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Anger

I have attended SLAA and OA meetings for a few weeks now. It has not reduced my acting out yet but that is not the subject of this post.

What is at question is the emotion of anger, its consequences, and its desirability.

Many of us became sex addicts, alcoholics, compulsive overeaters or whatever in childhood or adolescence as a coping mechanism against childhood physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse.

Speaking for myself at least, my parents emotionally abused me, from age 9 to the present (I am 22, leaving home in a month's time). They taught me that it was wrong to feel any anger at them, they had done nothing wrong and if I felt anger I was ungrateful or vicious for all their "sacrifices". These were lies, but as a child I believed them.

And, with no *apparent* link to this, addictive behaviour developed at almost exactly the same time the abuses started.

So I did not permit myself to feel. The abuse continued, and any attempt I made to express my emotions was swiftly shouted down by my parents. Only they had feelings; I did not.

Things culminated recently with the depression attacks, headaches, listlessness, and fatigue I have described earlier. I entered therapy, and my therapist soon advised me to allow myself to feel the anger. I resisted, fearing I would be a sinner, or a mad maniac, but eventually I agreed.

To my surprise, anger was not a destructive but a liberating force. I felt freer than I ever had. Not long after I permitted rage to break through, the fear of attending meetings, among other things, began to fade. In the past week I have attended seven meetings.

And there, rather surprisingly, lies the conflict. Recovery literature does not look favourably upon anger. It encourages addicts instead to blame themselves. Let me quote from the AA Big Book:

"Selfishness--self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles." (p.62)

"If we were to live, we had to be free of anger...for alcoholics, these things are poison." (p.66)

"Were we kind and loving toward all? What could we have done better? Were we thinking of ourselves most of the time? Or were we thinking of what we could do for others...?" (p.86)

"...how important it is that he place the welfare of other people ahead of his own." (p.94)

These are just a few AA examples, but similar attitudes are expressed in other fellowships. For some addicts no doubt these passages are useful. For me they are not.

It was placing others' needs first, and ignoring my own, that got me into this mess. It was fatuously forgiving any cruelty or humiliation I suffered, as if I had no rights, that led squarely to my addiction and depression. I used to practise the third quote above to a T - I cared for others, I had only hatred for myself. No more.

At an OA meeting this morning one person said that anger could never do anything good. He had been sexually abused as a toddler, he said; but he felt it would be pointless to confront his abuser, now 73, nor to get angry about the past.

I cannot reconcile myself to such a philosophy. I think it is destructive and demeaning. If the Twelve Steps demand that I no longer feel this anger - which I have only now discovered after years of repression - I do not think the Steps can help me.

Indeed, I would go so far as to see that if I had not allowed myself to feel anger I might never have found the strength to start going to meetings at all.

I am neither ready nor willing to forgive my parents for what they did to me. Neither of them are repentant in any case, and often continue the abusive behaviour even now. Forgiveness, to me, would be another act of self-abasement. I am through with that; it made me a sex addict and an overeater, and I cannot continue in that old guilt-plagued path.

ARAS, June 1, 1996.