How to wrap presents with a monkey on your back

The most powerful craving I’ve had for a drink came about a year ago. I was in my room wrapping presents on Christmas Eve and wanted a glass of Christmas cheer so badly, I burst into tears. I should have seen the trigger coming since I’d been drunk-wrapping for years. It made the tedious act more tolerable somehow…it made me swear less when I played the inevitable, perpetual game of hide-the-tape-and-scissors with myself. Plus kids tend to look the other way when it comes to Santa’s sloppy wrapping skills.

I was in a bad way all-around last December. I had recently decided to wean off an anti-depressant known for its serotonin-withdrawal effects, so I was already in a fragile state. At least I was going to regular meetings then, and at one a woman I’d never met before said “I have something for you” and while I turned to see who she was talking to, she disappeared and returned with an issue of the grapevine and said “You look like you could use this.”  The cover showed a messy swirl of holiday lights with the headline Un-Crazy Holidays. I went from being alone and scared to feeling like my recovery was part of something bigger. I still don’t know who that woman was, but I’ll never forget her kindness.

This December, so far anyway, has been the polar opposite of last year. I went through a rough period in late summer/early fall, and part of that was fear of the upcoming holidays. I was afraid history would repeat and our wrapping paper would again turn soggy from my tears. But the past is not the present. Time in recovery has given me tools I either didn’t have last year or wasn’t using.

When I met with my doctor last month for an annual med-check, we both decided it was best for me to stay on the anti-depressant I’ve been on for the last year. No, I don’t want to take something for the rest of my life, but it’s side-effect free and, anyway, right before the holidays is a terrible time to make a medication change. I’ve learned I’m no superhero and that my life is much easier when I respect my limits.

I also feel more prepared this holiday season, possibly because an early Thanksgiving gave a jumpstart to the holidays. It occurred to me this morning that I could start wrapping one or two things at a time. Part of last year’s meltdown was because I’d saved all of it for the last minute and I was feeling unmotivated and overwhelmed.

When it is time to wrap presents, I plan to introduce a couple new tools to the process. When I first saw an ad for the pop-up tape handband, I hadn’t felt like a product was designed so specifically for me since the onion goggles (and I still don’t own a pair of those <frownie face>). I don’t know if I’ll ever see a pair of scissors I can safely strap to myself, but at least there’s one less thing to lose under layers of gift wrap paraphernalia.


This year I will also reintroduce a cup of Christmas cheer when I wrap presents. Instead of booze, I’ll go for a mug of Trader Joe’s Peppermint Hot Chocolate, which the husband picked up and I admit I was skeptical until I tried it. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m actually looking forward to wrapping gifts this year, yet another example of how our perspective can change in small, miraculous ways in sobriety.

I'll deal with you in the new year, raging sugar addiction.
I’ll deal with you in the new year, raging sugar addiction.

34 thoughts on “How to wrap presents with a monkey on your back

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  1. I’ve tried to wean myself off anti-depressants many times over the last 17 years. My doctor and I finally decided that my depression is, as suspected, chronic and that it would be better for everyone concerned (especially the hubs…poor man) if I just stayed on them.

    I had to get over that, “I’ll be on medication for the rest of my life” issue. It was hard. It made me feel weak and, well, sick. But I keep coming back to something my husband said when I was first diagnosed. When I was lamenting about having to take the meds he said, “What would you do if I stopped taking my heart medication?” I told him I’d open a can of whup ass on him. He said, “So what’s the difference?”

    He was right. What IS the difference? Some people are on heart meds, some on high blood pressure meds, some take insulin…I take anti-depressants.

    It’s really helped me come to terms with myself. Plus…I’m just a happier person and life is too short not to be happy.

    I’m glad you have your happy this Christmas season and I hope that you hold on to it – whatever course you choose.


    PS…So going to get that hot chocolate!


  2. Thank you for your share, Sherry. It’s always helpful to hear another’s experience with depression and how they treat it. Some days it feels like something I should be able to (somehow) wean myself out of, other times I accept it’s a biochemical imbalance and no big thing to treat medically. Reminds me of a certain other stigma I struggle with.


