Fighting the Greatest Enemies

From – August 18th, 2010

The greatest enemies of us alcoholics are resentment, jealousy, envy, frustration, and fear.  Alcoholics Anonymous pg 145

If we were to live, we had to be free of anger. The grouch and the brainstorm were not for us. They may be the dubious luxury of normal men, but for alcoholics these things are poison.  Alcoholics Anonymous pg 66

These emotions are a fairly normal part of life, but are very dangerous to those of us coming out of addiction and alcoholism.  Many of us in recovery are prone to overreactions related to the emotions mentioned above. 

Some of us have the obvious immediate overreactions that lead us to act out in some way or other.  Others of us have more subtle reactions.  Maybe we show no response to those that we feel cause our negative feelings.  Those are the ones of us who let the feelings pile up inside until it becomes unbearable and we explode in one way or another.

No matter how hidden or obvious our reactions to resentment, jealousy, envy, frustration, and fear are the biggest problem is not our reactions.  Our reactions are just a symptom of the real problem.  No matter the reaction the real problem is allowing such feelings to have enough power in your life to cause a self destructive response.

Feelings such as these will come up in all of our lives.  It is the response that an individual has that makes the difference.

One extreme is to have an outburst or to make some attempt to manipulate the other or others involved.  This is really about deciding that you should make the other person or person uncomfortable because that is what was done to you.  “That person hurt me that means that person must be hurt back.” 

It’s funny how we have allowed ourselves to be trained that because one person acts crazy we have to allow “crazy” to be contagious.  That also assumes that the person is even being crazy in the first place and we are not just overreacting (in that case the only one who is really crazy is me). 

This is the application of the old adage of “fight fire with fire.”  The problem is that although there are instances where a real fire is fought with fire, fire is most often fought with water.  If someone catches fire isn’t it better for you to be the water that helps put their fire out than be another fire spreading throughout the world. 

The idea that if a person hurts me I must hurt them back is really rooted in being concerned with nobody but yourself.  Because after all you are the center of the universe and all other people are here to make sure you are comfortable at all times.  Anyone daring to make you uncomfortable must be punished. 

Selfishness – self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 62)

In cases where there someone causes you these kinds of feelings the first thought should be similar to those noted in Step 4 on page 67 of the Alcoholics Anonymous book: 

When a person offended we said to ourselves, “This is a sick man. How can I be helpful to him? God save me from being angry. Thy will be done.”

How can I help put out the fire by being the water instead of making the fire worse by being another fire?

The other extreme is the person who doesn’t want to make the problem worse so that person just keeps the feelings to his or herself.  Instead of fighting the fire with water or fire, this person sees the fire, freaks out and drinks poison.  Holding those kinds of feelings in without resolving them is poisonous to your life socially, mentally, emotionally and inevitably physically.

A clue is found in the Alcoholics Anonymous book in the discussion of how to work Step 9.   

We go to him in a helpful and forgiving spirit, confessing our former ill feeling and expressing our regret.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 77)

Notice the words “confessing our former ill feeling”. This eludes to two things.  The first is that during the process of working the previous steps you should have dealt with these feelings and second that the feelings need to be discussed with the person directly.  But, notice the attitude that you are supposed to have when this is confronted: 

  1. Helpful
  2. Forgiving
  3. Regretful (that you had such feelings towards this person)

This feeling also is tied to selfishness and self-centeredness.  It is often an attempt to avoid confrontation.  This is really a fear of confrontation.  In describing fear, the Alcoholics Anonymous book states: 

This short word somehow touches about every aspect of our lives. It was an evil and corroding thread; the fabric of our existence was shot through with it. It set in motion trains of circumstances which brought us misfortune we felt we didn’t deserve. But did not we, ourselves, set the ball rolling?  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 67)

Looking at both of these extremes and considering all of various levels of this in between the solution seems to be rooted in one common idea.  Learning how to look for ways to be helpful to the other person when they seem crazy instead of acting out or holding in “ill feeling.”  If the root of our troubles is selfishness and self-centeredness (even if disguised as self protection) then would being of honest help to others who seem to be hurting (“going crazy” for some reason) be at least part of the solution. 

Our real purpose is to fit ourselves to be of maximum service to God and the people about us.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 77)

Remember when you feel one of those feelings, before you decide how to respond to the person or people who caused those feelings: 

When a person offended we said to ourselves, “This is a sick man. How can I be helpful to him? God save me from being angry. Thy will be done.” (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 67)

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