Is it really possible to reclaim your serenity in an instant, especially if you are angry, upset, or out of sorts?
Can you learn to control those negative emotions in your recovery in order to protect yourself from relapse?
I believe the answer is “yes,” but of course it will take a bit of work in order to get the results that you want.
Your first task on this particular journey is all about awareness. You have to start paying attention if you want to be able to control your emotions.
For example, there are plenty of people in recovery (and in life in general) that are walking around right now with no clue at to the fact that they are upset, or angry, or fearful, or resentful. They are not measuring. They are just living their life, reacting to things that happen, and then mostly just blaming others for the way that they feel. Instead of owning their feelings and learning how to really process them and deal with them, it is almost like they are living in a fog or bouncing around the inside of a pinball machine–they seemingly have no control over what they are feeling or experiencing in life.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Sure, random things are always going to happen in life–that much is a given. We can’t control everything. But if you are not even aware of the feelings that you are experiencing then there is nothing that you can do to stop the negative stuff from taking over and ruining your day.
Therefore the first step is the decision to be conscious, to wake up to the fact that your brain is something that you can watch, that you can observe, that you can pay attention to. If something happens in your life then you might notice yourself reacting to it and certain emotions rising up. This is not a bad thing, it just IS. And the important thing is that you pay attention to it, realize that the emotion is there, and accept it for what it is. Part of the recovery process is in allowing yourself to feel these emotions.
At the same time, we don’t want to let negative emotions carry us completely into a disaster. It is one thing to allow yourself to feel emotions, it is another thing entirely to use those feelings to justify harmful behavior. Obviously we want to avoid this outcome.
Therefore it is still a priority in life to keep your serenity intact, even when negative events do arise.
So here are some ways we can work on doing that. Remember, no one in recovery will ever get it perfect every single time, and sometimes there are going to be bad things that happen and you will just have to deal with some negative emotions for a while. But the key is that we don’t want to let that destroy us or carry us away to relapse. We strive for balance.
The decision to be happy is the same thing as being happy
You may remember a time in the past when you suddenly thought to yourself “This is nuts! Why am I letting myself get so upset over this? It’s not worth it! I choose to ignore this, and to be happy instead!” And if you can remember an example like this, then you were undoubtedly successful at deciding to become happy in that situation.
Well, believe it or not, you can apply this same decision to just about any moment in your life, and decide to be happy then, too. I have to admit though that there are still times in my own life when this practice fails for me, and I am just too caught up in the chaos to allow myself to shift gears. I am so angry and upset that I just cannot turn on a dime and “become” happy suddenly.
But that does not mean that this technique is totally useless. Even when you are really angry or upset, you can still slow down to the point where you realize that you are still making a decision, you are still sort of stirring in your own anger, and that this is a decision that you are making. At any time you can decide to practice peace, instead. There are times when I have failed at this, and I am sure there will be moments in the future when I will fail at this again. It is part of a practice though.
Random stuff happens in this world, and we react to it. But even if that reaction was automatic and we don’t really feel like we had a choice in choosing our emotions, we can always make a decision. We can always choose happiness, or optimism, or the brighter side of any situation. There is always a choice there, even if we are still too angry or upset to really see it.
Practice can help with this. After you calm down from your anger a bit, you can start to see how you can “choose happiness” in the situation, even though you could not see it a few hours ago when you were really upset. If you do this more and more frequently then eventually you can trigger this choice much sooner in the process (like when you are still pretty upset). Thus you can get faster and faster at reclaiming your serenity, even if random events may still cause some amount of anger in your life.
Bringing yourself back to the present moment in recovery on a day to day basis
What happens when we usually get angry?
It is almost always based on fear. Usually we are upset because of some sort of threat in our lives. We get upset because something or someone is somehow threatening us, either directly or indirectly.
And the interesting thing is that this threat that we experience is almost never in the present moment. If it was, then it would not represent anger at all–we would simply have to deal with the threat, right here and now, and then we would resolve it and move on.
