One of my struggles in recovery has been dealing with anger. Anger is a complex emotion that includes rage and bitterness. In recovery I learned that anger is a defense mechanism to real or perceived danger. Unravelling the situations that come up related to this emotion continue to be a challenge. I have a fear of men and the perceived threats of violence that may never fade. Drug use was the veil that prevented me from experiencing the full range of emotions that I felt. When I stopped using drugs, I started having to find new ways of dealing with many emotions. I remember hearing for the first time that resentments were ‘drinking a cup of poison and expecting the other person to die’ while attending a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. The idea that bullies didn’t lay in bed at home sleepless over the abuse I suffered opened the door to new angers but also new ways of dealing with the past. It still bothers me that other people may not suffer for what they had done but that is just anger layered on more anger for me to deal with. Anger is difficult to process sometimes as I tend to hold onto fear. Understanding how to get past fear doesn’t happen overnight. The NA literature warns members that ‘We need to avoid old thinking patterns, both the old ideas and the tendency towards complacency.’ I could understand that old ideas can affect our ability to overcome fear and heal but complacency was more of a ghost; seen by not seen. Years ago, my sponsor suggested that I try and not attach ‘good’ or ‘bad’ labels to emotions, and simply feel what I was feeling. I came to see that what I was feeling wasn’t always a reflection of what was happening in my life. The most important thing that I learned was what I was feeling didn’t always require some action. Talking about what I was feeling with others became an important tool. Anger no longer became a weapon of self-destruction, but another asset in my recovery. There is a line in the Basic Text (Grey Book, Chapter 9, Just for today – Living the Program)
“As our lives become more comfortable, many of us lapse into spiritual complacency, and risking relapse, we find ourselves in the same horror and loss of purpose from which we have been given only a daily reprieve.”
What is a spiritual complacency that affects so many addicts and could anger be the key to unlock it?
I have been very fortunate to enjoy the rich history of literature that is available in Narcotics Anonymous. I learned a lot from this passage in the Narcotics Anonymous Basic Text (Grey book, chapter 8, ‘We do recover’) which has helped me in so many ways;
"In the past, there was no hope for an addict. In Narcotics Anonymous, we learn to share the loneliness, anger and fear that addicts have in common and cannot control. Our old ideas are what got us into trouble."
This passage is one of many in the Basic Text that speaks to me about the idea of freedom from active addiction. I start to identify with phrases like “old ideas are what got us into trouble”. The most important phrase for me today is the first which says that until NA, there was no hope for addicts. There seems to be a lot more options for recovery today than when Narcotics Anonymous formed in 1953. The growth worldwide of the fellowship points to the truth of this universal program of recovery from the disease of addiction. I am totally committed to this proven program of success and part of that commitment is a desire to work with others in NA. Complacency is described as “a feeling of smug or uncritical satisfaction with oneself or one's achievements.” It is very easy for me to slip into a pattern of thinking where I was content. The work I did early in the program did a lot to correct my personal living problems. Working the 12 steps gives me the ability to overcome many obstacles in my path. I can marvel at the quality of my life today. (Grey Book, 'Step 11", Page 43)
"When we first come to the Program, we usually express a lot of things which seem to be important wants and needs. As we grow spiritually and find out about a Power greater than ourselves, we begin to realize that as long as our spiritual needs are truly met, our living problems are reduced to a point of comfort. When we forget where our real strength lies, we quickly become subject to the same patterns of thinking and action that got us to the Program in the first place. We eventually redefine our beliefs and understanding to the point where we see that our greatest need is for knowledge of God’s will for us and the strength to carry that out. We are able to set aside some of our personal preference, if necessary, to do this because we learn that God’s will consists of the very things we care most about. God’s will for us becomes our own true will for ourselves. This happens in an intuitive manner which cannot be adequately explained in words."
I like the idea that our real strength lies in our spiritual condition and when necessary, I can put aside my personal preferences. I disliked the idea of a higher power before Narcotics Anonymous. When I was young, I often thought “what God would allow children to suffer and die?” There are so many children starving to death over this planet and some supreme being allows this to happen. Clearly people who believe in God must be fools was my belief. In recovery I came to understand that the planets capacity to produce food was more than enough to feed everyone. I came to understand that in some small way all that suffering was because I allowed it. Personal responsibility came with awareness. There are people who dedicate themselves to helping others and fighting injustices. I wonder if anger plays a role in their motivation to try and make a difference. I believe every one of us has the capacity to say “enough!”.
Working the 12 Steps of Narcotics Anonymous saved my life but understanding the 12 traditions allowed me to work with others. Working alone is a choice I can make and is necessary sometimes too. The burden for me today is that I get described as ‘bitter’. Today I laugh at the description because bitterness is reserved for the past, and outrage is for the present, but confusing the two is easy when someone is narrowminded. Worst still are those of us who remain dishonest and manipulate the truth. I often hear that members of Narcotics Anonymous who use traditional literature like the Grey Book and the Baby Blue versions of the Basic Text are bitter, but I rarely see it. A friend suggested recently that I needed to ‘put aside my judgements’ but what I heard was that I needed to become complacent. I have a healthy fear of complacency and I have learned to enjoy my anger and see the fear that motivates it.