Anger Stifles Recovery

by Bill

We see a lot of people in early recovery who are angry — angry at their parents, their bosses, the world, and often at themselves.  Anger can be a useful tool.  Nearly always a result of fear, whether obvious or hidden, anger prepares us to deal with challenges that demand forging on against whatever odds.  In many cases, the alternative would be cowering in a corner and waiting for the wolf to have its way with us.

When we are facing an obvious opponent, with obvious action to be taken, our anger can be used and often discharged.  But when the situation is such that we can’t strike back, through social position (say, at an employer) or size (a parent, bully or other), or simply because we have no recourse, anger can be a problem that far surpasses the cause.

Anger creates stress, by preparing our bodies to fight both physically and mentally.  If we are unable to discharge the anger physically, we often internalize it, storing it in conscious and unconscious memory where it remains to create lasting stress.  Stress is a major cause of relapse. Furthermore, prolonged internal stress can and usually does create myriad physical and emotional problems.  In order to avoid that, we need to dig out the memories that are fueling the suppressed anger, so that we can recognize them for what they are and set them aside to be replaced with more functional thinking.

Angry people often “project” their anger onto others, blaming them for feelings that are actually born inside.  They often strike out at people who remind them, consciously or otherwise, of people they resent.  Because people — especially addicts — dislike being wrong or frustrated, it is often much easier to do that then to look inward at the real causes of our behavior.

In order to deal with anger, we must accept that the past is the past, good or bad.  It does no good to be mad at and take revenge on others or the world in general.  The people we are dealing with today may or may not have been at the root of our issues.  That isn’t the point; the point is the issues themselves, and we cannot resolve them by confronting other people.  We must confront them in ourselves.

Our program gives us the tools to uncover, look at, and deal with our anger, our resentments, and our desire for revenge on the world.  It takes guts to tackle steps four, five and six.  They involve dealing with demons that we drank, drugged, sexed, shopped, ate and otherwise tried to cover up.  But the facts are clear: unless we do the work, we won’t gain the benefits.

We gain faith that we can accomplish this by attending meetings, listening to others, getting outside help when we are able, and seeing how the process has helped our peers.  We can’t do it alone, because we can’t think clearly about these sorts of things.  We get angry, fearful, and we stuff then again.

If there are three frogs on a log, and one of them decides to jump off, there are still three frogs on the log.  The decision is the beginning — then comes the work.

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