Search This Blog

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Anger: A "Dubious Luxury"

"If we were to live, we had to be free of anger. The grouch and the brainstorm were not for us. They may be the dubious luxury of normal men, but for alcoholics these things are poison."
-- Alcoholics Anonymous, page 66 --

There is, perhaps, no stronger emotion than anger. Fueled by fear, it takes over the individual's mind and body. The option of flight, of turning the other cheek, goes out the window and it is, "Fight! Fight! Fight!" Anger is, thus, the ultimate weapon that the ego wields to capture the unwary individual. And once the monster of anger is set in motion it is virtually impossible to arrest the inevitable blow up.

One could liken the individual's struggle with anger to the struggle with a python. One struggles to get out of its grasp, yet the more one struggles the more the beast tightens its coils until it is literally suffocating.

But why is anger so damaging? Why is it pointed out as the most dangerous of our character defects? Why in our moral inventory are resentments the first thing we deal with?

We read in the 'Doctor's Opinion' that alcoholics are "restless irritable and discontent unless they can again experience the the sense of comfort and ease that comes at once by taking a few drinks - drinks that they see others taking with impunity." When gripped by anger or resentment (which is simply the anger we hold onto over time), the feelings of "irritability, restlessness and discontnet" are incalculably multiplied. The alcoholic addict, if he cannot overcome his anger (or does not strike back at the object of his anger, which is inadvisable) is almost certain to drink and/or use drugs to get rid of the emotional maelstrom that anger engenders.

So how, then, does one deal with anger? Perhaps the answer lies in the quotation from the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous, above. If we can recognize anger before it is activated, when it is still either just a "grouch" or a "brainstorm" it is possible for us to deal with anger mindfully. Once our resentments are stoked like a fire, however, the inferno of full-blown anger is nearly impossible to smother.

Our first line of defence against anger is, thus, in listing our resentments in our Fourth Step inventory. When we write down who and what still angers us, identify what causes our resentments, and examine how they affect us, we are then in a position to see the role that we, ourselves, played in past instances of anger. We see that almost inevitably our actions, to some degree or other, have brought on the behaviour that seems to have been directed against us. Knowing, then, that we have been at least in part responsible for how the world treats us, we begin to treat the world itself more charitably. Life is not as serious as our egos make it out to be.

Our second and ultimate line of defense is a reliance on our Higher Power to shape and order our world. Thus, we read in the Third Step essay in The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions that "in all times of emotional disturbance or indecision. we can pause, ask for quiet and in the stillness simply say: "God grant me the serenity to acceptthe things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. Thy will not mine be done."

The God of our own understanding is the serenity that allows us to accept the things we cannot change. And who amongst us can change a single outside thing in the moment it takes to say this prayer? The only thing which we can instantaneously change is the state of our consciousness and being. Serenity, is thus the ability to tap into the "unsuspected inner resource" each of us has buried beneath our egoic self-consciousness. Realizing this, we ask for the courage (from the Latin cour meaning 'heart') to go to this deeper, higher consciousness. And, finally, we ask for the wisdom to know that there is a clear difference between our egoic self-consciousness and its cauldrom of fears and desires, and the higher God-consciousness of peace and quiet.

Anger is thus the "dubious luxury" of so-called "normal people." To the extent that they can sustain their anger, so much the better (or the worse) for them; but we need not suffer. Clearing away the wreckage of old resentments allows us the psychic room to effectively utilize the "spiritual toolkit" we learn in sobriety, knowing that "this too shall pass" - albeit quickly or slowly. And, if that is so, why not let it pass quickly?

1 comment:

  1. ...I so appreciate this post...i feel im close to a break-through..i dont know if this will make sense to you or not but there is something of a change or reorganization going on within my not actually doing anything to facilitate this phenomena except maybe reading and contemplating..your posts,especially the ones addressing resentments and anger seem to be resonating with me on a deep level..i suppose i have unresolved 'issues' regarding these...i've tried writing down my resentments but it didnt seem to affect any shift or release emotionally i said,something is 'going on' with me behind the scenes so to speak,no doubt God is at work and He is using YOU(your posts) to speak to/reach me in a way no one else could,and for that I THANK YOU Rabbi :)...