Thursday, March 24, 2011

Anger: My Emotional Monster

Today I want to begin what I am hoping will be a weekly feature on ToA. Last night was my weekly Al-Anon meeting. It is a group in which I feel entirely safe exposing my open wounds in order to facilitate the healing process. Sort of like what I hope to accomplish with this blog. Anyhow, last night we discussed the concept of anger in relation to our dealings with the disease of alcoholism; as well as how we deal with it during recovery.

The emotion of anger is often and inescapable part of life. We all feel anger at some point in time. Where we as human beings differ is how we deal with that anger. Some of us repress our feelings of anger. Shoving them down and refusing to acknowledge that they exist. It is my belief that when someone claims that they never feel anger that they are lying to themselves. Then there are those that explode with rage when anger wells up inside of them.

For many of us, how we deal with anger is dependent upon the environment we were raised in. If our parents refused to acknowledge their anger it highly likely that we, their children, will practice the same method of dealing with our anger. And likewise, if our parents allowed their anger to become and uncontrollable rage we too will express our anger in a similar fashion.

Growing up in my childhood home I witnessed two completely different expressions of anger. In the few occurrences of sobriety in my father he would swallow his anger. He refused to acknowledge that something was bothering him. His anger would boil beneath his apparently calm surface until he began to drink. Then like a volcano erupting his rage would burst forth in an episode of violence and abuse. He would take his rage out on anyone nearby. My mother on the other hand simply repressed her anger, never letting anyone know that she was displeased. Perhaps it was fear of making my father angry that caused this.

Growing up in this environment I failed to learn healthy ways of managing anger. As I grew up I applied the methods of dealing with anger that I had learned from my parents. At times I would swallow my anger. I would repress it. I would hold it back. I refused to acknowledge that anything was upsetting me. The stress of the pent up anger continued to build and build until I could hold it back no longer. At this point I would explode, sometimes violently, most often with torrent of pent up rage that was hurtful and degrading to those around me.

To say the least these habits that I learned from my parents did nothing to help me succeed in life. Instead they helped to hold me back. They helped to squelch the potential that lay dormant inside me. I quickly realized that I had a problem. I realized that it was not normal to go into an incoherent anger fueled tirade. However at that point in my life I did not know how I was going to change it. I did not know what the cause was. I surely did not know that growing up in an alcoholic household was the cause of my problems. I thought that it was how I was born. I thought that it was a part of me. And these thoughts reinforced the mental abuse that I suffered during my teen years. I thought that I would surely amount to nothing, just like my father had always told me.

These thoughts really persisted until I met my wife about seven years ago. I continued to think that I would barely survive life. That I would never have a successful career. That I would never have a normal life. Whenever I expressed these thoughts to my wife she would immediately combat them. She would tell me that I was smart. She would tell me that I was the kindest person she had ever met. Her words of encouragement were what helped me begin the climb out of the hole that my life was at the time.

In the seven years that I have known my wife I have learned how to better control and express my anger. That is not to say that I still don't have slips and let the rage out, but those instances are few and far between. Despite being better able to control my bouts with anger, I did not really now the true source of my problems. I still labored under the mistaken belief that I was born this way.

Now I understand that the way that I deal with my emotions is not something that I was born with. It is something that I have learned from the flawed examples that I was presented with as I was growing up. It is not something that is set in stone, but something that can be changed.

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