But the kind of anger that becomes a problem in recovery is not “immediate anger” where it gets resolved in the present moment. It is the kind of anger that is either “out there” in the future, or it is “back there” in our past (resentment). As such, it cannot be resolved instantly and bring us relief. This is why it is such a problem.
So one of the techniques that we can use to combat this is to remind ourselves of the present moment. The idea here is simple, and quite spiritual as well.
Simply stop for a moment and look around you. What is threatening you right now, this very moment? Is your life really in danger right now? How?
The fact is that you are not in danger right now. There is no immediate threat. And yet your anger is doing all sorts of chemical stuff in your body (adrenaline spike) that is letting your body know that it is time for “flight or fight” and it is stressing you out. And yet there is nothing to be done with this anger, no outlet for it. There is no threat in front of you, nothing to challenge you.
Instead, you are angry at your ex because they might do something in the future that would affect your relationship, or your income, or your career, or whatever. Or you angry at someone in the distant past who did something to hurt you, and you don’t feel like they ever were brought to justice. So in either case there is a situation “out there” in time, it is not in the present moment, but it exists either in the future or in the past, and it is (or was) a threat to you. And so you are angry. But there is nothing to be done in the present moment, because there is no threat to you right now. So your mind and your body get all worked up over nothing, and there is no outlet for this negative energy.
This is not healthy.
So one of the techniques that I want you to keep in mind is simply the idea of the present moment.
When you are angry, ask yourself if you are really living in the present moment, or is your mind traveling into the past or the future in order to experience that anger?
We almost never experience anger in the present. There is no time for it in the present moment. If there is a real threat in front of you, then you go into instant action and you deal with it right NOW. Then it’s over, quickly. No time for anger. No time for emotion. You might get a quick flash of anger but it turns into action, then it is done.
The present moment has no time to experience anger.
Therefore, if you find yourself getting angry or upset, then come back to the present moment again.
Ask your brain: “Why are you traveling back (or forward) in time again?” Just deal with the here and now, and be happy.
So you might be asking at this point:
“OK, I get it, I need to stay in the present moment. But how exactly do I do that?”
Refocus, breathe, and relax–all in one minute
My number one suggestion to you about staying in the present moment is one very simple command:
Just breathe. That’s it.
Of course, you are breathing all of the time, whether you really think about it or not, right?
So how is breathing going to help?
It’s going to help because you are going to do it deliberately.
You can do this anywhere. You don’t have to be seated in the lotus position in some ancient shrine to be able to benefit from this idea.
You can do this while you are in line at the supermarket after reading a text message on your phone that suddenly made you extremely angry at someone (for example).
So here is the dead simple formula that can actually help you a great deal:
* When you notice yourself getting angry, just breathe.
That’s it. That’s the whole technique. Just breathe.
A couple of things to note:
* In order to make this helpful, you realize that you also have to be able to notice when you are getting angry. So you must increase your awareness of your emotions. Start watching your emotions, monitoring them. Be on the lookout for anger to strike. Be ready for it, so that you can intercede, and breathe.
* Practice some breathing at home, in a quiet room, when you are alone. Do this on a regular basis, maybe once or twice a week. Seated meditation. Nothing fancy. Just breathe in and out, and just pay attention to your breathes as you do this. Don’t force yourself to think about anything in particular. Also, don’t scold yourself if you find your mind wandering when you do this. If your mind wanders, simply bring your attention back to your breathing again.
So that is a two part system for seriously reducing your anger.
One, you practice some very informal seated meditation on a regular basis. Just sit and breathe for 5 minutes in a quiet room. Seriously, just 5 minutes!
Two, when you get angry, prompt yourself to “just breathe.”
What will happen then?
What will happen is that after you are doing this for a while, you will be able to “just breathe” in any given situation–even when you are getting angry–and this will “transport” you back to your seated meditation session. Remember the stillness? Remember the quiet when you were meditating? Keep doing that 5 minute breathing meditation every week, and then in your moments of anger you will have something to “transport” back to.
