I must beg everyone's forgiveness and engage in a little dissidence. There is a question that I have been grappling with for a number of months now and is now threatening my continuing participation in 12-step programs.
Let me begin with some literature quotes:
"I expressed my entire willingness to approach these individuals...Never was I to be critical of them." (Big Book, p. 13)
"Never was I to pray for myself, except as my requests bore on my usefulness to others." (BB, p. 13)
"We invariably find that at some time in the past we have made decisions based on self which later placed us in a position to be hurt." (BB, p. 62)
"From it [resentment] stem all forms of spiritual disease..." (BB, p. 64)
"If we were to live, we had to be free of anger...for alcoholics these things are poison." (BB, p.66)
"Though a situation had not been entirely our fault, we tried to disregard the other person involved entirely. Where were we to blame?" (BB, p.67)
"His faults are not discussed. We stick to our own." (BB, p. 78)
"What happens when we wallow in depression, self-pity oozing from every pore?" (AA 12&12, p. 81)
"...meanwhile forgiving the wrongs done us, real or fancied." (AA 12&12, p.82)
And, to me the most offensive of all:
"Just for today...I will not show anyone that my feelings are hurt; they may be hurt, but today I will not show it." (OA Just for Today card)
The trouble with all these quotes is that I once practised them all. When I lived with my parents, I never considered them guilty of any harm or wrongdoing towards me. In every situation, I critically examined it afterward to blame myself as much as possible. My parents exploited this. They pounced on the slightest bit of temper or impatience I showed towards them while blithely ignoring any wrongs I did them.
Let me give an example. One day when I was 16 I was eating breakfast and my mother was angrily complaining about my father. Normally I would sadly sit there and take it all (not showing anyone that my feelings are hurt...hmm) but after 755 such morning blasts I lost my temper, just this once, and yelled at my mother. Was it wrong of me to do so, given that I was expected as an adolescent to serve as her listening post for an endless list of bitter complaints against my father? You be the judge. She got mad and burst into tears. So I came to her to apologize - to apologize! and she took out a large kitchen knife and threatened to stab me if I came closer.
Those of you who are mothers, how many would hold a knife to your 16-year-old son?
I looked at the knife, and through the tears I saw the look of wild hatred in my mother's eyes and realized that she really meant it. I still remember that black moment, as if it were yesterday...and I felt as if I really had been stabbed. A wave of depression came over me. I walked to school that day like a robot. I didn't talk to anyone, I didn't smile at anyone.
And at lunch that day, I called my mother and apologized. She had brandished a knife at me, but I apologized for yelling. Why? Because I blamed myself for the crisis. Because I believed that only other people were allowed to feel anger, not me. Because I thought anger and resentment were sins, and a just man concentrated on his own wrongs and ignored anything done by others.
I continued to live with this destructive philosophy for years, and my parents continued to trample on me. They yelled at me, scolded me, berated me, sent me on guilt trips, snubbed me, abandoned me, and left me in a miserable and painful adolescence. And yes, there were occasions when I was defiant or angry or petulant. There were times when I lost my temper or didn't do a chore. But nothing justifies the systematic emotional abuse of a teen and equally systematic destruction of his feelings and emotions.
Now I am to clean off the specks of dust on my side of the street, while mountains of mud and grime are piled up on their side? This is supposed to heal me? Ha, bloody, ha. To me Steps 4 and 8 and all they represent are but a continuation of the abuse. I will make no amends to them. If ever I confront them again, I will tell them exactly how I really feel about them, not lay myself down and apologize and allow them to abuse me again. It is over, and I WILL NOT GO BACK!!!
I want revenge. I desire it, hunger it, for there is found a sense of what justice really is, of what fairness and caring really are. If I felt no anger towards my parents, I would have to believe that what they did was condonable. It is not condonable. And I mean to one day tell me that, contrary to their self-congratulation and conceit, they were, indeed, abusive parents, and I care not one whit how much that opinion hurts them. Let them cry their eyes out with guilt! Where were they when I lay alone on the basement floor wracked by sobs, yet doing my best to level them so they would not hear? When did they show me a kind shoulder, a loving embrace, or anything other than misery and despair? Why should I feel any compassion for them again?
Anger, to me, is the greatest emotion I have ever felt. When I first entered counselling, I felt no anger. I was depressed, dispirited, and totally under their thumb. It took my therapist months to persuade me to allow myself to feel anger, and to stop forgiving all my parents had done. When I finally allowed anger to flow, I discovered a new freedom and a new happiness. Within weeks, I made decisions that saved my life. I moved out of my parents' house, found a new job, and began attending meetings almost every day. If I had not felt anger, I would be living there and eating and having sex more than ever.
What about the depression and suicidal feelings I have written about to this loop? This exists. Yet I submit that these feelings were not caused by anger, but by grief and hurt of old abandonments. If anything, anger was a healing presence in my life and continues to be one. Perhaps others have found sobriety through letting go of their anger, I do not believe I will.
For a long time I have been battling with the flat contradiction between the anger my therapists have advised me to feel and the anger the literature tells me not to feel. Personally, I think the therapists are right. And if necessary, I will abandon the Twelve Steps around this issue.
Oasis, Sept. 16, 1996.