“You will not be punished for your anger. You will be punished by your anger.” – Buddha
a feeling of tension and hostility… caused by anxiety aroused by a perceived threat to one’s self, possessions, rights or values.
Anger is not your friend at the best of times. At the worst of times, it just plain eats you up and spits you out. How do I know? It did that to me, left me reeling at one of the very worst points in my life and all I could was to turn to alcohol to ease the feelings, the pain, and, I foolishly hoped, the anger itself. Like all mood-changing substances, the alcohol made me look at my anger differently and, before long, I was a fully-fledged alcoholic. And I stayed that way for a long, long time. On entering my last rehab, the medical staff quickly established this ultimate reason for my alcohol abuse and made it very clear to me: “If you don’t deal with your anger, you will just relapse time and time again.” It doesn’t get much clearer than that.
Recovery is a very emotional experience, on a whole host of different levels, and anger is one emotion you can really do without, making it very hard for you to think clearly and rationalize your current situation. Furthermore, it can be a trigger for relapse itself. People, places, situations that triggered previous episodes of abuse are all still out there and how you deal with those things will go a long way in determining the success (or otherwise) of your recovery. The aim of this article is not to share the details of my story; its aim is to give you 4 clear strategies that you can use to deal with your anger during your recovery. Thankfully, these strategies, gleaned from medical experts and backed up by the experiences of other addicts, have got me where I am today – sober.
#1. Keep a Journal
Apart from being something you can do on a daily basis to record your feelings, your emotions and your thoughts during recovery, a journal is an excellent way to give you a real and truthful insight into your anger. As you continue to log those moments when your anger is peaking, eventually, as I did, you will begin to see and recognize patterns. Even more insightful is that you will begin to see what is actually causing your anger – your stressors, if you like. By learning about these, you can then avoid the people, places and circumstances that initiate your anger. A journal will give you a real perspective on what makes you tick and what makes you ultimately explode. Such information is invaluable to you and your recovery.
Possibly of even more value to you will be the realization that your angry reaction to certain situations may be a question of your perception, of how you are internalizing things too much, resulting in a response that far outweighs the actual set of circumstances themselves.
#2. Practice Control
As the saying goes, “Practice makes perfect.” The following mini-strategies may take a while to kick in for you, to really work. So practice them regularly. However, when they do, you are far better placed to control heightened emotions such as your anger, and you will achieve what some call “emotional freedom.”
- Repetitive Focus: Do you remember when you were a child and a parent or teacher could see your anger and would politely ask you to count to 10? They said that because it works. Honestly, when I started seriously doing this as part of my recovery, I always went way beyond 10. It doesn’t matter how far you count – the important point is it gives you time to calm yourself.
- Relaxation: The choice is yours. There are many ways you can learn to relax, such as breathing techniques, stretching, yoga, positive imagery, music and so on. As one recovering addict once said to me, “Whatever works, fella. Whatever works.”
- Distraction: When confronted by a situation that normally irritates the hell out of you, simply distract yourself. Think of something else or do something different. Believe me, this is great for regaining control.
- Replace Your Anger with Something Better: As mentioned right at the beginning of this article, anger is not your friend. However, other emotions are your friends, so simply replace that sense of anger with a better emotion. Call a friend, hug a loved one, play with the dog or think of a funny joke. This works too.
#3. Anger Management
The two previous strategies are all about self-help and they will help. However, there is nothing wrong with seeking the guidance of an experienced anger management professional. It can be of great benefit to hear the experiences of others, providing you with something that you can relate to. And it’s good to know you’re not alone.
#4. Cognitive Therapy
Cognitive therapy is defined as “a relatively short-term form of psychotherapy based on the concept that the way we think about things affects how we feel emotionally.” As addicts, one of the first things we kiss goodbye to is a real sense of reality. We begin to misinterpret what is happening around us, and the result is unhelpful cognitions. By replacing these cognitions with truer and more helpful ones, anger cannot just be controlled – it can be eliminated.
Enable Yourself to Deal with Anger…
So there are the 4 strategies that have enabled myself and many others to deal with anger during recovery: keeping a journal, practicing control, anger management and cognitive therapy. There may be other ways that you have found that have helped you with anger in recovery. Please feel free to share those in the comments below.
For certain, anger is not your friend, but you can learn ways to keep it away from your desire for recovery.