This works. This works when other anger management techniques fail.
Of course there are other ways to manage your emotions as well. But there is a great deal of power in learning how to breathe as part of meditation, and being able to call on that power at any given moment of the day.
You don’t need to take a class on meditation.
You don’t need a guru to show you how it is done.
You just need to practice it. This is about simply living sober.
You just need to breathe. Deliberately. It really is that simple!
Why your overall serenity depends on the holistic approach to recovery
Now in order for the above technique to work, it will help a great deal if you are also pursuing some sort of holistic health in your life.
All I mean by “holistic health” is that you should be trying to take good care of yourself in every way possible.
Again, you don’t need a guru in order to do this. Most of your holistic health is common sense. In some cases you may have to ask for help, but the solutions are almost always simple.
For example, part of your journey to better health may involve quitting addictions. You are likely already doing that by giving up drugs and alcohol. You may take that even further and quit smoking cigarettes at some point (if need be).
Another part of your journey might involve eating healthier. Most people can make an effort at this without consulting a professional (though there is nothing wrong with asking for help!).
Another part of your holistic health journey might involve working on your relationships. So you might work at improving existing relationships with people in your life, and also possibly seeking out healthier relationships. And there might be some toxic relationships that you need to walk away from.
And you might need to seek out spiritual growth as well. Maybe you need to get back to connecting with a higher power. Or maybe you just need to help others on your journey and learn how to breathe deeply, sitting in the silence. Everyone’s path is different, but those who don’t seek at all will find nothing.
And you might be exercising your body, physically.
All of these ideas are addressing a different area of your life. Physical, social, mental, spiritual, etc. Each of these areas is another theme in which you can build better health in your life.
The key here is this:
If you fail to address one of these holistic areas, then you leave the door open to problems down the road.
Relapse can be very sneaky. In fact, if you entirely neglect just one of the areas I mentioned above, then it is likely that relapse will sneak into your life and claim you at some point.
This is why the holistic approach to recovery is so important. It is the only approach that is thorough enough to protect someone from all of the threats of relapse.
What to do if you cannot reclaim your serenity using simple techniques
So what do you do if you take the advice in this article, you start to practice the breathing idea, and it doesn’t work?
What do you do if you remain angry, or it even gets worse?
At that point, you ask for help.
This is always a good answer in recovery, that you should seek help from others.
Now when we say that you should seek help, what we really mean is that you should seek help in the form of advice or direction.
Don’t ask for favors. Don’t try to manipulate people.
Instead, ask them to guide you. Ask them to show you how they did it.
Find someone who has serenity in their life, and ask them to give you advice. Tell them that you want some of that serenity too.
It will take work. The only way that you can get the “one minute miracle” to really work in your life is if you have put down the foundation yourself already.
It is possible.
You can get to the point where you can “just breathe” and suddenly your anger will melt away to a mere fraction of what it would have been in the past.
I have achieved this sort of transformation myself, and I have also witnessed it in other recovering alcoholics. But it takes work. You can’t just do some magic trick in your brain and expect all of your anger to disappear forever.
The one minute miracle is possible, and you can have real serenity in your life. But you are going to have to make a commitment to yourself that you are going to work for it.
It all starts with a decision.
Then you must increase your awareness, so that you know instantly when you are becoming angry.
Then you must learn how to practice serenity, and practice the techniques. And if those techniques don’t work for you, then you must find people who have the serenity that you want in life, and learn their strategies. Everyone can find a way to work through their anger and deal with it, but most people will never rise to the challenge. It is far easier to just go through life angry without ever really looking at yourself and getting honest.
If you suffer from a lot of anger in your life, make a decision right now that you are going to learn how to deal with it.
You can choose happiness. Sometimes it takes a bit of practice and a bit of work to be able to do so, but you can reclaim your happiness in recovery.
What are your tips for reclaiming your serenity? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!