I was prepared for a lot of different challenges when I decided to get sober. I knew I’d have to deal with physical withdrawals, and I was ready for the urges that often came out of nowhere, literally making my eyes water, they were so strong. I figured I’d get a little emotional, and that I might replace the sugar that my body was used to getting from alcohol with sweet foods and cheeseburgers for a while. I was OK with all of that, and I felt ready.
I was ready!
The thing I knew nothing of, had no idea I should prepare for, was the mind-numbing rage I’d experience after getting sober.
Lately, I had been constantly stewing in anger. I had no idea where it came from, or how long it had been there. No one was safe from my wrath- I literally wanted to smash things and throw a temper tantrum like a four year old- and God help the poor soul who crosses my path when I’m feeling this way.
At work, my clients enrage me when they have the audacity to send me an email or make a request of me that I wasn’t expecting, throwing an unforgivable wrench in my perfectly planned day.
My kids make me mad when they bombard me with all the crap they need- right now!- like trips to the dentist, various doctors’ appointments, “Mom, I need new clothes”, “Mom, can I have $15 for my field trip next week?”, “M-O-M! M-O-M! M-O-M!”
My husband pisses me off when he turns the surround sound up too loud in his man cave, or screams too loudly at the TV when his sports teams do something that alternately excites him or causes him despair. Sometimes it’s the way he disciplines the kids… I just want to throw my hands over my ears and scream, “I CAN’T HEAR YOU! LALALA! I CAN’T HEAR YOU!”
Literally, it was any-and-every-little thing that set me off, it was happening without warning. I felt completely justified in bathing myself in the emotion of it, though I did wonder on more than one occasion if I should come with a disclaimer.
For a long time, I said nothing. Instead, I’d just close my eyes, count to 10, and mentally cuss out the Universe that made me this way, made me broken, and forced me to have to make the choice between living and blissfully zoning out with a glass (or 10) of Vodka in hand. I silently became angrier and angrier, until I started to question my sanity, and feared I was about to jump right off the deep end.
But, hey! At least I’m sober, right?
Tonight, feeling especially homicidal for no reason in particular other than, “I don’t know why! I’m just mad as hell at everybody!” I called one of my very best friends, someone I’ve known for about 16 years now. She’s a recovering alcoholic as well, but she’s been sober for close to 20 years. Not only did I not know her as a drunk, I cannot even imagine her that way. She works her recovery with grace, faces it with courage, and frankly, makes the shit look easy.
I explained my need for blood- my all consuming rage- the best I could. I told her how angry everyone, yes everyone (!!) is making me lately. I need to call my doctor, I say. Clearly these new meds are doing something to me. Something bad. I just know I’m going to snap and go bananas on people. People I love.
I went on and on about how hard it is to control my temper, how hard it is to deal with life in general, how everything sucks, the world sucks, and I’m sick of acting like it’s all OK.
I’m just so over it! This is stupid! Everything is stupid! Just… STUPID!
She listens without interrupting. Finally, winding down a bit, I think to ask, “You still there?”
Calmly, she replies, “I’m still here.”
Exhausted from my ranting, I take a breath. She takes the opportunity to ask, “Would you like me to tell you what’s really going on, or would you prefer I let you continue to live in denial?”
I, of course, prefer denial. She, however, has another idea.
She starts to tell me about the serenity prayer. I’d heard of it, and even know it by heart from my prior half-assed attempts at AA. Somehow, after all the times I’d seen the words even said them out loud, I never gave them much thought.
For the first time, I really paid attention to the meaning of that prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
What my friend was telling me is that when I’m angry at the whole world, it’s because the world isn’t behaving the way I want it to. The whole world hasn’t gone mad, but I have, because I am the only thing all these unrelated situations that keep pissing me off have in common. That’s right, it’s me, dammit.
I have to stop trying to control my environment, and just let it go. Unexpected emails from clients are a part of life. Needy children and loud, passionate spouses are par for the course. She helped me understand that I’m not angry at any of things. I’m frustrated with myself, and with my inability to just let things be. I waste so much effort trying to put everyone and everything in their perfect little compartments that I forget to be grateful for what I have.
She suggested read “Acceptance Was the Answer” from The Big Book.
I did what she asked (I consider her my sponsor, even though I don’t do AA, and she’d tell you she most certainly is not my sponsor), and I reflected on the story.
No, I can’t control the people, places or things around me, though I’ve historically gone to ridiculous lengths trying to. I can, however, be courageous enough to recognize that sometimes when the rage is boiling inside, it is not caused by anything or anyone else but me. My furious attempts to control all the moving parts that make up my little existence, with disastrous results.
It’s exhausting, and it’s futile.
I can change my reactions to people, places and things. The rest is just…
Knowing I am exactly where I am supposed to be, experiencing exactly what I’m supposed to experience in this moment.