“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.” Mark Twain
Okay, I have delayed writing this one. The A word I am writing about is not alcoholic or addict, it is anger. Anger, a subject suggested by my wife, was one of the topics I noted down when I started this blog well over a year ago. I have, so far, successfully avoided the subject, doubtless a hangover from my addict’s shame.
There is nothing uglier than an angry addict. Nothing is their fault. It is everyone else, circumstances or bad luck that are to blame. I was an angry addict. This anger was born in my shame, magnifying what would otherwise be everyday annoyances. The people that bore the brunt of my behaviour were those closest to me: my wife and daughter.
Addicts who get angry alienate whoever is on the receiving end of their aggressive behaviour and those who witness it. During their addict lives most succeed in losing friends, and alienating or losing their partners and children. Families of alcoholics suffer the most from physical assaults or angry, sarcastic, irrational, verbal attacks and they have no way out until the addict truly admits to having a problem and begins to address it.
What would make me angriest was when my wife dared to suggest that I had been drinking. Full of righteous indignation I would protest: “How can you say that? You never trust me.” I would aggressively deny that I had been drinking, when the fact was obvious. Even now, it doesn’t ring true when I write that my anger was born of shame. I still believe I should have been bigger than that. It came very close to costing me my marriage and my relationship with my daughter.
My 10-year-old daughter has recently begun writing about being the child of an alcoholic. In her first post she writes:
“I heard some loud noises coming from the kitchen and I realised that, oh yes, he was drinking. I was scared. To start off, I tried to ignore it but after about 5 seconds I was panicking like hell. I ran upstairs and grabbed the landline phone and found my mum’s number and tried to call her repeatedly, but I forgot she was in a meeting. So, then I just worried and worried until I asked Dad when Mum will be home and he got upset (like crying) then he stopped and told me.”
This was not an isolated incident. I don’t know whether I will ever be free from the shame of my behaviour.
There is nothing wrong with justified anger. Any emotion can be focused positively into change. The anger of an addict however, cannot be justified. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, alcoholics struggle with recognising and understanding anger. Some alcoholics also struggle with expressing anger productively and recognising that they’re actually angry with themselves. I, however, always knew who I was furious with. For the addict in recovery, learning to process anger is an essential skill. Drugs and alcohol affect different people in different ways, but the angry alcoholic has become a stereotype for a reason. Anger and aggression are regular themes in the lives of many alcoholics, and finding ways to moderate these is central to overcoming their addiction.
In my recovery, I cannot truly say that I am totally free from anger but I try to limit it to other drivers. I now enjoy the role of grumpy curmudgeon, a family joke (I hope) I play to with relish. Working through cognitive behavioural therapy, I identified the possible roots of my anger and, apart from the greed and hypocrisy of some humans, freedom from alcoholism has meant, so far, that my family are liberated from worrying about my moods. This alone gives me the reason I need to stay sober.
“You will not be punished for you anger, you will be punished by your anger.” Buddha