I have been talking about anger lately and have become clearer that I have always been uneasy with what seems to be a basic concept of AA that anger is “bad” for addicts and cannot be experienced under any circumstances. Having been raised in an Irish/Cherokee family, I have always found this idea of “anger being dangerous” not only confusing, it seems wrong to me. I have always seen anger as more like a celestial enema that periodically cleans one out from the gathered garbage.
Over the years, I have, while trying to respect the teachings of AA, added a bit to them. For example, I have never been able to say that anger is “bad” or should not be felt. I just, in my soul of souls, do not believe this. I have, however, consistently taught and felt that under no circumstances should my or anyone else’s anger be “puked” on others.
For me, anger, like all my other feelings, is a gift from the creator and I have been given it in order to learn from it. I was taught that all our feelings are precious gifts, and we have them so that we can heal, learn and grow. They are the doors that take us beyond our rational, logical mind and facilitate our having an experience of our oneness with the all-that-is – the whole. It is up to us as humans to learn to deal with this wonderful range of feelings that we, as human beings, are given. Part of that learning is 1) never to blame our feelings on others, 2) never to “puke” our feelings on others, and 3) never to “indulge” in our feelings out of our own self-centeredness. Our feelings are 1) gifts from the creator, 2) here to teach us lessons our rational minds cannot accomplish, 3) here to help us heal old traumas and 4) here to help keep us “alive” and feeling alive.
I was never taught to ignore my feelings, suppress them, avoid them or deny them. They may give me a hard time at times and I may want to pretend that they are not there sometimes and – – they are my friends. They will build up and get stronger if I try to ignore them or push them down because they are my friends. What kind of friend would walk away just because we refuse to admit that they exist or ignore them. Fair-weather friends would do that. Real friends would hang around longer – – just in case.
We just become so much more alive when we live and work with our feelings.
So, the admonition not to feel anger just does not ring right for me.
Here is what I have come to with all this.
I believe that in general, the focus of AA is and has been on quitting drinking and on early recovery. Even Bill W. in his later writings began to see that “recovery” meant more than just not drinking and began to focus more on the “ism” of alcoholism and the psychological and relationship aspects of the disease.
Since I have been working with addicts for over 30 years and have continuously worked with some for almost that long, I have come to certain awarenesses.
- The anger of the using addict and the addict in early recovery is different from the anger of “normies” as they call them or those who have a solid/living recovery under their belts. I can see why those who are still using or in early recovery and shaky with their recovery or are faking recovery are told that they cannot afford anger – – – they can’t.
I have noticed that those who fall into the above categories definitely cannot afford to feel their anger or indulge in it.
From my experience, the anger of the non-recovering addict is not just “normal” anger. They don’t just get angry with someone or something, do their work, let it go and work it out with the person. 1) They want to annihilate the other. “If we differ one has to be annihilated and it better be you.” 2) They hold on to their anger like their most prized possession and feed it every moment of every day. 3) They puke it whenever possible on anyone and everyone especially the person or thing with whom they are angry. 4) They make regular deposits like to a savings account and rejoice in the interest accumulated. 5) It is too precious to let go of. 6) It becomes a trusted, if destructive, friend. Perhaps their/our only friend. We have heard that we are as sick as the secrets we keep – we are also as sick as the anger we keep.
- The anger of the truly recovering person or the “saner” person is a different kettle of fish all together. First of all, when a healthy person feels anger, she/he is aware of it. It doesn’t dash to the unconscious to be hidden. A healthy/recovering person is aware of and in touch with her/his feelings. Feelings are seen as important and feeling anger over an injustice or personal insult is healthy. Not to feel our feelings would render us less than the opportunity to be a full human being.
When a healthy person feels anger, not only is she/he aware of it, that person notices it and consciously notices it. Usually, it is better not to act on it at that time so as not to run the risk of “puking” and it is very important for ourselves to notice it.
Then when we have time, it is important to take some alone time, remember the feelings of anger, go deep inside and let ourselves know what was triggered in us (we call this deep process work). This deep process work will give us the chance to see if our anger is not only related to the situation at hand, it may be related to some “old stuff” deep inside of us which is ready and needed to be worked with. Sometimes we see that the “trigger” was a great gift for us and needs not to be dealt with further. And, sometimes, we will, when we are clear, need to discuss the issue with the person (or around the issue) that triggered the anger. Usually if we do our work, we come to see that the feelings of anger opened doors of great possibilities for us and we are grateful to have felt it.
So maybe in non-recovery or early recovery, feeling anger may be too costly and otherwise anger and all our other feelings are gifts to be welcomed and are an important part of learning and healing.
And, again, rules only apply where and when they apply and when one is in process. Rarely does a rule like “one cannot afford anger” fit all the people all of the time. We are too complex and too much of a process for concrete stasis to be true all the time.
The truth is, there are many things we need to be angry about – the injustices in the world – – racism, sexism, insane governments, the monetary system, the destruction of the planet, people who lie to us or treat us or others with disrespect – – the list is limitless. Anger can be very, very healthy. What we do with it is the issue.