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  1. #1

    Default I was addicted to rage

    Hi everybody,

    Posting about my recovery-in-progress is bound to be satisfying, and I'm about due for a treat so here goes:

    When I first came to SMART online I had major rage issues. My marriage had developed a big problem with communication. My husband doesn't work a regular job, has not tried for many years, though he helps the family a lot. He's a smart guy but his attention to mundane detail is poor so there are continual disappointments: missed appointments, lost items, promises not kept. He tends to be easy-going and jokey when things are going his way, to a fault perhaps, and at other times, he is highly critical, persistent and argumentative. Typically he blames other people when things go unexpectedly, and his stress tolerance is pretty low. I have a career, but the social skills I learned growing up were not adequate to my life circumstances as I went through high school and college, and I experienced a lot of social abuse--extensive bullying for a number of years--with all the traumatic associations and poor self esteem/confidence issues that typically go with that. When things go wrong my habit is to blame myself, and I didn’t know how to assert myself with people or make good friends. I met my husband in my 30s and we have been together for around 15 years now.

    At first I was very conflict-adverse. My family growing up handled conflict in very indirect ways, and we never, ever criticized other people. In the early years of my marriage whenever I was disappointed in my husband, or felt manipulated or disrespected by his choices, I would make simple demands, roundabout statements and other halfhearted attempts to work it out, or I would hold it in. When all that failed, typically I would pout and withdraw. His style was much more irreverent and eager to debate the issues. After a while I learned to challenge him in response. My husband's capacity to argue was seemingly infinite, and he didn’t mind making open criticisms. I discovered he could easily debate relationship issues, without any real sense of progress, for literally an hour without breaking a sweat. I am much more sensitive to conflict, and as I felt more and more out-of-sorts I began to show my anger more openly. Over time I developed even more capacity and willingness to argue. I began to raise my voice and became articulate in my dissatisfactions. I learned to curse.

    The expressions of anger did not have their desired effect, which was to get him to listen more and to consider what I was saying and feeling. Instead he would renew his own arguments and express his own points of view with increased vehemence, often with pointed criticisms that didn’t seem fair or kind. Sometimes I would try to be rational and understanding, to use good techniques, but they didn’t seem to work the way I expected. After a while I would give up and ask him to table the argument. To my dismay he would almost always refuse, ignoring my requests and continuing the fight even after I was clearly overwhelmed and asking for a truce. We might start yelling at each other. Sometimes I was screaming at the top of my lungs. Back and forth it went, me trembling with rage. At some point I might walk into another room and he would follow, keeping up the rationalizations and the blaming, mocking me for leaving his presence, even screaming at me through a locked door while I holed myself up. I would turn up some music or plug my ears.

    Occasionally I would leave the house to get away from the conflict and drive somewhere and sit in my car journaling, crying, or listening to music for hours. I might leave home without any shoes so I'd buy some flip-flops at the store, and a snack. I would come back home hours later to relative calm. Other times I would take a long walk around the block. Sometimes I would walk out multiple times in the same evening. Once he was attempting to pick the lock on the bedroom door to get to me, yelling and enraged, and I went out through the window rather than be there when he got in, because I honestly felt I might physically assault him if he tried to confront me in that moment. A couple of times I rented a hotel room close to home just to get away from the intensity of our arguments for a night or two.

    Other times, feeling trapped by these by-now familiar dynamics and the sense that I had no good way to end the argument, I learned to increase the intensity of my own anger in an effort just to get him to back off. I said some really nasty stuff. If I hurt his feelings badly enough, I learned, a few times, eventually, I would see him be the first one to walk away, and the argument would thankfully stop without me having to leave the house, but at a very high cost.

    Our young daughter heard me losing control on a regular basis: screaming, cursing, in a complete rage at her father. We would kid ourselves that we were speaking in private in another room, but the arguments became anything but quiet. Regrettably, occasionally the argument would break out in the same room as our child and she would see as well as hear our angry exchange. Our neighbor who was providing childcare to us at the time would allude to the fights that she undoubtedly heard through the wall. My husband deplored the loss of privacy, and complained about it frequently, but it didn’t help end the fighting. I was unwilling to put his sensitivity above my desire to be heard, as foolish as it was.

    Obviously the raging was bad for everybody. I had convinced myself that I was punishing him for his misbehavior, that he needed to be held accountable, and that I was showing my strength, but in reality, I was damaging my health, my daughter, my marriage, my character, and my community. And my husband. I would have trouble sleeping at night. I developed heart palpitations and worrisome angina. I would go to work with a hoarse voice. I was ashamed to interact with the neighbor. I was on edge and less friendly with everybody. I wasted incredible amounts of productive time during the periods after my mental focus and confidence had been completely blown on one of these blow-out interactions. I would be late to work frequently. My eating habits suffered. Once an argument had taken place, he and I would be "primed" for another one and typically more arguments would follow in the next few hours and even days. We never got to a place of physical assault, but all the warning signs were there, and the psychic damage was enormous. We rarely had sex or laughed together. The neighbor, once so friendly and supportive, grew distant and cold, and moved away.

