Here’s the good news: I am kinder and gentler after two-plus years of recovery. The bad news? I was pretty awful in the early days of my sobriety: angry at the world and resentful of the pickle I had gotten myself into. On top of that, I’ve written it all down in a daily blog (posted on the worldwide web), so I can’t even pretend I was the ideal sober newbie.
For many years, I was the kind of drunk who threw down two bottles of white wine a day, while maintaining a rigorous exercise schedule, an active social life and a standup comic’s lineup of ironic repartee. When I decided to quit drinking, I actually had people tell me they thought I’d be “flat” without a wine glass in my hand, as if the Chardonnay somehow puffed me up and defined me: a paper doll without substance or anything humorous to say on my own.
I still think I was funnier when I was drinking, but my humor was so mean spirited, it always left someone smarting from my barbed asides. And in the end I was just sloppy – the person people talked about the next day over bagels and Alka-Seltzer, “Oh my God, did you see her fall down the stairs and then get up and do that sad little bow and say, ‘I meant to do that’?”
Anyway, for a host of reasons I got fed up with the whole mess and stopped drinking July 28, 2013. But I was bored, I resented my situation and I developed more than a little anger for those who could sip a cocktail without polishing off everyone else’s drink leavings and the dregs in the bottle. Bored, resentful and angry – even I knew this was a dangerous trifecta of negative emotions to have in early sobriety.
Why Do We Feel So Angry?
- No Longer “Comfortably Numb”: Many of us numbed our feelings with alcohol and drugs because we didn’t have particularly good coping mechanisms to begin with. I was an angry, violent drunk, so it stands to reason I’d be angry in early sobriety until I got a handle on the root cause of my drinking.
- Cravings and Irritability: Addicts satisfy every craving like children in an unmanned candy store. In recovery, there are restrictions and accountability. This makes for a less than cheerful outlook, and the grumpy behavior is the remainder of a spoiled, indulged past.
- I Don’t Even Want to Do This: Intervention, court-appointed treatment, a spouse or boss forcing the issue – there can be fury and frustration associated with forced sobriety.
- Bored, Resentful and Cross: Early in sobriety we harken back to the “good old days” of wine and roses and conveniently forget the worst aspects of our addiction. It made me mad (and even embarrassed) that I had to order gassy water in a pub and avoid my previous, boozy stomping grounds for fear of relapse.
- Guilty and Fearful: Anger is often motivated by the desire to not feel guilty, hurt of fearful. We feel vulnerable in the early days of recovery and fall back on old, bad habits to cope.
What Can We Do to Stop the Negative Thoughts?
- Take a Hike: The act of getting out in nature and putting one foot in front of the other is my favorite panacea. It’s hard to be angry in a beautiful, natural setting – what are you going to do, throw stones at tweety birds? Kick a tree?
- Say a Little Prayer: I say a rosary every day on my way to work because it calms me. It is good to center your mind and spirit, meditate or just find a secluded place to quiet yourself before a busy day or a difficult conversation.
- Get an Emotional Understanding: Unearth the reasons for your addictive behavior and begin to manage your feelings in a healthy way. Approach confrontation without anger and you will see how much more effective it is.
- Support Networks and Counseling: I have done everything I can to plumb the reasons for my previous negative thoughts and behaviors. I am not a saint, nor do I want to be, but there is great comfort in addressing your demons with a professional. There is also solace in knowing you are not alone in the struggle…
- Count to 10: Breath people. When I was drinking, I acted like I was shot out of a gun: everything was immediate and intense. It was my way or the highway. These days I try (really try) to see things from other people’s perspective, slow down and think. Count to 10. It works.
In the past year, I cannot remember the last time I got angry. It is a horrible feeling and the disharmony of an environment where people are yelling and slamming doors is not something I tolerate (or propagate) anymore. I am still a bit sarcastic, and no one would call me serene, but I no longer look back on my drinking days fondly, and I have learned that dealing with day to day issues directly and honestly is the best way to keep ugly, unproductive anger at bay.
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