Sunday, August 20, 2006

I flunked anger management

I went to a meeting tonight where the topic was solutions to anger. Anger is an emotion I have struggled with during my entire recovery. It was an emotion I didn't even begin to examine until I had many years clean because I didn't recognize it as a problem. I just thought I had big boundaries and if people would respect them, everything would be fine. At some point, though, and I'm not sure there was any clear catalyst, I began to see that I used anger for a variety of reasons, none of them good ones.

My recovery mentors taught me that many of my character defects I uncovered as I progressed in recovery were the same things that may have kept me alive when I used. I know in retrospect that leaving home at 15 in 1971 to hitchhike alone to Berkeley was sheer insanity. If I hadn't found a way to keep people at arms' length, as I learned the hard way, I intuitively knew that I would have wound up dead, or worse. Anger, for years, served me well.

As I continued to stay clean, though, those same defects of character become less desirable and unnecessary. I began to learn new ways to deal with situations and obtain new tools, so that over time I began to let those character defects go. It doesn't mean I'm perfect; far from it. But it does mean as I learn better, I do better. As my good friend Louisa J. says, "It's like peeling the layers of an onion."

Anger, for me was a coping tool. I used it to keep people away; to manipulate people so I got my way, because angry people are very good at intuiting which people will be too intimidated to face a confrontation; to justify my actions, no matter how selfish they were; and to help me cope with fear.

Until I had about three years clean, I didn't understand how the emotion of fear felt in my body. The first time I felt fear in recovery, it was with a sense of wonder, as if my mind said to my body "Oh, this is how fear feels."

Tonight one of our newer members was upset about a rage he flew into, and scared of the possible consequences if he continues to allow his anger to overtake him. This is a great example of a healthy fear. Not all fear is unhealthy, of course. Fear often warns us of danger. We are hardwired to fear, I'm sure, because those early humans with the keenest sense of danger survived to reproduce. Fear, in the sense that it protects us from physical danger, can be invaluable.

As the topic went around the tables, and incidentally the meeting was on solutions to anger, not anger, one new young member admitted that she was having problems with anger. She sheepishly said that she couldn't go to anger management anymore because she'd been kicked out. We all laughed because we related. I told her that I was going to print up a t-shirt that read "I Flunked Anger Management."

There's three brothers and me, and two of us came out of the womb pissed off. I don't know why; I no longer look for root causes. I believe some people are born with wonderful, loving temperaments. I'm not one of them. I work at being loving and calm and many times, not too successfully. What I do look for is the warning signs of anger I exhibit before I am flooded with emotion when that iceberg lurking below the surface punctures my hull. It's irritation; an attitude of "If you only knew who I was"; contempt prior to investigation; feeling backed into a corner; judging; or not sleeping enough. Of course, this is only a partial list of things that can trigger my anger, which, if I'm not spiritually fit, or caught off balance, can escalate like a flash fire into rage.

The only 180 degree turn we make in recovery is when we quit drinking and using. The rest of the life changes we experience are incremental. We do better when we can. I know that, 95 percent of the time, I'm doing the very best I can at that moment in time. I try each day to be a better person and to work a better program. I am harder on myself that any other ten people combined are on me. If I can give myself a break, then it's that much easier to give others one, too.

Anger is a teacher, albeit an uncomfortable one. The people I admire are those that are loving and tolerant. They are slow to anger. They are color blind. They see the similarities, not the differences. They reach out a hand to the newcomer. They make coffee; go to meetings not because they need one but because they want to give back what was given to them; contribute to the 7th Tradition and clean up after themselves. They contribute to their community. Sometimes, it's just that simple.

Will I ever peel away that last layer of anger completely? Probably not in this lifetime. But I keep moving toward it, one day at a time. Until tomorrow, sleep well.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i wish you only the best on your journey. congratulations on the progress you have made so far.