Anger

The subject of anger has been on my mind lately. At an AA meeting I attended recently, it was the topic of discussion, and so many great points were brought up.

Anger is one of the stages of grief. And in recovery, we are in a grieving process of sorts. My counselor describes it as having lost your best friend, i.e. the substance you were abusing. And you are grieving that life, even though it was a negative one. First you’re in denial that you even have a problem, but then you give in and get the help you need.

Then comes the anger. For some people, there’s resentment toward the people that put them into treatment. For others it’s anger directed inward, anger at yourself for having let your habit get this far. For me it was a little bit of both of those, and also some anger at having to be watched all the time. Monitored closely lest I slip up again. And these days, I get angry when my husband gets concerned about a situation I think he need not concern himself with. I feel like he’s overreacting sometimes.

At the meeting, we discussed anger as an emotion. What it really means, how it can manifest, and if it’s really worth it. Some people spoke about how easy anger comes to us, and it feels really good to vent our frustrations in the moment, but later we regret what we did or said. One person said, “anger is a cheap emotion, easy and readily available.” We need to start using some of the more difficult emotions if we are to make any progress.

Others talked about how anger is a cover for what we are really feeling. Anger is easier to feel and to admit to than sadness, weakness, guilt, shame or self-doubt. We use our anger to cover up those other feelings, to seem strong and in control. And we use anger to avoid feeling those other feelings they’re hard to deal with, and anger comes so easily.

So, it makes sense that the next stages of grief are bargaining and depression. After we’ve gotten over all that anger, and we just don’t have any more to give, we start to feel the real feelings associated with recovery. Having used a substance for so long to help us not have to feel any feelings at all, it can be extremely difficult to cope with the feelings that come with recovery. It’s important to reach out to your therapist or counselor, and your 12-step or other recovery groups to get through the rough times.

Anger comes so easily to most people, it’s right at the surface of all of our emotions. But, for positive emotional growth, we need to learn to suppress our anger a bit, and find more productive ways of dealing with the tough situations life throws at us. And after a while, the tough stuff will slide off like water off a duck’s back.

The next time you feel anger rising up within you, take a moment to analyze what you’re really feeling, and face those feelings head on. Try to cope with the situation in a more positive and productive way. You’ll feel much better for it in the end.

Grounding Techniqes–Moving Beyond Bad Feelings

I mentioned in an earlier post that using grounding techniques are a good way to manage anxiety and depression, and also any urges or cravings to use that you may encounter. It’s a means to detach yourself from any emotional pain you’re experiencing, and using your external environment to center yourself again.

Grounding is more than just talking yourself out of the craving or distracting yourself. It’s really getting your mind to move away from the feeling and getting out of the bad moment. It’s not the same as just relaxing yourself. It’s a technique to use when relaxation is not enough. When you just can’t seem to pull yourself out of the bad moment.

You first need to practice getting in tune with your emotions and feelings. Really tap into what you’re feeling, and what might have brought it on. It’s impossible to be grounded if you don’t even know you’re having a craving or an overly anxious moment or a depressed day, or suffering PTSD symptoms. Be aware of your surroundings, and get to the core of what you’re feeling, and why you’re feeling it. This takes some practice, but over time you will get to know your mental self much better. Learn to rate your feelings on a scale from 0 to 10. Feelings that are lower on the scale are safer, and can be dealt with using simple relaxation or distraction. But if you find yourself at a 6, 7, or even a full 10, you need to ground yourself.

Grounding is not a way of coping with the bad or negative feelings, but a way of eliminating them completely. So, if you feel like you need to use grounding techniques, don’t use methods that cause you to focus on the negative energy, such as journaling or trying to talk yourself out of it. The best thing about grounding is that you can do it, and no one will know you’re doing it. Most of these techniques you can do silently, in your head, and get through a tough moment in a crowd, in the middle of family dinner, anywhere.

There are a few different methods to grounding, and you can use one or any combination of them that work for you. Try them out, notice what improves your mood and what doesn’t. Some of these may seem silly, or you may think they won’t work, but keep an open mind and give them a try. Anything’s better than feeling miserable, right?

1. Describe your environment in detail. Focus on the details of the room or space around you, the very minute details. What color are the walls, or the furniture. What’s the texture of the item you’re seated on. What is the temperature, what does it feel like. “This chair is green with blue flowers. It is soft to the touch. I feel warm, but not too warm.” The point is to hone in on these details, and think about nothing else. Don’t think about how they make you feel. They just are. You are giving your brain a break from whatever it is that’s bothering you, and occupying it with something else.

2. Play a categories game with yourself. Start listing off all the things you can think of in a particular category. State capitals. TV shows you enjoy. Rock musicians. The players on your favorite sports team. Kinds of dogs. Foods that start with the letter P. This grounding technique forces your brain to concentrate on another subject.

3. Describe the steps of an everyday activity. Such as, how you brush your teeth. How to make pasta. The route you take to work. Take a moment to list each step, in the order you do it. “First, I back out of my driveway. Then, I turn left. Then I drive for two blocks. I stop at the four-way stop.” And so on. Run your mind through the steps slowly, and in as much detail as you can think of.

4. Read something aloud to yourself. Pick up a magazine or a newspaper. Or pull your favorite book off the shelf and open to a random page. Choose a passage and read it out loud to yourself, concentrate on each word. On each syllable. When you finish a sentence, really reflect on what that sentence said and meant.

5. Say a safety statement. Bring yourself back to the moment, and remind yourself that you’re safe. “My name is _____. I’m living in the present, not the past. Today is Wednesday, July 8, 2015. I am going to be okay.” Just reassure yourself that you don’t have to live in the past, you don’t have to worry about the future, you are safe in the moment you are in.

6. Use humor. There’s a lot of truth to the old saying, “laughter is the best medicine.” And laughter is also an automatic emotional defense mechanism for a lot of people, and for good reason. Laughter produces endorphins, which decrease physical pain and lessen stress. Laughter is also described as “contagious”, and can bring people together, increasing your own sense of belonging and feeling loved. Picture or recall something funny you have seen or heard before, or watch your favorite sitcom and just have a good laugh. It will have you calmed down in no time.

7. Repeat a saying. Find yourself a mantra. Even something as simple as, “I am okay,” will work. Or try things like, “I am safe.” “I am going to be ok.” “I am happy with my life.” “I can solve this problem.” Keep it positive, and repeat it to yourself several times. Eventually you will believe it, and you will feel much better.

8. Count to 10 or recite the alphabet. This is a good one, because these are really easy to do. Recite one slowly, and really concentrate on each number or letter.

The idea behind all of these is to move your mind from the panicked or sad or angry or dangerous moment into a safe, happy moment, and to do so semi-permanently. And grounding techniques are very effective because, as I mentioned earlier, you can usually do them without anyone around you knowing there’s anything wrong at all, so there’s no need to feel self-conscious.

Remember to stay in the moment. Don’t let your mind wander to the past or present, and also don’t let it digress back to the problem you’re having. Stay focused on neutral details, not on your feelings or emotions. You are distancing yourself from these feelings. Try a grounding technique the next time you find yourself in a low mood, in a panic attack, having a craving or feeling any kind of emotional turmoil. It will greatly improve your day-to-day life and make negative feelings much easier to cope with.