I once saw an image of Joan Crawford swinging an ax. There she was, in her 1940’s hairstyle and thick eyebrows, looking like she was going to land that sucker in someone’s living room couch.
I immediately said to myself, “Been there, Sister.”
One of the biggest hurdles in my recovery process has been the anger/forgiveness issue. It doesn’t exactly make me jump up and down with giddy glee forgiving those who have hurt me; forget about forgiving myself for bad choices, often including, but not limited to, my addictions and compulsions. Facing real life issues, embracing brutal honesty, apologizing and changing behaviors aren’t fun playtime; they involve work: consistent, tedious, sometimes boring and painful work.
Recovery and life, however, encourage us to DO that very work. Refusal to do so threatens things like our progress, our health and our relationships. And that means we need to look our own anger in the eye. That’s a toughie.
Anger gets a bad rap. There’s where some of the confusion starts. Whatever our addictions or issues are, there tends to be an inaccurate assessment concerning what anger is, what it should be and what it costs us, if expressed.
For instance, as a kid, I was thoroughly indoctrinated in the belief that anger was bad; therefore, I was a “bad girl” if I ever expressed it. Females were supposed to be sugar and spice, all things nice, pleasing and accommodating. Just try to realistically live that out. Now try and meet that mandate if you’re in an atmosphere of abuse. Finally, add addictive tendencies and unmet needs up the wazoo and bingo! You have yourself some self-destructive anger which doesn’t feel like forgiving anyone or anything.
Growing up, my dad was verbally and emotionally abusive and controlling; he isolated my mother and me. We couldn’t come and go freely. We certainly could not speak our minds. And if he ever caught so much as an eye roll or a frustrated sigh, there would be more hell to pay as he started throwing things out of the house.
So, keeping his standard of peace was paramount. I learned that, by winning awards, I could, in fact, keep some of his rage at bay.
“...My perfect attendance record in school is an excellent example. For three years in a row, I did not missed one day of school, knowing that I would win a perfect attendance certificate, tangible proof on paper that I was worthwhile... So for the next few years, I went to school with colds, sore throats and influenza...
...When I reached junior high, I became so sick once I had to stay home... Three days at home, according to my dad, was enough...He decided he would take me into school...
...I got up the nerve to ask him, ‘Do you still love me?’ His answer? ‘If you do this again, I won’t.’”
(Excerpt taken from “Thin Enough: My Spiritual Journey Through the Living Death of an Eating Disorder”).
Enter the launch pad for anorexia. Brewing food, weight and body image issues had been there for years. But this, this was the activation moment. Just hand me an ax to swing.
“For we are consumed by thine anger, and by thy wrath are we troubled.”
And swing I did. I swung all the way to a two-digit anorexic weight by age nineteen, to a one hundred pound bulimic weight gain by age twenty struggled for years, looking for love, peace, justice and meaning:
“Then said the LORD, ‘Doest thou well to be angry?’”
It didn’t do me well. I had, however, mistaken the concept of anger with that of power. And that’s not a great thing to run with if you want some true healing going on. After all, let’s see what some little steps have to say about anger/power when it comes to a life in recovery...
1. We admitted we were powerless over a substance or behavior - that our lives had become unmanageable.
- We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
- We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
- We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
- We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
- We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
- We humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
- We made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
- We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
- We continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
- We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
- Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
No sign of an ax anywhere to be found. And trust me, I was looking. The disordered eating behaviors became my angry outlet. I wasn’t interested in “recovery.” I just wanted to rage!
“Then said the LORD, ‘Doest thou well to be angry?’”
Again, that answer was still “no.”
But it wasn’t because I was a “bad girl” for being angry. It was because I didn’t see it for what it was: a human emotion:
“Be ye angry, and sin not...”
And then it was up to me to move THROUGH it. And that would take time...
And more time...
And it took God, in His grace, love and mercy not pulverizing me for being a flawed human being...
And man, was I that all over the place!
