[Caution: Emotional full monte to follow. If you'd rather not go there, but would rather see funny cat pictures instead, I don't blame you. That's where I was in the not-too-distant past. However, if you're open to playing with fire and letting it all hang out, then welcome.]
The funny thing about putting the things you write on the web is that people tend to think you know something – which leads to all sorts of confusion when they realize that you’re as flawed as any other person. After all, why would you want to listen to a mechanic who drives a car that backfires and blows black smoke and doesn’t start half the time?
There are a couple of reasons why you might read on: Perhaps you’re one of those people who slow down to get a closer look at train wrecks. Or maybe you can see the wisdom in learning from other people’s mistakes…
In a world full of contradictions, why should our personal growth be any different? Our greatest strengths are also our greatest weaknesses, and our greatest assets expose us to the greatest risks. But they don’t have to. And so I’m gonna let it all hang out here, and perhaps someone else can benefit from my mistakes.
I’m a man with fire in my belly. I’m a driven man, and an obsessive one. I’m a passionate man, and one with a deep-seated desire to turn that passion into deep and transformative change.
But I’m also a man with a deep anger that threatens to tear me apart. That same anger which drives me is also the same force which has left me hanging high and dry when it comes to the things that really matter.
I’ve let my anger lead me into temptation many a time, and while I may have learned some good (though hard) lessons because of it, I’ve also experienced a world of hurt because of it.
I’ve quit more things than I’ve completed. I’ve been arrested, had my ass kicked, flushed relationships down the toilet, and alienated friends and relatives because of it. I’ve wounded myself, both physically and mentally. I’ve been in serious debt, gone to detox, pissed away golden opportunities, and suffered through mental breakdowns.
I’ve held a gun to my own head, held my fist to another’s face, punched holes in walls and windows, and threatened the safety of innocent people. I’ve drunk myself into a pit of self pity, spent years in a pot-induced haze of happiness, swallowed ounces of boomers and sheets of acid trying to escape it, and chased other people’s dreams while sabotaging my own success. All because of the fierce intensity of my own anger. And that sucks. Here’s hoping you don’t have to let it go that far.
I’ve told myself that I’m not angry, I’m just grumpy. Bullshit. That grumpiness comes from anger. Even if you’re not outwardly furious, if you’re in a funk all the time, chances are you have anger issues.
[Caveat: Just because I can put the words to the (virtual) paper doesn't mean that I've conquered my demons - consider the following to be lessons I'm still learning.]
Don’t let your anger kill you: The angry man’s guide to anger management
Back off: Sometimes (OK, most of the time), we’re so wrapped up in our own pain that we can’t see beyond the nose on our face. So take a lesson from the parenting book and put ourselves on timeout. Back off from the situation. Take a deep breath (or ten), walk away, run away, drive away, whatever, but put some distance between you and what you perceive to be the cause of your anger. Once our heart rate returns to normal and the adrenalin has left our system, chances are we’ll be ready to take a serious look at what’s behind our rage.
Look in the mirror: We spend 24 hours a day looking out at the world from our own perspective, so full of our own sense of self-righteousness that we can’t even imagine what it’s like to be on the receiving end of our own anger. The next time you’re in the thrall of your own rage, find a mirror or take a picture or video of yourself and imagine that we’re our own best friend (because we really are, or can be), and have compassion for ourselves.
Give it up: As they say in 12-step groups, we really need to let go and let God. Or let go and let the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or karma, or the wisdom of the universe, or whatever you believe in (even if it’s just the laws of physics) take over. If we don’t have a clue, then we need to accept that and let go of it. Ask for help from the stars, the moon, our great grandaddy, or something, anything, bigger than our own self. Surrender is hard. So is being pissed off all the time. So try something different.
Take care of your vehicle: We have this big ol’ brain sloshing around in our head, and we imagine that we’re some sort of evolved beings, but too often we forget that we’re also meat. The rest of our body supports that magnificent supercomputer housed in our skull, and if we don’t take care of it in a good way, it’s like having a high-performance engine sitting in the rusted chassis of a beater car, and we still think it’ll outrun a sportscar. Watch what you eat, watch what you drink, and get outside and get physical.
Play dead: It’s one of the hardest things in the world to do, but sometimes we really do need to crawl under a rock and just drop out for awhile. Give yourself the luxury of pretending that the world outside doesn’t exist, and just be with yourself. Don’t worry, the world will still be there when you’re ready to come back to it, and those who love you will hold down the fort while you get your shit together. It’s not a cop-out, it’s good medicine.
Lend a hand: One of the quickest ways to get over your own anger is to help someone else deal with their own issues. That’s not to say that we should just forget our own troubles, but rather that by putting our energy toward someone else’s wellbeing, we can step outside our own situation for a bit.
Beat yourself up: Not literally, of course. But if you absolutely need to work off that full head of steam you’ve built up, then there’s a quick solution. Start doing pushups, and go all-out. Start doing pullups, and don’t hold back. Grab a big stick and start beating the hell out of a boulder. Now keep it up for 10 minutes. Not enough? Keep going for another 10 minutes. Still not enough? (You must be my long-lost twin…) Keep going for another 10 minutes. It’s hard as hell to last for 30 minutes of full-on, balls-to-the-wall physical effort, and still hang on to your anger afterward.
Take back the blame: I’m rarely mad as hell at my own self. It’s usually someone else’s fault (so I tell myself). But the reality is that it’s our own reaction to other people, which is always our own responsibility – 100%. So take inventory of why you’re so pissed, and be brutally honest with yourself. Don’t let the blame leak out on someone else’s actions, but rather take the blame for our own situation. Yeah, that might suck, but so does the consequences of directing our anger outward. And that doesn’t mean that we need to be pissed off at ourselves, because that leads to some other serious issues, such as self-loathing and self-medication and possibly suicidal thoughts. Seriously. Trust me on this. (See above, having compassion for our self.)
Put it in perspective: Make an effort to ask yourself if the thing which is pissing you off is really worth it. Will it still matter next week, or next year, or in a decade? Most of the time the answer is a really obvious “hell no!”. And if that’s the case, then why should we waste our energy on it now? Maybe that seems overly simple, but sometimes the best solutions are the simplest ones.
Go within: Most of our lives are filled with other people’s agendas, other people’s opinions, other people’s expectations, the noise and distraction of the TV, the internet, the radio, and freakin’ Twitter and Facebook. And we’re afraid of what we might find out in the silence of meditation or the stillness of just sitting there, “doing nothing”. So that’s a clue to what can help us – by just being with our own thoughts, without judging, without thinking about tomorrow or yesterday or ‘what might have been’, we can start to get some insight into what drives us to be angry. Of course, like exercise, this isn’t a one-time thing, so don’t expect a miracle after just a single session – it takes time and it takes effort, and it takes making a habit of cultivating stillness within.
I can tell what you’re thinking right now. You’re pissed off because I didn’t give you a magic pill that will make your anger disappear. Instead I offered you a number of ways to cope with your rage. And that’s OK, because making your anger disappear without effort isn’t possible. Sorry, but that’s the way it is.
We can medicate and numb ourselves and make it appear as if our anger’s gone, but that’s just delaying the inevitable. We’re going to get angry later, and the only thing we can do is take responsibility for it and make the choice to act differently when it happens.
From one angry man to another, it is possible to not let our anger rule our life.
I’m rooting for you.
[Image: Jan Tik]