Monday, August 26, 2013

Overheard in Recovery: Anger

They didn't mean it as a take-off on an old line about Jesus and life, but I heard it that way:

Know anger, no happiness
No anger, know happiness.
One of those truisms heard around 12-Step meeting tables is that for those in recovery issues of anger are downright poisonous. They will, without question, build in dangerous thoughts and finally into a relapse. It comes from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous where Bill W. and friends said:
It is plain that a life which includes deep resentment leads only to futility and unhappiness. To the precise extent that we permit these, do we squander the hours that might have been worth while. But with the alcoholic, whose hope is the maintenance and growth of a spiritual experience, this business of resentment is infinitely grave. We found that it is fatal. For when harboring such feelings we shut ourselves off from the sunlight of the Spirit. The insanity of alcohol returns and we drink again. And with us, to drink is to die.

If we were to live, we had to be free of anger. The grouch and the brainstorm were not for us. They may be the dubious luxury of normal men, but for alcoholics these things are poison.[Emphasis added.]
Anger is a barrier, a block that keeps what Bill W. called the "sunlight of the Spirit." I believe from what I have seen over the years that this is not even a "dubious luxury of normal men." The pain that anger engenders is devastating. It tears people, families, communities and nations apart. Anger undermines any possibility for hope.

Anger is often appropriate when someone hurts you, of course. But what do you do with it? How does it eat away at you as you seek revenge or retribution? That is the point where anger moves from a human emotion to a primal or primitive survival reaction.

Underneath anger is often a secondary emotion. It is a response to hurt, fear, embarrassment, sadness. When one is anger we feel as if we can at least do something. Strike back! In reality whether the anger is directed outward and hurts other or turns inward and hurts ourselves (our self) it can destroy more than it can build.

Righteous anger can even be worse. Righteousness is always a difficult foundation on which to build anger. It justifies and gives permission to do something that can hurt others. It is far better to take that energy of anger and turn it somewhere helpful, positive and hopeful. It is better to build with it rather than tear down.

As the anonymous quote at the top said, the result will be happiness.

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