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Most who are successful in their recovery will readily admit that whenever they addressed their anger and resentment-in whatever form it took and for whatever reason it was there-that was when they really turned the corner. Of course there are the few who somehow stopped drinking or using and stayed angry. What are they called? Dry drunks? But the numbers of people who relapse due to resentment far outweighs them. You simply better your odds tremendously by getting rid of it. Anger that lingers becomes resentment. Someone once said, "Carrying resentment for someone who offended me is like me drinking poison and expecting you to die." In other words, I'm the one who suffers, not you. In kindergarten, many were led to touch noses with the person who made you mad. Resentment will have none of that. "No, I want to stay mad." There's only one problem with that. It guarantees that you will never be happy. You simply cannot be angry and happy at the same time. Now some people have negotiated a compromise here. "What do you mean? Of course you can." But they are actually in a state of downgraded happiness. But to the addict or alcoholic, you cannot afford to compromise. And that's your dilemma. However, it takes only a little thought to realize that, "If I let go of my anger, I guess I would be happier overall." And that's the point. In the next article, let's discuss real and practical ways to manage anger in a healthy way.
This is why it is so difficult for some people to stop using or drinking; they are fighting against their own brain
Continuing to use the drug or alcohol will tend to exaggerate this distortion, which is why stopping-a behavior-is necessary to reverse the disease. Eventually, your brain prioritizes your drug of choice higher than even food. This is why it is so difficult for some people to stop using or drinking; they are fighting against their own brain. This is illustrated in the video, "Pleasure Unwoven." Kevin McCauley, M.D. explains that dopamine plays a major role. Dopamine is released in your brain to teach it that something you did or ingested is better than expected, so it might be important for survival. Dopamine also plays a role in memory, attention, problem solving, and in anticipation of pleasure. Dopamine is also released during adverse circumstances or stimuli. That might explain why when you are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired-all stressful circumstances-you reach for the solution that you remember that relieved the stress before: your drug of choice or alcohol. Taking your drug of choice or drinking then results in more dopamine release, leaving you to feel better, and "teaching" you that you did the "right thing" to relieve your stress. But we know that the consequences which have resulted from drinking and using drugs are often too much to bear. So, in this case, your brain is telling you the wrong thing.
Dopamine in your brain is naturally released during activities such as eating and sex, placing them on a priority list for survival. Drugs and alcohol cause a much higher than normal release of dopamine, raising your brain's expectation level. That means when you stop using or drinking, you become unsatisfied: "Why don't I feel as happy as I used to feel? Something seems wrong." Fortunately, when you quit using or drinking, eventually your brain lowers this expectation to your own body's normal level, so that normal activities without drugs and alcohol will feel satisfying. In the meantime, you should add other activities to your life that stimulate this reward system which might be missing. Examples are physical exercise and meditation. Also, it is believed that certain foods might help dopamine production (though a direct connection to dopamine release has not been established), such as almonds, chocolate, green tea, and other foods. For more information, it's best to consult with your doctor, a nutritionist or dietitian. In the end, addiction is probably a combination of a disease and a matter of behavior. So how do I change my behavior? We'll cover that in our next article.
In the last article, we discussed how misused anger can be a dangerous relapse warning sign. Like a plane that flies below the radar anger and resentment often go undetected our lives. They have a way of weaving themselves into our personalities until we cannot recognize them for what they are. Rather than examining ourselves to see if anger is there, we often excuse it: "I'm just a tough-minded person, because I've had to be," or "This is how you have to play the game in life; act nice to people in public, but do what you have to do to get what you want from them in private." For the addict or alcoholic, you cannot afford the "tool" of anger anymore, because, as we've seen, it leads to unhappiness, unacceptance of life circumstances, and more often than not, relapse.
So how do I manage my anger? You can always count to ten or take a deep breath. Unfortunately, that will not always resolve the issue. To reach a resolution, there are three ways to generally handle anger. Sometimes, a combination of them is also the answer:
- Assertively ask for what you want
- Forgive the offending party
- Be realistic about the part that you played in the offense
As we discussed in the last article, we become angry for various reasons, such as a reaction to an injustice or as a means to protect ourselves. Rather than respond in anger, a better way is to be assertive; ask for what you want. In this method, rather than getting even with the offending party, a rather childish response, instead, you take the adult approach. A handy tool is to follow the "X-Y-Z" method. Tell the offending person, "When you did "X," in situation "Y," it made me feel, "Z." For example, "When you did not finish your chores this week after we discussed this already, it made me feel frustrated." Here, you are expressing a fact-what actually happened, and a feeling-how you feel about it. It is very brief and to the point. Notice you express your feeling verbally, but you should avoid acting out your emotion. Get yourself under control, as if you were at work, and present your complaint as a professional adult. Howard Markman and Scott Stanley in their book, "Fighting For Your Marriage," discuss four danger signs of communication. Although the application they make is regarding marriage, these principles apply to any relationship. There are four things to avoid when assertively expressing your complaint. Avoid:
Their research revealed that these are the primary actions or attitudes that prevent true communication. Name-calling refers to even implying an insult toward the other person. Saying, "Whenever you didn't complete your chores like a dummy, it made me feel annoyed." That contaminates the conversation. Second, withdrawing from the issue and never addressing it would be the opposite of being assertive and addressing your problem. Third, escalating is not helpful: "And not only do you not do your chores, but you also have bad breath!" Last, invalidation will not win over the other person: "I'm sure whatever your complaint is it is trivial compared to mine, so would you please start doing your chores?"
A second approach to managing anger is to simply forgive the offending party. Like it or not, some people will not feel sorry for offending you, or perhaps feel you are too sensitive, and that an apology from them is not necessary. In those cases, forgiveness is a powerful tool, which can help you let go of your anger. True, sometimes it is a tough pill to swallow. But staying angry at someone else is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. In other words, you're the one left feeling unhappy, not them. A third approach, which often helps with forgiveness, is recommended in the "Alcoholics Anonymous" book. Ask yourself, "What part did I play in this offense?" In other words, I might be angry with someone, but did I actually play a role, too? If so, it can help lessen the pain when considering how you were offended.