For many addicts, sobriety begins by putting down our preferred substances; then creating a life from which we don’t feel a need to escape. Many times, what can stand in the way is unmanaged anger – a pain that we have accepted as part of our way of life. Learning to have fun sober, or even doing your laundry sober are huge stepping stones for addicts. If we are stuck in unmanaged anger, it can prevent us from enjoying our new life or learning new ways to cope with emotions without using. A lot of us never learned how to deal with these things because our first reaction was to use in order to numb our feelings and emotions. If we continue living a life with unmanaged anger, we are living in pain, and our need to escape develops again.
Sobriety is a Roller Coaster
For so many years, we have used to shut out emotion and pain. In our journey to sobriety, we are no longer able to shut those out and they can come flooding in – every miserable bit of it. My first six months of sobriety, I cried more than I had in the past six years. A lot of it was uncontrollable, hysterical and totally uncomfortable. Along with that, I cried with joy more than in all the years I had existed on this planet. I experienced highs I never thought I’d come down from and lows I couldn’t even imagine coming up from. It is a scary and exhilarating rollercoaster to experience without a cushioning substance.
Hate is Heavy
Unmanaged anger rests heavy on our hearts and minds. Hating someone or something takes a lot of energy. It’s a mechanism we have used to shield us from feeling vulnerable. But are we really shielding ourselves from anything? Did we really stop the hurt? Living with hate is like stabbing ourselves and expecting the other person to bleed. The damage we do to ourselves is much greater than it is to anyone else.
The unmanaged anger you feel towards someone is really a feeling of hurt and you place blame on them whether or not it is justifiable. All your friends are backing you up, feeding your hate fire. Your family is consoling you for being mistreated and it’s great because you are right and they are wrong and that is that. Ok, you’re angry, go ahead you’ve earned the right. How much energy will you spend being angry before you feel the need for relief again? If not finding that relief in forgiveness, where will you turn? Drugs and alcohol. It’s all we know thus far. In sobriety, what someone else has done, big or small, has no effect on our capability to stay sober. What matters is only how we relate and react to those around us. Is it ok to forgive someone who clearly did you wrong with malicious intent? Do I have to forgive the lover that cheated on me? Or the colleague that stole from me? If it means releasing the burden on your own shoulders, forgive, not for them but for yourself. You deserve to let go and quite frankly it is the only way to survive.
How Anger Leads to Relapse
Anger is our brain’s natural reaction to pain. When we hold onto anger we are also holding onto that pain. If we have unmanaged anger, that pain will manifest until we can let it go. We need to make sure we are not letting anger manifest to the point of unmanageability and creating the need to make it disappear with the use of drugs and alcohol. Unmanaged anger will often lead to relapse because that is OUR way. It is the path we have always taken. Everything needs to be different in sobriety. We blaze new trails for new results. Harboring resentments, justifiable or not, cuts you off from seeing the good in all people. Closing your eyes to the beauty of the world will surely lead you straight back to the bottom of the bottle.
Progress Not Perfection
It’s ok to be angry! Feelings of anger and hurt are totally valid. Having unmanaged anger is not something that only recovering addicts experience. Anyone experiencing unmanaged anger may use unhealthy coping mechanisms. For an addict, it will lead us to use and to use is a ticket to our own funeral. It is vital that we find a way to manage our emotions before turning to drugs and alcohol to manage them for us. It is very much expected that we have these feelings in the first place and even so expected for us to hang on to them. Part of the process is having them and then learning to cope by talking to a peer, a sponsor or a counselor. I found my way by hearing out others who had forgiven those who did absolutely unspeakable things. They said that they had to in order to stay sober. This gave me the strength to forgive the people who I still held resentments toward.
In sobriety, I have found no greater feeling of relief than in moments I have forgiven people who have truly and deeply hurt me. Staying angry is easy; letting it go is difficult. No one said sobriety would be easy, but I can promise you it’s worth the effort. If you keep doing the same things you will get the results you have always gotten.
Getting Help at Wayside House
If you are a woman struggling with addiction and mental health issues, Wayside House can help. We offer a women-only program and provide a safe, supportive environment to recover in. We have outstanding treatments and therapies that are often only found in more expensive programs. We offer inpatient rehab with various therapies, relapse prevention education, outpatient, and aftercare, as well as services for medical professionals and veterans. Contact Wayside House at 800-655-0817 to learn more.