I have spent the last two days completing the theoretical component of my Recovery Coach certification and something came up in the material that I thought truly merited a little consideration. I’ve touched on it before in previous posts, but never really delved into it too much. However, I know that it is something that us addicts find ourselves dealing with, especially during early-stage recovery, and it’s anger. Yup, that nasty little master that pops its head up and makes itself known at all sorts of times. Sometimes in the most warranted of situations and sometimes for no seemingly sensible reason at all!
There are still times that I can get incredibly angry, but I have learned to avoid triggers that make me upset and I am very aware of situations that likely to wake the beast in me. I’m not saying that everything that makes me angry is related to my addiction and that there is no place for healthy expressions of disapproval. What I’m getting at is that senseless rage is not a healthy or constructive part of recovery. Of course there are things that make me mad, people that push the wrong buttons, injustices that leave me seething. The anger I am referring to is that which I experienced when I was in my first months (even years) of sobriety. It’d come out of nowhere, provoked by something innocuous and would erupt suddenly and violently within me.
It could be something as minor as someone pushing in front of me in a supermarket. Instead of a simple “excuse me”, I would stand and fume – there was not always an immediate outwards display of the emotion. I’d spend the rest of my time in the queue plotting against the perpetrator, letting the dark emotions build inside me over the next few hours and then something would undoubtedly bring it spewing out, like toxic waste directed at someone I really cared about. Alternatively it would see me alone at home, crying and raging at the injustices of the world, bemoaning the plight of the exploited masses or the raping of natural resources. It was never well directed, it was never dealt with in a mature adult fashion and it was most definitely unhealthy!
I realise now that learning to express our unhappiness or discomfort in a healthy way in early recovery is an essential part of sustained sobriety (or abstinence) from the substances and behaviours that we are partial to. Because anger ignored and unaddressed is a surefire way to relapse! I couldn’t see at the time that my anger was residual, caused by issues that I hadn’t faced when I was drinking, but had built up over a period of years. Anger, according to some experts, is also there to cover up our innermost feelings of shame and guilt that have become entrenched in us during our active addiction. It’s seen as a character defect that develops along with others such as perfectionism, an all-or-nothing grandiosity or being a manipulator, to name a few. These defects develop to protect denial, which in turn protects our innermost shame and guilt over our addiction. It’s an intertwined set of internal and external triggers that can bring our anger to light, but it’s going to come!
What we need to do is find ways to heal ourselves, at the same time as learning to deal with these feelings of rage. Letting go of the anger, denial, shame and guilt are all essential parts of getting well. Addressing the causes of these emotions plays an important role in our personal recovery journey. It’s not going to be the same for everyone and there are different paths to letting go of these feeling, we just need to find the one that’s right for us. It might be therapy, mutual-help groups, coaching, meditation, personal development or exercise. It might be finding a hobby or a past time that moves us towards a place of forgiveness and inner peace. And forgiveness of self for past mistakes goes hand in hand with getting over our innate anger (in my opinion).
I don’t think we can successfully walk along the Recovery Road, without being honest with ourselves as to what caused our anger, letting go of denial and getting over our guilt and shame. It may seem like a tall order, especially at the beginning, but there is no time frame in which we are required to achieve it. As I faced these elements in my personal journey, dealt with them and left them lying on the side of the path, the more deep and satisfying my recovery became. Of course I still get mad, but my anger is not senseless and inexplicable! And of course life is better with a clear head and an honest heart.
‘Til next time