A lot of addiction recovery is about learning to cope with difficult emotions without using substances. One of those emotions is anger. It can cause muscle tension, keep you up at night, or even make you feel sick.
In this blog, I am not talking about anger in response to racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, or other systemic issues. I am referring to anger within interpersonal dynamics (that is unrelated to the aforementioned issues).
Substances can amp up anger. They often distort emotions in general, so that you cannot properly identify—and therefore cope—with what you are feeling. Often, sadness gets turned to anger in an attempt to “save face.”
Recovery can be humbling, and without substances, people can learn to properly cope with difficult feelings. But that doesn’t mean anger immediately washes away once you get sober.
In some cases, people stubbornly hold on to anger—even if it’s only causing them pain. I have been guilty of this. But refusing to let go of anger can hold you back in your recovery. It keeps you tied to the past. It keeps you stuck.
This doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to feel anger. Repressing it will only bring it back stronger. Refusing to let go of anger is different than allowing yourself to feel it.
Holding on to anger looks like repeating the same stories about who wronged you and how. It looks like needing to prove your rightness and someone else’s wrongness. This type of anger often never feels resolved, and ends in disappointment. The person or people involved may never see things your way. Even if they do, this kind of anger will often find something else to latch onto.
Allowing yourself to work through the feelings looks like finding healthy outlets to express it. This can be journaling, exercising, talking it through with a therapist, calling a friend, playing or listening to music. When you feel a strong sensation of anger, start to notice the healthy outlets that make that feeling subside. You can mix and match different methods, try out different things.
This also helps remind you that managing anger is not a one-time task, but an ongoing process. You don’t have to limit the amount of times you feel it; you just have to learn how to respond to the feeling constructively.
Even if you aren’t holding onto anger from the past, you will likely deal with the emotion in your day-to-day life and relationships. The most important thing is to know when to step away. Communication is usually good, but sometimes it’s just as crucial to remove yourself from a situation temporarily. Having space allows you to consider the other person’s perspective, which reminds you that they most likely aren’t setting out to make you angry.
Oftentimes anger comes from stories we tell ourselves. It can stem from the belief that someone else doesn’t understand our point of view. When you step away from the heat of the moment, you can remember that the other person is likely feeling similarly about their point of view. It gives you time to consider their perspective—which will both help them and make you feel less personally attacked.
Sobriety gives us the ability to understand what might be toxic for us. Sometimes there are people or situations that are more likely to trigger our anger. We might either want to keep our distance from—or create boundaries around—those triggers. A boundary could look like choosing a neutral location to see certain people, or limiting the amount of time you spend with them.
No feeling is “bad” or “good.” It is how we respond to emotions that can be either to our detriment or our benefit. Being sober doesn’t mean we become saints who never get frustrated—but it can give us an opportunity to practice better coping.
If you are struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder, there is hope. Amatus Recovery Centers is open throughout the COVID-19 crisis, with hospital-grade sanitization of our facilities and telehealth options. At our recovery centers across the country, we will help you process traumas and learn to cope with difficult feelings. Call an admissions specialist at 410-593-0005.