Earlier today, I was reading one of my daily meditations – this one entitled Anger Is Poison. Compelling title, I thought. More compelling to pick through what the author (thank you Harriet Hunter) shared.
While Harriet’s experience was that of growing up as an angry child, that was not mine (or not how I recall things, anyway). My perspective (albeit not entirely accurate) is that I was the opposite. My perspective was that anger was not a good thing in a girl; it wasn’t “nice.” And I was trying my best to be a good and nice girl.
But emotions are there no matter what – either pushed down or expressed. Preferably when they are expressed, that happens in a healthy way. But for those of us with addictive issues, that was typically not a learned experience, and probably not welcome in our family structure for a variety of reasons.
What I have learned in sobriety is that my addictive behaviors helped me squelch the uncomfortable feelings I had, including anger. Not that I was docile and compliant. Not a chance. But the addictive behaviors did keep the lid on the pressure cooker. It kept my emotions – the good emotions as well as the negative ones – numbed out.
Then sobriety came, and with that, a willingness to address my numbed-out emotions. At that point, I didn’t like any of the emotions I was experiencing, as they were all so uncomfortable and foreign. But the emotion that was really challenging for me was anger. It was the easiest to go to, sometimes appearing almost out of nowhere. It was also powerful and directed at others, so it deflected my own emotional pain. In its most extreme state – rage – anger has an intensity that is compelling and even enjoyable on some level.
My challenge in early recovery was that this intense rage would come up a lot. Often enough that I actually name it: My White-Hot Rage. But I couldn’t do anything to prevent it or stop it at the onset. My best option was to stay away from people and not say anything, as that might then lead to me needing to make amends for my poor behavior.
I know for sure people could sense me distancing in this way. I recall being in a situation (on a motorcycle with my full-face helmet on, sitting away from others. I had a friend start to approach. With the most minor shake of my head, she quickly (and wisely) turned around.
So, what was causing/driving my anger? I finally identified that it was an expression of hurt (abandonment, neglect, etc.) Anger, for me, was a great cover for hurt. It pushed my pain outward rather than inward where I might have felt it.
What changed? I got professional help. I realized this tactic was not serving me and I wanted to change (willingness to do something different). My therapist and I did EMDR work to address the trauma experience that was being tapped into each time that rage flared. Today when I’m angry, I can identify that an old wound is being poked, and I can then do something that is helpful for me rather than choosing anger or any other negative behavior. Since I have worked on this, I have had ZERO incidents of white-hot rage. And it has been years.
To me, that is evidence of how transformation is possible with willingness plus the right tools and support. Today, I can understand the pain under the anger, acknowledge it, and know that I can handle the hurt and grow from it. And while this may sound uninviting, trust me, this is so much better than feeling the intensity and pain of anger and rage.