The Bad News:
This is my experience; yours may be different.
Peeling away my behavior of active addiction and alcoholism exposed every raw nerve my body, heart and mind possessed. Really. Doing my fourth step didn’t really launch me into the sense of freedom that I had heard others describe. Sharing it during my fifth step felt like opening my rib cage—no, REMOVING my rib cage, leaving my tender heart exposed and vulnerable. Embarking into the sixth and seventh steps began to give me some sense of choice in my life, allowing my higher power to help me choose what to moderate and what to leave behind entirely, but, again, the sense of exposure drove me into my shell.
This happened, to some degree, the first few times that I worked the steps. Doesn’t sound inviting, does it? Removing the layers of my false identities: the tough one, the sturdy one, the one who “gets things done,” the independent one, the responsible one, the one who would go to work after being up all night sick as a dog (sweating the greasy alcohol and drug-infused sweat of the hungover, but I was there!), the one who could take “it,” whatever “it” was. These were the forms of my false identity; they protected the scared abandoned child underneath; the one who felt unworthy, unloveable, useless, and unskilled.
All I had holding me together was my anger! I felt furious with my parents, who were more often parents in name only. I was the one raising the younger kids and doing household chores, taking care of the home. I felt anger at my extended family for turning away from the mess of our lives. I was angry at the relationships I chose with brutal or narcissistic people whose dis-ease matched mine like puzzle pieces. I felt angry with myself for being so unlike who I wanted to be. The anger was my stuffing, my support; my rage gave me the energy to move through each day. I was going to “show them” (whoever they were). I wasn’t going to let them get me down. I would become the one to rise to the top.
But the top of a garbage pile is still on a garbage pile. I knew the rage would eat me alive; recovery had to feel better than this! I knew something had to give.
The Good News:
Giving up anger led to me living a full life of grace – this is my experience; yours may be different.
Underneath my active disease of addiction was the inherited disease of ACA (being the child of an alcoholic, or the child of an addiction or adversity). I had inherited unhealthy coping behaviors from my parents, who had developed it in response to their own childhoods, and generationally we were (I want to use the f-word here, but let us say) doomed.
What if I now put that anger aside for now and used its energy to investigate and heal the harms I had experienced? It’s somewhat like letting go of one trapeze bar before you can touch the next. There is a moment of disturbing void – of nothingness. This is where my HP held me. I wasn’t going to fall; I was not going to fail. I would make room for the new, the healing, the compassionate, the guided, the wiser, the more be-friended: the true self.
The anger couldn’t be stuffed, ignored or overlooked. It needed to be acknowledged and right-sized. It needed to be set in its time zone and worked through. My side, your side (looking back as a kid there may be the temptation to see it all like the others’ issue. My side, my issue, is letting it define me now). When I am able to define myself and my side, my own ethics and my values, I can begin making boundaries.
Boundaries as a form of self-care can sustain and define me. Clear connection to my HP and to my inner true self will hold me up. I don’t have to exist as the shadow of what came before. Nor in the flames of anger. It takes time and care. It takes guidance, support and bravery.
Getting clean and sober took courage. I can now use that courage to face the anger and the illusion that anger supports me, and transform it into empowerment based in fact, compassion grounded in care, and values in connection with my place in a healing society. My anger no longer defines me.