When was the last time you were truly angry?
What did you do about it? And how did you feel about it afterward?
Anger is an emotion that can quickly impact our behavior in ways that we might regret when we finally calm down. Maybe you have yelled at someone who didn’t deserve it (or who did deserve it, but at whom you probably shouldn’t yell—like your boss). Maybe you broke something of value (monetary, sentimental, or both). Or maybe, if you are a person in recovery from a substance use disorder, you found yourself drinking or taking drugs because it seemed like the only way to cope.
None of these are best-case scenarios. You don’t want anger to lead to damage to your relationships, damage to property, or damage to your recovery.
Productive Anger v. Destructive Anger
At the same time, you don’t want to completely suppress angry feelings either. After all, anger can spur us to do good rather than bad in the world. Feelings of anger at work, for example, might spark a search for a new job that is a better fit. Anger at problems we see in our communities might fire up our desire to work for social justice. And anger about a bad situation we find ourselves in—like a tendency to misuse drugs or alcohol—might inspire us to get the help we need.
But the line between productive and destructive anger can be very fine indeed. How can you increase the likelihood that the anger you experience spurs you to do better rather than worse? To be more specific, how can you make sure anger doesn’t undermine your recovery?
We have some ideas.
When It Comes to Anger, Exercise Your Power to Choose
One of the dangers of anger is that it can make us feel out of control. The emotion has the ability to so completely overwhelm us that we make bad decisions like the ones we have outlined above. But you do not have to let the emotion have that kind of power over you. Instead, you can make some decisions about how you will deal with anger when it inevitably arises. Reminding yourself of these decisions in the moment when the emotion strikes can be very helpful.
What kind of decisions and choices are we talking about? Here are some examples:
- Deciding to pause rather than plowing ahead: When you sense that a conversation or situation is about to make you angry, you can decide to step away for a bit to give yourself space and time to calm down.
- Choosing a better framework for discussion: When we are feeling angry, it is so easy to start spouting statements that lay blame at someone else’s feet. But it can be more productive to focus your own comments on “I” statements like, “I feel hurt when I think you are not listening to me.” Centering your feelings rather than the other person’s behavior can defuse a tense situation.
- Deciding to focus on forgiveness: We’re all tempted to hold grudges because it makes us feel both wronged and righteous. But letting anger fester and turn to resentment is not productive. It is better to forgive and move on—as long as doing so does not threaten your sobriety by bringing a toxic person back into your life.
- Choosing to extend kindness to yourself: When we feel angry and do something we might regret, we can start a cycle of embarrassment and anger that can be hard to break out of. But reminding yourself that anger is a natural—and often appropriate—emotion can help you forgive yourself so that you don’t turn anger into self-recrimination that can all too easily morph back into anger.
- Deciding to improve and maintain your mental health: Taking care of your mental health is a key toward improving your ability to manage anger effectively. In fact, being intentional about your mental health—which might include therapy, mindfulness, exercise, getting enough sunlight, eating and sleeping well, and more—is important for your recovery in many ways.
- Choosing to channel anger toward something positive: When you can (probably after you have stepped away and reclaimed some calmness), take the time to examine what has made you angry. You may discover that the underlying source of your anger is something you can do something about. If your anger can lead to positive outcomes, you will be using the emotion to spark new ideas and new solutions that can benefit you and others.
Needing Help Is No Reason for Anger
Have you been putting off getting help for a substance use disorder because you feel angry with yourself for getting into this situation? That’s an understandable—but ultimately unhelpful—response to the situation.
At French Creek Recovery Center, we offer personalized and compassionate care in an environment free from judgment. That means we will encourage you not to judge yourself too harshly either. If you are feeling angry about your drug or alcohol use, channel that anger toward something good: getting and staying sober. We are ready to help.