In the world of recovery “talk,” a lot of clichés and concepts are thrown around. To stay sober, you need to:
- “Change people, places, and things.”
- “Live life on life’s terms.”
- “Take life one day at a time.”
- “Be true to yourself.”
- “Realize that your happiness is the most important thing in the world.”
- “Let go and let God.”
- And we even have a blog entitled, “Change your thoughts, change your life.”
“Anger will make it so you can only walk so far away from your addiction before it starts calling to you again”
I’m not denying that any of these are true. But something in this list is not addressed. Is it an oversight, or do people often omit it on purpose? I’m talking about anger. Many who are trying to leave their addiction behind forget to leave their anger there with it. For some, anger has been, is, and always will be a tool they are ready to use whenever the situation calls for it, which is usually more often than not. For others, they don’t necessarily show their anger outwardly, but inside they hold onto resentments from the past. And why not? “Of course I’m angry for what happened to me.” But regardless of where it hides—in your hands, on your face, or in your back pocket—anger is like a metal chain that will certainly keep you tied to a lifetime of unhappiness. Anger will make it so you can only walk so far away from your addiction before it starts calling to you again: “I know how to relieve this anger: drink or use.” Is it any wonder that Alcoholics Anonymous, when referring to taking a self-inventory to see what could be causing people to relapse, states, “Resentment is the number one offender?”
Anger can be misused in order to persuade, gain respect, punish, or intimidate
In spite of the relatively few times in life that anger is justified, many see anger as, if not the only option, the best option to get what they want. Whether it’s used to persuade the customer service representative for the cell phone company that they’d better remove that $5 charge from their bill, or to make sure nobody disrespects them at their new job like they did at the last one, or to punish that family member for the rest of their life who mistreated them, in all of these cases, anger only ends up leaving more people hurt as a result.
Anger is often hiding your true emotion underneath
So why am I angry? Many use anger to protect themselves when feeling afraid, hungry, lonely, hopeless, tired, depressed, anxious, insecure, etc.—all of which are very common relapse triggers. The first thing to ask yourself if you are habitually angry is, “Am I really feeling one of those emotions, and is that why I’m feeling angry?” If you can identify the true, primary emotion, for example, anxiety, you can then work on finding a solution. In this case, a visit to your physician to discuss appropriate medication, for some, may be in order. A discussion with a counselor to learn to practice new ways of thinking in order to lessen the anxious feelings may also help.
Anger comes in “three angry siblings”—Passive, Aggressive, and Passive-Aggressive
We all have our own way of expressing anger. Have you identified yours? Some are passive. Their anger remains unexpressed outwardly, but builds and takes an emotional toll. Others are aggressive. Their rage is outwardly expressed either verbally or physically. Still others are passive-aggressive. When angry, they retaliate in a way that is deceptive, so that the other person cannot detect any bad intent.
“Carrying resentment for someone who offended me is like me drinking poison and expecting you to die”
Most who are successful in their recovery will readily admit that whenever they addressed their anger and resentment—in whatever form it took and for whatever reason it was there—that was when they really turned the corner. Of course, there are the few who somehow stopped drinking or using and stayed angry. What are they called? Dry drunks? But the numbers of people who relapse due to resentment far outweighs them. You simply better your odds tremendously by getting rid of it. Anger that lingers becomes resentment. Someone once said, “Carrying resentment for someone who offended me is like me drinking poison and expecting you to die.” In other words, I’m the one who suffers, not you. In kindergarten, many were led to touch noses with the person who made you mad. Resentment will have none of that. “No, I want to stay mad.” There’s only one problem with that. It guarantees that you will never be happy. You simply cannot be angry and happy at the same time. Now some people have negotiated a compromise here. “What do you mean? Of course, you can.” But they are actually in a state of downgraded happiness. But to the addict or alcoholic, you cannot afford to compromise. And that’s your dilemma. However, it takes only a little thought to realize that, “If I let go of my anger, I guess I would be happier overall.” And that’s the point. In the next article, let’s discuss real and practical ways to manage anger in a healthy way.