Chronicles of Anger

Thanks to Alicia for this beautiful guest post about her experience with anger in recovery.

Chronicles of Anger

“Let’s talk about anger,” my therapist said.
“Oh,” I shrugged, “I don’t really have any.  I’m not really an angry person.”
“Really?  You don’t have anger?”
“Not really… what I’m really worried about is…”
 
And on went the conversation.  I had always felt relieved that I wasn’t an angry person.  Anger seemed like such a beast to deal with, and I felt for the women in my trauma support group who seemed to have a steady stream of steam leaking from the top of their heads.
“I’m grateful I haven’t had much anger.”  I really believed myself when I said that to my therapists, friends and sponsors.  I was grateful anger was something OTHER women dealt with.  I didn’t fully understand anger, but I knew if I’d experienced it on a regular basis, I would absolutely hate myself.  Growing up, I’d been taught that expressing anger wasn’t appropriate.  No one ever said that, but every time I got angry -as a girl with three older brothers would -I was told to settle down.  I watched others around me express anger, and it scared me.  I saw people throw things, yell and swear… it terrified me. I lived in dread of anger.  In my mind, it was a personality type, not an emotion.  While some ladies really battled anger, I battled other things: anxiety, chronic inflammation, stomach issues.  I figured we all had our own reactions to betrayal trauma.
 
Naturally, I was relieved that the anger spilling out of my friends in support group had evaded me.
Or so I thought…
After I’d been working hard recovery for 6 years, my health became fragile.  My inflammation kicked into high gear.  I had my tonsils out, my gall bladder out.
“Inflammation,” every doctor said.  I visited specialists, therapists, general practitioners, energy healers, chiropractors, massage therapists.  Each one helped, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that until I healed what was going on inside, I was only running around putting band-aids on symptoms. 
 
I began to notice an unsettling pattern in my life.  Though I occasionally felt low levels of anger, I felt frequent high levels of resentment and victimization.  I felt like a victim of my husband’s addiction, his disconnection and control issues.  No matter how much recovery I worked, how many questions I answered in recovery manuals or projects I did in therapy, I could not shake my resentments.  I resented my husband, family members, people I worked with.  One day, at the request of my sponsor, I made a list of everyone I held resentments toward.  The ending result -pages later -felt suffocating. 
I studied the list, thought of the reasons I’d resented each person, and I found one common theme: they had done really offensive, worthy-of-anger things.  All of them.  My reaction had been the same with each one: victimization and resentment.
Why didn’t I get mad?
The list was filled with opportunities to feel anger, but I hadn’t.  Or had I?  It occurred to me that perhaps I had felt anger, but I’d stuffed it carefully down until it morphed into victimization, resentment, and -unfortunately -inflammation.
Months later, something happened.  I can’t remember what it was- honestly I can’t -but I remember feeling angry.  It was a thrilling, vexing sort of moment.
I wanted to DO something with the anger before it had a chance to morph into my Dysfunctional Resentment Cycle.  But what? 
I literally googled it.
Google has a lot to offer.
 
