I 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.”