. I was trying to explain to a friend how this Christmas I felt like a person with no skin on. Everything great felt wonderful but everything a wee bit painful was a killer. I look forward to kissing this woman goodbye in future years when she is ready to leave.

  8. I have chills.This is so intense, and beautiful and haunting. How brave of you to share,to continue this journey, know matter where it takes you. You are growing, I hope you can see it. You are growing and changing and evolving in wonderful and spectacular ways. Never doubt that.

  9. beautiful. amazing. THANK YOU.