The first thing I did when I woke up this morning was check my phone. I saw a headline about the President’s daily COVID-19 press conferences. It wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. It was just blame, anger towards some politician and organization, and the promise to reopen an economy that was never closed. As I put my phone away, I began a fun mental exercise where I imagined myself in a group of politicians, representing an equal number from both political parties. And I just imagined myself belittling all of them. It was intoxicating. In this exercise, I felt powerful and justified. I ended by thanking them for the $1,200 bribe they gave me and applauded them for finally embracing socialism. It was a fun ten minutes but it left me angry and feeling self-righteous.
When I had around 30 days of sobriety, I remember sitting in a therapy group. One girl who had over six months suddenly spoke up. “You know what?” She said. “Fuck sobriety today.” I’ll never forget that. I have even uttered those words myself well after five years. This girl, who was maybe 22, trying to be a student, and figuring out life with no familial help was exhausted. Her comment reminds me how tiring it is to get sober. Old-timers like to remind newcomers that sobriety takes everything you have. One lame slogan is “You only have to change one thing, and that's everything.” In other words, change equals an unbearable suffering (at which we alcoholics and addicts are great) plus a willingness to sacrifice our convenience and time.
On an individual level, this is very achievable. But why not on a macro level? Why is it so difficult to change things? A mentor of mine put it simply, “equality and social justice feel like oppression to the privileged.” Now, I don’t want to make this post about something I am not well versed in. After all, I am a white male living west of the 405. That idea, however, has always left me angry. It’s always made me feel powerless because there is little I can do to change anything on a macro level. What I can do, however, is talk about anger.
As a recovered alcoholic and drug addict, I have dealt with anger. I actually like anger. It makes me right in any conversation. It makes me feel heard. And it makes me seen by others. It even fuels my need for power and significance. Lastly, it allows me to be my favorite thing - a cynic. It does not, however, give me any solution. From anger (which always manifests as fear first) sprouts blame, threatening, bribing, lying, stealing, purposely hurting someone, arguing, grandiosity, and ego. And then I just spend more time down the rabbit hole of belittling politicians I will never meet. It’s a vicious cycle.
Years ago, I would have just drank over this and sweet, sweet oblivion would have silenced my mind. But now I have to get creative. Actually, I just have to remind myself of the tools I was given early on sobriety. So I opened up the Daily Reflections to today’s passage. It was titled a “Dubious Luxury.” The passage read, “If we were to live, we had to be free of anger. The grouch and the brainstorm were not for us. This may be the dubious luxury of normal men (and women), but for alcoholics these things are poison.”
Unfortunately, change has to start within. I first have to remind myself that I am not a politician or lawyer. As seductive as it is, I cannot pretend to know more about the law, economy, and state of our nation than politicians and lawyers. I simply don’t. Maybe I am angry because deep down inside I know this. Maybe because I was so indifferent and apathetic for too long. Maybe it’s because my last two blog posts got little-to-no clicks and I need that validation, damn it! What I do know is that anger leaves me isolated. I shut down. I declare outrageous things. I lash out. And believe me, as an alcoholic, I have done some evil things.
Sitting in this mindset is not fun. I have to remind myself that although it can be riveting in the short term to blame and indulge in angry mind exercises, it is damaging to my relationships. I treat my wife differently. I treat my family differently. I treat my sponsees differently. Those relationships are more important than whether or not people know I am angry. So I have to think back to my friend in that therapy room six and a half years ago. She was right to say getting sober is exhausting. Doing the right thing is exhausting. The benefits, however, are indisputable. Today, anger is a good tool and marker for something I cannot accept in this world (Or you can go read page 417. I’m not trying to rewrite the Big Book here). But acceptance doesn’t have to be inaction. Once I can accept it, I can begin to have a plan. I was only able to accept being an alcoholic once I was in enough pain and willing to do something. So for any reader struggling with something outside of themselves, I challenge you to accept it for what it is. Then go make a plan.
This Article was written by Jack Shain, CADC-II and founder of Keep Left Recovery. KLR is a private drug and alcohol counseling service located in West Los Angeles. Jack is also certified Recovery Playbook Coach.