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Anger is My Choice: The Confession of a (Once) Angry Man

November 2018
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It all started over a stubbed toe….

Well, let me back up a bit. We were up at the in-law’s house for Thanksgiving with my wife’s sister and her family. That may read messy but it isn’t – it’s a party. Food, card games, laughs and as much fun as a person can have. Everything from cooking, to cleaning, to household chores are treated as a team effort so max fun time is possible.

It’s not perfect, though. The beds at the in-laws’ are a step up from plywood hard, but just one step. This leads, over several days, to me being very sore. Also, the temps this year were far too cold to enjoy cycling, in the single digits most mornings (that’s Fahrenheit, folks – negatives for the Celsius people) so we didn’t get our daily rides in – we didn’t even bring our bikes.

After four days of pain and no fitness outlet, combined with the knowledge that the diet upon returning home will have to be drastic, the good times can become strained.

So, the last morning there, my wife and I are having some normal life struggles with our eldest and she’s preoccupied. My wife is projecting a little “cranky” as well. I’m in the bathroom to shave while she’s doing her makeup and she’s taking up the dead middle of the two-sink counter. She’s after her makeup double-time, obviously agitated – and this is usually my fault, though this year I’ve done nothing that can even approach unkind, untoward, or uncaring for weeks.

So I’m fighting to shave with a quarter of the space I should have and… enter the stubbed toe.

[The main point there being that this didn’t start with a stubbed toe, it started two days prior]

Normally, when I stub my toe, I simply lose it for a second until the pain subsides. Add in the other stress and my wife’s off behavior and it’s a perfect blend for a zero to full blast instant tirade….

But I’ve been in a really good space lately with my 26th sober anniversary last week, and I think that changed how I would normally react. My thinking slowed down to snail’s pace, so I experienced each thought..

Wow, that didn’t hurt so bad. I wouldn’t have stubbed my toe if [my wife] wasn’t standing in the way. Why is she acting like that anyway?!

At this point the intensity ratchets up a bit.

Even if it didn’t hurt, I should be angry…  I should blow up…

And that’s right where I normally start to lose it, but I didn’t. Normally it happens fast, too. Blindingly fast. My thinking was so clear at that point – normally it’s like a roomful of cats in my melon just before a meltdown, but with nothing else going on, I could see the progression of each new wrinkle. I set my razor down and walked away for a few seconds… I thought,

I’m not going there today. It’s not happening.

I went back and picked up my razor and finished the last few swipes. Then I asked my wife what was wrong and followed that with, how can I help?

There was no fight. We talked about what was eating at her and the solutions. It ended well, my wife and I holding hands all the way home, the kids sleeping in the back. We unpacked and took the gravel bikes out for a ride, choosing not to invite anyone else, we just rode together.

I came to the realization that what once used to set me off in a rage, no longer held sway over me. I don’t have to fly off the handle anymore, not like I used to. Paying attention to each individual thought as it flowed through the gray matter was a breakthrough. The transition was always too fast and chaotic to grasp previously.

Not only is losing it a choice, it simply isn’t me anymore. There’s plenty of room for backsliding if I’m not careful, though… and in the future, at least I’ll have this experience to build on.

This is one of the unsung benefits of long-term, continuous sobriety; I accepted and dealt with my drinking (and drug) problem long ago so I have plenty of time to work on other, smaller things that led to the drink, like my anger issue.  Most normal folk don’t bother to look that deep inside to fix what’s wrong with them.  It’s far easier to concentrate on playing Don Quixote with all things external – you never run out of things to set you off when you choose to be angry at things you can’t control in the first place.

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8 Comments

  1. unironedman says:

    Everyone can benefit from that wisdom. A cyber Monday gift for free from Jim 😉

  2. Liberating, eh? I sense it as I read to the end of your blog today. This is one I can relate to in more than one way, learning to deal with anger as it happens a journey for me. I have had some huge victories as well lately, one tiny slip up (immediate apologies go a long way, something else I have learned from hard experience).

    Long comment where really all I should be saying is CONGRATS — loved reading about the holding hands and the romantic ride. Yes, romantic is how it reads!

  3. Dorothea says:

    that’s a superpower I’d like to learn. Congrats on this really positive experience, Jim. I think it’s great that you know you can draw on this moment in the future, as well.

  4. Archetype says:

    Great post Jim

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