I CAME INTO AA reluctantly, with real reservations, especially in emotional areas of my life. When I heard that even righteous indignation was something alcoholics could not afford to indulge in, I felt not only puzzled but put-upon by the very group that I had hoped could help me. After all, what was I supposed to do about the anger that others “made” me feel? What was I to do when others misused me? How could I dispense with the anger that was so often “forced” upon me by the actions of others?
After ten years of sobriety and much, much time spent in reflection on my various character defects (as well as those of others!), I have come to realize that anger was most often at the root of my drinking, also that anger was always something I created within myself, although usually in response to the actions of others. However, whether or not I became angry was my problem. As long as I was in control of my emotional life, I was in control of anger.
By “control of anger,” I do not mean the teeth-gritting “I won’t let him make me angry” sort of thing that I had once used to control the display of anger. I am talking about controlling the gut-level reaction we call anger. I know that I am going to feel it and that I have not found a way to handle it–yet. But what I do about the anger is something else. And I have found that the roots of all anger lie within myself.
When I become angry, I have discovered, I need to look at me, not at what someone else did or said. How do I feel about me? If someone didn’t show up for an appointment, do I feel small, unimportant? Why? If someone says I have done the wrong thing, do I feel guilty? Was I really wrong? If people don’t do what I think they ought to do, do I feel betrayed? What were my expectations? Were they realistic? If someone shouts at me, do I feel angry? Why?
I need to look at my own opinion of myself and sometimes at the way the other person feels about himself or herself. The immediate causes of anger are usually just the masks that deeper emotions are wearing. If I have a poor opinion of myself, that is my responsibility–no one else “gave” it to me. Others can give me only what I will accept. If some people try to make me feel guilty, unimportant, unpleasant, they can do that only insofar as I let them. If you hand me guilt and I refuse to accept it, I cannot feel guilty.
Consequently, I have had to face the fact that I am responsible for all of my anger. I create it–you don’t. If I am responsible, then I have to do something about it and look within myself at the deep, underlying causes of my reactions. If I don’t, I just might decide to handle it as I once did–with alcohol. I discovered the hard way that the flames of anger burn out of control if you douse them with alcohol. They can totally consume me.
But AA has given me the tools to help me look at myself and change my reactions. Best of all, AA has taught me that when I can’t handle something, I can “let go and let God,” and it will work out.