You see, Ephesians 4:26 touched on the real world nature of the emotion...
“Be ye angry...”
Human beings get angry. It happens. For those of us riddled with bitterness and resentment, that’s right up our ax-wielding alley, isn’t it?
But that’s not the end of the story.
When I first sought therapy years ago, the concept of the pendulum was discussed. In my attempts at coping with family and personal dysfunction, I over-reacted. Okay, let’s get real; I got ver-r-r-r-angry.
Me. The nice girl.
Anyway, what came up was how my inaccurate assessment of anger caused me to often over correct and swing things in the other direction.
So, if the pendulum once swung in the direction of “anger is bad and unacceptable for me to express,” then, of course, the opposite swing to that is “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it any longer. Now gimme that ax!”
So, yes, that’s quite extreme.
The goal, ideally, is -cliché alert- moderation, to find that healthier balance between those two points. And that can get messy, especially as, in my instance, I was unskilled at being properly angry.
I know. It’s a shocker.
Anyway, I had my share of embarrassing meltdown episodes, yelling at telemarketers and customer service people. However, these rage episodes had nothing to do with them. It was me.
And it was in these “me moments” where I found myself at the forgiveness intersection. And, as much as I didn’t want that to be my pressing issue, there God was, nonetheless, coaxing me to take that forgiveness two step.
However, I didn’t want to take that step because, just like the anger issue, I also had the wrong idea of what forgiveness is.
In short: it’s not a feeling; it’s a decision.
And life has a way of making sure we get a lot of practice making this decision. According to Matthew 18:7, offenses will come.
“Woe unto the world because of offences!...Offenses come; but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh!”
The second part of that scripture, you know, the one about the person causing the drama? Well, that got my attention. I saw myself; I saw how my self-destructive decisions, including my refusal to forgive were messing me up.
Woe to me. Yay.
And that’s part of the danger of anger and its evil twin, refusal to forgive. Both eat away at our lives. And our recovery processes? Forget about it!
But it’s a hard thing to get around. Spiritually, forgiveness is a force of nature principle.
“And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.”
In my dysfunction, I chased several lies which did nothing except get me deeper in the hole. Here are some highlights:
1) Anger/bitterness/resentment equal power. I need to obtain and maintain this power to avoid getting hurt in the future.
2) Whoever hurt me in the past fully deserves my wrath.
3) In order to get through my pain and anger, I need to turn to my choice addictions.
4) These addictions actually work to keep me functioning; I cannot be without them.
5) I don’t need to let go of my anger. I just need more of my choice addictions.
So, years passed, I flailed and seethed. I tried to get beyond the pain. But God kept bringing me back to the forgiveness thing.
And I didn’t want to go back there.
Nevertheless, He kept nudging me to forgive my dad. Not only that, He wanted me to ask for his forgiveness as well!
C’mon, God! Shallow end of the pool here, at the very least!
And after a lot of arguing, rebellion and pouting, I finally forgave my dad. Did I feel all “forgive-y?” Nope. But did some forgiveness feelings eventually start showing up?
Yes, they did.
And has it helped in my recovery? Yes. It’s not instant or perfect, but forgiveness has become a tool for me to support healthy choices, not sabotage them.
And that doesn’t mean all anger is cancelled out. I experience it; I feel it. Sometimes, I express it in less than noble ways. Sometimes, I’m thoroughly...“Be ye angry,” while needing work on the “sin not” part of the scripture.
But I know anger is a triggering check engine light for me. I have to be real and honest about its presence. And I have to deal with it, preferably without an ax.
Again, it’s not a perfect, one-time event. But it is relevant to recovery. Denying it or suppressing it does nothing positive for our wellbeing, especially when it comes to our vulnerable spots.
There’s no anger ax that is too hard for God.
“Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is there anything too hard for Me?”
Thank GOD for that!
And so, I try to remember that truth, even in the middle of my angry, “ax-y” Joan Crawford moments.
Copyright © 2016 by Sheryle Cruse