Justifiable Anger in Recovery

recovery-scrollI was at an AA Step meeting the other day where we read Step 10.  As we went around the room each person reading one paragraph from the Twelve and Twelve, the portion that dealt with justifiable anger was mine to read.  For the previous two days I had nursed a growing resentment over an issue – the details are unimportant – but I can say with confidence that 99 out of 100 folks would say – “yeah, you got screwed.”  So the circumstance will cause me to spend an extra 10 work hours each week over the course of the spring.  I was immediately anxious to figure out how to somehow respond to or proclaim to the world the wrongdoing.

Coming out of the AA meeting, I processed some different views on the issue:

  • Yes, the circumstance was not good, involved someone going back on their commitment for their own self-serving reasons, completely at odds with governing policy.  However, I worked in this situation for the past nine years and the pattern of self-serving behavior was consistent, I knew that given the right circumstances the person would do what they did – so no surprise there.  It’s like the old story of picking up a snake and getting bitten, then complaining to the snake.  The snake correctly responds “I am a snake. That is what I do.  Why would you expect less?”  So, like with my years of trying to drink alcohol successfully and always failing, I did the same thing with this situation.
  • But, should I not be allowed justifiable anger over the circumstance?  Proclaim to the world the wrong doing that violated all established policy?  I had also learned over the years that the governing authority in this situation really does not want to hear about it and will do nothing to resolve the circumstance.  I can spend a lot of time and energy attempting to right the wrong, but in the scheme of things, my resources are best put elsewhere.  The world is better served by my focusing my energy on more important matters.  This situation will resolve itself by April and I will then have gained the experience not to put myself in a similar position in the future.
  • So once again, the situation comes back to being my responsibility.  I made a choice to put trust in a situation that on multiple occasions had proven illusory in the past.  In the same way, in the more distant past, I would keep picking up the bottle of alcohol expecting different results.

As an activist from the 60s and 70s, when I first got sober, I was concerned that the anger I had toward the “system” would be withered away in recovery because justifiable anger is something that recovering alcoholics cannot afford, so sayeth the Big Book.  Today I don’t see that type of activism – around issues of poverty, gun violence, war etc. etc. – as a matter of justifiable anger.  Rather these are issues I must be responsive to as a social responsibility for being a human being on this planet.  In fact, I suggest that by getting past my petty squabbles I note above, I am more able to focus on issues that really matter.

Today, the issue that brought me so much anxiety and anger one week ago is resolved in my head, regardless that the issue remains.  Or as mule trader Ray Lumm was quoted as saying “You live and learn and then you die and forget it all.”

Perpetual Reflection in Recovery

istanbul_blue mosque34

Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.  – AA 10th Step

I really like the 10th Step of recovery a lot.  The step allows me to be perpetually reflective and is a tool for keeping my side of the street clean.  Without the 10th step, I don’t have the regular opportunity to take stock of my role in my life.  Without the 10th step, I need to rely on 8th and 9th steps, which seem like much bigger tasks that I might do only on occasion.

I have learned something about working the 10th step that is rather surprising.  In a couple of recent instances that come to mind, I was in conflict with another person over x, y, or z.  After stewing over the issue, starting to work the issue up into a good resentment, experience taught me that no good could come of such behavior and I needed to get past it.  In both instances, I wrote very clear notes of apology/acknowledgement for any role I had in the conflict.  Intentionally, I did not include a “we are both at fault” but focused solely on my responsibility.  In both instances I expected a gracious response, noting equal fault in the conflict.  In both instances, I got an appreciative response thanking me for the apology but without any acknowledgement of shared responsibility.

Here is what I like about the 10th step process.  The step does not predict the response of the prompt admission.  The step only requires that we take appropriate action.  In both instances I note above, I am no longer consumed by a growing resentment that allows someone to live rent free in my head.  In both instances, yes, in a court of law, I am certain I would be vindicated of any wrong doing, but that is not really the point.  In the same way I have learned that if I pick up the first drink, I will get drunk, I have learned that interaction with some folks will lead to conflict.  Therefore, when I am in situations where either alcohol or problematic people, places, or things are around that will mess with my sobriety, I remain vigilant.  I choose not to drink alcohol today and I choose not to place myself in certain situations.  It really has nothing to do with the alcohol or the situation.  It has to do with what happens to me when I am a participant.

The 10th step is an automatic reflective process that allows me to live day-to-day in recovery.