    And then there was our wonderful, loving and lively daughter whom I worried about enormously. I knew the research said she was being deeply hurt by being present for this ugliness that so dominated our lives. I just couldn’t seem to stop it.

    I found a local Al-Anon meeting and attended it for a few months. It was a strange choice perhaps, since neither of us had any serious substance abuse issues, but I was desperate. I felt that my husband had problems, mostly, and that my problems were in dealing with his. My husband’s family had had some trouble with alcohol, so maybe those dynamics had never really healed. Our strife might be due to generational issues with alcohol popping up and causing us grief now in our own lives. But I also knew that I was making some seriously bad choices. My own upbringing and relationship skills felt entirely inadequate to the tasks of healing and getting to a better place in my marriage. Perhaps with the right tools and emotional support I could turn the corner on this.

    I enjoyed the camaraderie at Al-Anon but the language in the readings didn’t entirely suit my world view. I live in the Bible Belt but I’m not a religious sort. I would change a few words here and there when it was my turn to read, and after one of the senior members confronted me for it at a meeting, I felt less at home there in spite of reassurances from other members. I told my husband what had happened. Well-read and well-informed, he mentioned several secular recovery options he’d heard about, some that even held online meetings. I looked into them and selected SMART Recovery for its extensive scientific underpinnings in the field of cognitive behavioral psychology, great selection of practical behavior-based tools of wide application, and for its active online community.

    Fast forward about four to five years. Yes, I still get mad at my husband now and then, and I may still raise my voice at him, or use a curse word or two when I’m upset. But the venom is largely gone. The screaming through closed doors is gone. The angina is under control. I don’t call him names anymore. We laugh together daily and find ways to enjoy each other’s company, whether behind closed doors or with others. I am happy to report that I get places on time much more than I used to, and I’ve made some good friends. And our daughter sees us listening respectfully to each other, arguing respectfully, showing our love and affection for one other every single day.

    I feel a sense of pride now when I sense the two of us carefully, skillfully, defusing some disagreement, disappointment or misunderstanding that in the past would have tanked the entire day. When the smiles are there, and the snuggles and caresses, and all the signs of friendship. But I’m also proud when he’s lost it. Because he still does. He’s still prone to his irritations and rants. And I know emotions are contagious. I still feel the anger and annoyance at times. I can still get highly articulate and snappish in my discontent. I might even initiate that debate. But I’ve been inoculated now against the blind rage. I’ve tried every strategy under the sun, and when I can stand right there in the eye of the storm, and it completely passes right over and through me, and we end up with quiet words and a quiet hug, I know we are going to be okay. Recently he was upset about I don’t remember what. His personal demons still get to him bad, sometimes, they take on forms and walk about in the guise of other people. And I spoke to him. And I listened. And I used all my strategies. And I kept my cool. And eventually he found his, too. Hallelujah!
    Last edited by Awely; August 18, 2016 at 10:50 PM.
    "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new." --Socrates

  2. #2
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    Default

    Hallelujah indeed!

    Well done and thanks for posting.
    Wherever you go, there you are

  3. #3
    Gordon1's Avatar
    Gordon1 is offline SMART Online Facilitator
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    Default

    WOW!

    That was extremely distressing in the beginning, horrible in the middle and a startling triumph at the end!!!

    So wonderfully done Awely!
    What got me sober was trying to get sober. Every time I lapsed, picked up, drank, I was thoroughly beaten. I thought at those times "there is no hope for me" Yet, when I had recovered from those thoughts just a little, I thought "have another go!" It was a lot of little sparks, rather than a flame, that got me here.

  4. #4

    Default

    Well I wouldn't say horrible, rather: scary, sad and extreme at times.

    I didn't tell you what SMART did for me. The hula hoop analogy about what is within one's circle of control and what is outside one's control was very useful. The ABC tool helped me get much more intentional and in control of my attitudes. The gratitude practice on the daily thread for that purpose has helped me enormously. Then there's the Get Your Loved One Sober book recommended by the Concerned Others contingent that taught me to pay close attention to the actual patterns of interaction and how to alter them.
    "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new." --Socrates

  5. #5

    Default

    Congratulations on doing the right thing for your family, especially your child. My mother became a raging angry alcoholic when I was ten years old and neither she nor her severely codependent husband ever recovered. That trauma left me with mental issues to deal with for a lifetime, including my own eventual descent into alcohol abuse.

  6. #6

    Default

    Thanks John_VR! My family's well-being has been a strong motivator for me in my efforts to change my hurtful behavior.

    I'm sorry to hear about the difficulties in your growing-up family and the struggles you've had to go through in order to heal yourself. SMART offers a lot of tools and a wonderful community to help guide your journey towards better choices, as you've probably already started to experience.

    Rage is like a high pressure water hose. Water itself is not a bad thing, just like our life energy and even our anger are not inherently bad. In fact I believe and have experienced that the life energy behind Anger can even do wonderful things when it's properly directed. But when we channel all that intensity against other people, expecting them to fix the problem, or against ourselves, as punishment for the things that disappoint us, instead of fixing the problem we discover that the wounds we cause can go very deep, can hurt the people around us, and may make the problem even worse.
    Best wishes to you.
    "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new." --Socrates

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