In order to thrive in long term sobriety you are going to have to learn how to deal with anger and resentment.
Now this is actually two separate but related issues that you have to learn how to deal with: One is to learn how to deal with your anger in the present moment, the other has to do with your past anger that has festered into an actual resentment. Both of these skills are going to be necessary for you to maintain, and enjoy, long term sobriety. Keep in mind that some people in long term recovery may still have a lot of anger, and they just aren’t very happy, even though they continue to “white knuckle it” and they avoid a physical relapse on alcohol or drugs. We don’t want to just grit our teeth and maintain sobriety while still be angry–we want to achieve some peace and serenity and freedom in our lives.
That said, we need to take a look at the process of dealing with our anger from the past. You can go about this several different ways. For example, you might get a sponsor in AA or NA and work through the 12 steps, which will address your resentments and issues from your past at some point. In order to lay those issues to rest, the process in AA and the fourth step has to figure out what part of those past issues you played, which part you were responsible for, and therefore can start to realize that the blame is not entirely to be cast on others alone.
You might also choose to work through your resentments in some other fashion–such as by talking it through with a therapist or a counselor. In some cases, a person may not even know why they are angry. They may not consciously hold specific anger in their mind because they may have repressed it for various reasons. So in some cases you may need to get additional help that goes beyond chatting with a sponsor in a 12 step program–you may need an actual therapist to help you work through your past issues, and to identify those past issues. If you don’t know you are angry then you cannot do anything to help yourself. Second, if you dont’ know why you are angry then you are also pretty much stuck.
In my experience a lot of getting past resentments has to do with forgiveness. The reason that this can be a spiritual journey is because of our self imposed limitation on forgiving others: We generally do not forgive other people any more than we are willing to forgive ourselves. That means that if you are beating yourself up inside and you are refusing to give yourself a break and forgive yourself for the chaotic things that happened in your addiction and your past, then you are not likely to forgive others for whatever they did when they lashed out at you.
In other words, you must first learn to forgive yourself if you want to fully forgive those who have wronged you in the past. And forgiving yourself can be a bit of a spiritual journey. Again, you would do well to ask for help in this regard–talk to a sponsor in AA, talk to a therapist, talk to a spiritual advisor, talk to your peers in the fellowship, talk to anyone that might help. Forgiveness can be a journey, and it is one that you are going to have to take if you want freedom from resentment. Learn to forgive yourself first, then work on forgiving those that you resent. Work through your own guilt first before you try to process your resentments and let them go.
Now even after you have done the work and you have processed all of your past resentments and you have set yourself completely free, there are still anger issues to deal with. This is because life keeps happening and issues keep showing up in recovery and there will always be potential issues to get angry about in the future. So even if you have decided that you want to be “free and serene” for the rest of your life, anger is going to keep popping up and invading every once in a while. So how do we deal with it without resorting to relapse?
One of the problems with addiction recovery is that we need to seek solutions, because our old solution was always to self medicate with drugs or alcohol. No matter what the situation, no matter what form our anger or resentment presented itself in, we used our drug of choice in order to medicate away those unwanted emotions.
Anger is a secondary emotion–it is used to mask pain or fear or hurt inside of us. Our anger flares up when other emotions have triggered it to do so.
Those other emotions–the ones that triggered the anger in the first place–are the reason that we used to medicate with drugs and alcohol.
So we need to seek new solutions. One of those solutions has to be in learning how to deal with those negative emotions in a healthier way. For example, when another human being upsets us, we need to learn how to take time to cool down, and then go communicate with that person in a civil and healthy way. Instead of blowing up and allowing the anger to control us, we need to learn techniques and tactics to help us to cool down and to communicate with a level head.
And this is not something that we just decide is going to change for us, and then it is instantly solved forever. We need to practice it, we need to work at it, and we need to patient with ourselves. So dealing with anger in your life might be something that you seek out help for, something that you talk to a therapist about every week, so that they can help analyze what is happening in your life, how you are reacting to it, and how you can improve your reactions.
One more suggestion in regards to dealing with anger and resentments: I would strongly urge you to explore both seated meditation as well as physical exercise.
In particular, vigorous exercise has been really beneficial for me in terms of dampening my negative emotions. If I am upset or angry or experiencing any kind of negative emotional state in my life, I can go do a vigorous workout and that emotional state is drastically reduced. The emotions are still there; they just aren’t nearly as strong after I put in a vigorous physical workout. This has been a game changer for me in terms of dealing with my emotions.
Seated meditation can be life changing in this regard too, although I am not sure that I am at the level where it can be used to dampen or control my negative emotions. Again, with practice, these kinds of techniques have the ability to set you free when it comes to your emotions. Try these techniques out and good luck to you on your recovery.