We have dozens of adjectives to describe anger. Annoyed, bitter, frustrated, resentful, livid, and countless others are all ways of describing the emotion. Those that struggle with a substance use disorder are often well acquainted with this feeling since the powerlessness we experience leaves us in a constant battle with it. Even after reaching recovery, managing this intense emotion seems like an impossible task. Why is it that we often struggle with anger so much and just how do we learn to manage it?
Anger as a Way to Cope
In recovery, we start to see the many things we turned to in order to cope with negative emotions and experiences. Many of the things that lead us to turn to substances to help us cope were situations that lead to different forms of anger as well. When we experience things as children or youths, such as trauma, bullying, and emotional disturbances, anger develops out of the sense of powerlessness we feel.
It becomes a kind of protector, a bodyguard for emotions that can leave us feeling vulnerable and even weak like hurt and sadness. Anger, and the resulting adrenaline we experience alongside it, can be the antidote to feeling weak and powerless. If we continue to utilize anger to protect us from feeling vulnerable it becomes a coping mechanism and one that often, even while helping us to feel safe, can leave a path us destruction in its wake.
Vulnerability is often a very difficult space to exist in for the person that suffers from a substance use disorder. The nature of the disease leaves us with intense feelings of self-doubt and disconnect, feelings that make us question if we think and feel the same as others.
When we constantly experience these feelings that we are different or unique in our fear and pain, being honest and vulnerable about these things is the last thing we desire to be. In moments where we are intentionally or unintentionally exposed to this feeling of vulnerability, we often lash out in anger, using it to protect others from truly knowing or seeing us. The issue we commonly face is that, as many of us struggle to regulate our emotions, these feelings of anger are disproportionate to the situation.
These powerful angry feelings even have the capacity to negatively impact our relationships with members of our community and fellowship. When we come from a place of anger we might fail to pause before acting, making decisions we later regret, getting what we want out of force or fear, or using harsh words that once said are difficult to take back. In extreme situations, we might even resort to violence, towards inanimate objects, others, or ourselves.
In addition to anger being the quick go-to in situations where we feel judged or fearful, a substance use disorder itself is often a source of great oppression and frustration. This great powerlessness we have over our ability to control our impulse to use substances leaves us feeling resentful, guilty, and ashamed, all of which can easily turn into anger. We might lash out when those closest to us attempt to set boundaries or assist us in getting help, but the reality for most of us is that anger is largely directed inward.
How Do I Manage the Unmanageable?
The good news for many that struggle with a substance use disorder is that when we reach recovery, we are often relieved of much of the anger. As we work 12-Step programs, we learn more about the nature of our illness and the why behind the compulsion to use. This understanding helps relieve us of the frustration and aggravation we previously felt. We also get the opportunity to look at how our coping mechanisms have been harmful to ourselves and to others.
We are given the opportunity to first recognize them, then slowly make progress towards using healthier methods. Anger is a character defect many suffer from and as we work programs of recovery, we have the chance to be relieved of it through continued work and action. We learn to pause when we are agitated, seek the counsel of others, journal and write about our feelings and express them in a healthy way, and to seek better ways of interacting with the world around us and those in it.
This will not be the experience of every person with a substance use disorder since we might also experience other mental health diagnoses that make this a larger challenge. There are many different forms of therapy that can help with the behavioral issues we experience when we are dual diagnosis individuals. Cognitive and dialectical behavioral therapy are both methods that can help bring about relief of anger management symptoms, as well as forms of individualized and group therapy. In addition, working with healing our inner child can be a helpful tool to help us recognize the angry and upset feelings that we might have experience but never dealt with as children.
For any that struggle with anger and a substance use disorder, the first step to healing is recovery. From there, we are able to better identify and then treat any existing mental health struggles that leave room for growth.
Anger is a powerful emotion that inhibits so many of us on the path to recovery. There are people here to help you on this journey to a healthy, happy life, all you have to do is reach out. Ashley Addiction Treatment believes that connection is the key to recovery, with treatment options focused on holistic, integrated, and compassionate care. Ashley utilizes a variety of treatment modalities to help aid you in healing. If you would like to speak to someone about our care options, please reach out to us today at 800-799-4673.