A few minutes later, I was on my yoga mat doing a “Yoga For When You’re Angry” routine.  It was twenty short minutes and gave me some relief, but I couldn’t deny the steam I felt leaking from my every pore.
Right next to my yoga mat was a sturdy decorative pillow that had fallen from my couch. 
So I punched it.
Just like I “shouldn’t.”  Right?  Punching things and loosing my cool was BAD, right?  Who DOES that?
I was desperate!  Surely desperate times call for desperate measures?  I didn’t let myself think about it because I’d overthink it or worse… back out completely.
My fist landed on the pillow. Over. Over. Over and over.  Heat rose through my torso, and something began to unleash inside of me.  My punches grew wild, unrestrained.  For 5 entire seconds, I allowed the anger to rip open my soul.
But it couldn’t last.  That is, I wouldn’t let it last.  The amount of anger that began billowing up absolutely terrified me.  I quit punching, brushed the hair from my face, caught my breath, and walked away.  I felt marginally better, but I wanted to run and hide from the revelation I’d just had.
Was I an angry person? 
As it turns out, there aren’t really angry people out there.  There are people who feel anger.  Some people feel anger more than others, but anger is an emotion -not a personality.
A few weeks later, I let some anger out by running and beating a tree with some thick, dead branches I’d ripped off.  I let the wild, unrestrained anger linger longer that time. 
“It terrifies me,” I told my counselor at our next session, “The amount of anger that comes out as I run and beat and cry.”
“So you’re saying… you DO have anger?” She asked, knowingly.
“A lot, I think,” I said.
“Well, now we can get somewhere.”
She prescribed a letter writing process that I’m terrified to face, but exploring this new level of self-honesty gives me encouraging hope.  My body and mind deserve the freedom that comes with self-integrity.
And my soul deserves the freedom that comes from forgiveness.
Alicia is a country girl out of Arizona who loves to write, cook, drink herbal tea and hire other people to clean her house.  She
has many interests and dabbles in anything she can get her hands on, and her family is always along for the ride.  She’s been married for 12 years, has three children and more pets than she wants to admit.
She’s been working a 12-step program for almost 6 years, and has been working the SA Lifeline model with a sponsor for the last 3.

8 thoughts on “Chronicles of Anger”

  1. I am desperately trying to forgive my husband, but I keep having all these awful images come into my mind, and I am SO ANGRY. I can’t dwell on it. I don’t want to. I have a baby girl who needs one of her parents to have it somewhat together.
    How do you stay married to a man with these issues? How do you live with him and have him raise your children? How do you forgive? How do you trust him?
    I’d really love to hear anyone’s advice or feedback.

    1. Annie I feel you. All I can say is work your steps. Focus on your own recovery. Set clear boundaries that give you space for safety and healing. You will be led One Day at a Time.

    2. These are such deeply important questions that can feel insurmountable. I find myself adding “for today” at the end of them when they threaten to consume me.
      Can I stay married for today?
      I do this one day at a time.

      I also have learned that the timetable for forgiveness and anger isn’t really mine to manage -only God knows how long the anger will last, only God knows when forgiveness finds a way through. For so long, I tried to force the anger down. I tried to force myself to forgive.

      I’ve learned now to just sit and lean into whatever I’m feeling and find out what I need to learn from it.

      Do you have a sponsor, by chance? My sponsor is so helpful for me as I work to figure out my stuff and gain some clarity about where I’m at.

      Those questions are so very important, and I know in my own life that no one has the answers except for me -and with time and God, I begin to find them.
      One day at a time.

  2. I have been praying to forgive more fully and got the impression i need to grieve first. I’m realizing i stuff anger and need to find ways to express it. We have been married 30 yrs and working on recovery for 7. I realized yesterday, I,m ticked with a capitol T!!

    1. This is such a great point Melanie. For me, there was no room for forgiveness until I had grieved fully and taken the time to process the hurt, anger, and rage. When I let go of trying to be where I felt like I “should” be and allowed myself to just be where I was, my Higher Power was able to move me through the process One Day at a Time until one day, real forgiveness came.

  3. I am struggling with what bounderies will help me feel safe and allow for healing. My husband has frequent relapses and gets verbally abusive with them.

  4. Anger is a gift and a blessing when it’s experienced rather than acted out in unboundaried ways. Anger is a friend that tells me that my moral code has been violated–by myself or someone else. And, ultimately, it’s a siren that wakes me up to an area of my life where I either need more clearly defined boundaries or where I need to hold my boundaries more rigorously.

    Anger isn’t “bad” behavior–although I can choose to engage in unboundaried behavior if I’m not honest or responsible with myself (and I’ve sadly done that more often than I’d care to admit). For me, one thing that’s helped is, when I recognize I’m feeling anger, to ask myself what behavior I’m feeling anger toward rather than focusing on WHO I’m angry toward.

    I love me some healthy anger! 🙂

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