Oh yes, delayed feelings, that time lag between whatever happens and the recognition of how I feel about it. That still trips me up. It was Father’s Day on Sunday and I woke up this morning, two days later, and realised I am not yet ready to talk about the grief and anger I still feel towards my father, who died last year. I am not ready to feel some of those feelings.
I’m slow about grieving, cushioned in numbness and closed to tears. But I’m getting better at realising I feel angry or resentful about conflict or injustice, and that is progress.
Women and anger, the way we just pretend we’re not angry and keep smiling or acting calm and indifferent. Putting on lipstick in the mirror with expressionless dead eyes and a firm uptilted chin. The way an angry woman smiles, so nicely and no giving away how pissed-off she is. Anger like s smoky blue aura all around her taut stance and rapid walk. Another hard topic to talk about, too close to home.
In early sobriety my own anger was like a red flag somebody waves after the cattle have stampeded through the saloon and wrecked the place. I got angry in retrospect. .
By far the most uncomfortable feelings I had while travelling around and working in strange places that first year I got sober had to do with anger and my struggle to deal with it. Until I had done Step 4, I had no trustworthy skills or awareness to help me deal with feelings of resentment, irritability, annoyance, even outrage. I rarely felt angry at the time conflict happened — there was a kind of time delay and then I would wake seething with fury at 3am a week or so later. Sometimes the anger felt ‘justified’, but often it was compounded by older memories of injustice or betrayal. And the more I rehearsed my grievances in my head, the fiercer they became. Confrontation would have been much better, but I avoided confrontation back then, just swallowed my anger and hoped the intensity of it would ebb away in time.
And I was oblivious to many of my own deeper feelings. Often I did not even know I was angry until I found myself lashing out or slamming doors, or wishing I could drink. Many clients were impatient or irascible and their anger sparked my own. Unrecognised volatile anger or resentment was the biggest risk to my sobriety while travelling in cities or on flights where nobody knew me and I could pick up a drink on impulse. Taking the ‘edge off’ bad moods with a drink, buffering myself against painful feelings with drink as an anaesthetic was what I had done for years. The anger was not superficial, it sometimes felt like a volcano boiling up from deep within. Alcohol was the only one-size-fits-all solution I had when things went wrong.
This for me is why Step 4 is so crucial to self-awareness and making peace with our inner demons or unresolved hurts and disappointments. Beneath the simmering rage or hot sharp flare of anger there lies buried grief and anguish and heartache. The anger is so often a smokescreen. But the anger is all bound up with misplaced expectations and passive-aggressive habits and not-knowing-how-we-really-feel. Resentment is a timebomb in early sobriety. The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous is very precise and accurate here and this paragraph makes a great deal of sense to me:
“It is plain that a life which includes deep resentment leads only to futility and unhappiness. To the precise extent that we permit these, do we squander the hours that might have been worth while. But with the alcoholic, whose hope is the maintenance and growth of a spiritual experience, this business of resentment is infinitely grave. We found that it is fatal. For when harboring such feeling we shut ourselves off from the sunlight of the Spirit. The insanity of alcohol returns and we drink again.”