  3. I’ve been doing some reading into depression. This Aussie doctor on take on it that rather than classify it as depression, because its such a spectrum, it should be classified as serotonin deficiency, in the same way that someone might be deficient in a certain mineral or vitamin because of thyroid issues. He reckons this would remove some of the stigmas associated with depression and also encourage people to seek prescriptions for serotonin boosters earlier on, rather than simply trying to work through with it (maybe by seeking home medications such as alcohol). Without the early serotonin boost, full blown depression can set in, and that is when the doctors might do something about it. There’s probably more to it, but changing the label from a description of a symptom to a diagnosis of cause I found a helpful thing. You can no more get over a lack of serotonin as you can a lack of B12. The idea is called “Brain Fuel Depletion” which is in a book in amazon.

    You are very entertaining writer, thanks, Paul.


    1. I read a theory (somewhere) that addiction can result from a serotonin deficiency. When we use our drug of choice, the pleasure part of our brain lights up in an exaggerated way and requires more to get the same result over time. I will check out that book. Thanks for the heads up, Paul.


  4. I’ve learned I’m no superhero and that my life is much easier when I respect my limits.

    Excellent sentence, excellent concept!! I have not been planning a lot for the holidays for complicated reasons, but also I just got waylaid by the flu. Any gumption I had to do more than I was already planning, which is next-to-nothing as it was, has this (not so) Wonder Woman sitting things out so far. Maybe I will do a little scrambling closer to the date, if it seems warranted and if I get healthy quickly. 🙂 I loved this sentence so much, though. How freeing!

    I’m glad that you have figured out more of where your limits are, BBB. I think that is key.



  5. I have been on anti-depressants for more rather than less of my sobriety. I tried many times to not be on them. When I am taking them I’m not crying over dirty dishes and when I’m not … I am. I see a lot of similarities in our feelings about “them.” I don’t know if I’ll ever be off and I don’t care if it’s the placebo effect. They work for me. My husband poured me some sparkling TJ’s cider as we put up the Christmas tree. It felt like a treat.
    ps nice photos 🙂


  6. I like the before/after pictures. I never realized other people have the same perpetual losing tape/scissors problem like I do. At first I read it as a tape “head”band – and I pictured you wearing a headband that dispensed tape.


  7. Thanks for the share… The holidays seem to be tricky for so many people, myself included. I achieved my first sober thanksgiving this year (which happened to be my 30th birthday, so double header) and am hoping to stay sober through christmas and new years as well.

    I find reading other peoples experiences keep me in check. Long live the sober wrapping. 😉

    XO, kitz


  8. The before and after pictures made me laugh out loud. I’d love to hear how you battle your sugar addiction in the new year. I’m really struggling with mine; gummy worms, hot apple cider, hot chocolate, ice cream sandwiches. 😦


  9. I remember your post from last year, and I remember thinking ‘man, I can’t believe she’s still finding it hard even though she’s been sober for so much longer than me?’. I also remember thinking ‘beer – yuk’ (wine is my poison). Now I know how you feel. This is my second sober festive season and it’s shaping up to be harder than the first. Then again I am having a bad day. Anyway my dear BBB, great post, love the image of you with the tape dispenser, love the sound of that hot chocolate (wonder if I can get it in NZ?) and love your turnaround in December attitudes. You are lovely. Take good care xxxx


    1. I’m sorry to hear your sober season has felt rough and I hope it passes soon so you can feel that relief and strength and enjoy the holidays. I don’t expect next year to feel like this one, but my hope is at least I’ll know rough patches are completely normal and fortunately temporary.


  10. Love this: ” I’ve learned I’m no superhero and that my life is much easier when I respect my limits.” So true! I, too, have had thoughts of weaning myself off my SSRI but my thoughts came more from comparing myself to others and thinking, “If they can do it, I should be able to as well.” And I any time I’ve tried, it has ended badly so I’m staying on them for now. It works for me.

    Great post!


  11. Ice cream. Chocolate. Pies. Pudding. How bad can it be/get? This new need of mine for all things sweet is very odd but I’m not to the point of worry. Not yet. It beats wanting a beer and for now, that’s good enough. The last few days I’ve been hitting sweetened and unsweetened dried fruits. Who knew? They’re actually quite good. Thanks for writing!


  12. Speaking of monkeys… Did you see that cute monkey lost at Ikea in his cute little monkey coat? Now I want a monkey for Christmas. Maybe I could train it to wrap presents for me.

    Loved the post. 😉


  13. Now how come I’ve never seen that tape hand band thing over here! We need that this side of the Atlantic too!

    Funny I’ve read this now and realised that on Sunday my wife and daughter were out so I went to the “present stash” – i.e. my son’s room (which we need to clear out before he returns from uni this weekend btw) and found all the paraphernalia needed and wrapped up the presents I’ve got for my wife (boots, handbag… and a few little gifts she is unaware of :-)).

    No swearing, no fuss, no drama, no regrets, no guilt… just wrapped them up best I can (which is rubbish but does it matter) and just did it. On Saturday I cooked a three dish Chinese banquet for 6, with crispy duck pancakes to start as well. Little hassle, a couple of “Hey can some just help me a moment” but again no swearing, no fuss, no drama, no regrets, no guilt… and it was all well received by the family and guests (my brother, his wife and her daughter).

    Simple little things – I mean they are ONLY wrapping presents and cooking a Chinese meal but some years back they would have been the defining end of my reality – I’d have been shouting, swearing, sulking, in need of loads of compliments, would have angled to get the compliments, gone on about how good it all was, despite it being a sodding disaster no doubt. Take the present wrapping, I never even mentioned it to my wife when she got back… that is progress even so far in my sobriety my ego has needed massaging in those circumstances. As the book say “They are being fulfilled among us—sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.” And I need to read your story or hear someone share something for myself to realise the progress I am making in-spite of myself at times!


  14. Thanks for such an encouraging post! In the past, i was so afraid of Christmas, i did it all drunk. Shopping in my underwear (all online 😉 ) with a bottle of wine, wrapping drunk, cooking drunk, opening presents drunk… Ugh. And i hated Christmas. i wouldn’t say that now i love the holiday (Thanksgiving’s still my all-time favorite), but i’ve had more Christmas spirit these last two years now that i’ve stopped drinking it.


  15. Lol i love those before and after photos. And that pop up tape handband is surely one of the best things ever invented (and yes, would be even better as a headband!). What a great read, you are truly a beautiful writer and you’ve given lots of useful thoughts to take away. I particularly like “Time in recovery has given me tools I either didn’t have last year or wasn’t using”: what a timely reminder to consciously remember to utilise what we’ve learned, especially when things are going to shit. Thanks BBB 🙂


  16. Thanks for this great post, BBB. The discussion about antidepressants that you began and many commented on was especially helpful, as it’s something I’ve been considering. I’m another fan of the respecting your limits line, too–it’s terrifically hard to do this time of year, with all those sugar plums dancing in one’s head.

    Putting that peppermint hot chocolate on my list!


    1. I’m a fan of SSRIs, though it took me a couple of tries to find one that worked for me. It’s amazing how much the results and side effects can vary. I had a lot of fears about going on a medication, but I’m so glad I took the help. I needed it.


  17. I’m just about to run out to Trader Joe’s…..
    but thought I’d say hi first.
    Love your blog.
    Love that you know and honor your limits and work on them with your doctor. So many of us self-medicate without actually realising it, and when allowed to work without alcohol, SSRI’s are an amazing tool.
    This is my 2nd sober Xmas too….and it’s so much better in many ways because I have tools to deal with whatever comes up for me. I’m never going to love the Holidays, but I don’t have to hate them, or,worse, FEAR them, which is what I felt before, which is why i drank through them.
    PS….solved the wrapping problem here by just not buying presents!


    1. Skipping the stress of presents sounds dreamy. Maybe one day I’ll at least scale back. I love your blog too!! So glad Running on Sober led me to you and your post on choosing one word to focus on in the year ahead. 🙂


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