I Think I Might Have Some Suppressed Rage
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I Think I Might Have Some Suppressed Rage

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Hi, my name is Amber and I’m fucking pissed off…sometimes. I’m shocked at how mad I get in sobriety, and when I tell women this in the program that I feel mad, they say, “Good for you. You’re sticking up for yourself. You’re finding your voice!” When I tell guys in the program I’m mad, they say, “You should probably do another fifth step.” I think they’re both right.

I was a doormat when I drank. I wasn’t a complete push over, and was pretty good at telling strangers and my family to fuck off, but when it came to friends and boyfriends I had when I was drinking, I was constantly apologizing to them—whether I needed to or not. I grew up in an alcoholic home where there was a lot of silent tension, and when you’re a sensitive kid who internalizes everything, you learn to bury it all and be quiet because there aren’t enough resources to deal with your emotions. Everyone else in the family is dealing with their own shit. Our house was a quiet time bomb, my dad had become an alcoholic recluse and my mom dealt with it by working all of the time. As a kid, I remember doing a lot of tiptoeing around the house and people pleasing and “Look how great I am!” Then I’d do a back flip and land on my head and feel sorry for myself.

When I hear people talk about how they blamed everyone else for their problems, I’m like, “You’re lucky! At least you expressed yourself.” The amount of self-blame, guilt and shame I had could fill a lake. “Hello, welcome to the Guilt and Shame Lake, if you swim in it you’ll hate yourself so much you’ll drown!” (I picture a bunch of alcoholics jumping in, completely unaware of what they’re doing and dying in a puddle of confusion. Dark. Sorry. Moving on.)

Aside from all the self-blame, if I was around someone who was threatened or jealous of me, I would make myself really small just so they felt secure with themselves. OH MY GOD THAT IS SO FUCKED UP—SEE MY RAGE IS BUBBLING TO THE SURFACE JUST THINKING ABOUT IT. The anger I’ve held back over the years is buried deep inside and now in sobriety, it pops up. It’s like I’m a camel and the hump on my back is full of suppressed rage. It’s actually hard for me believe I was so needy that I would hold back just to make sure someone else felt like they were better than me.

It was during my first fifth step that I realized the horrific pattern I had of holding in my truth and making myself small. I was like, “Holy shit, I want to change this about myself right now.” And, that’s when I started to get pissed. I started speaking my mind in every situation. I remember I was at a BBQ and a guy was talking to me and I didn’t want to talk to him any more, so I said, “I don’t want to talk to you anymore,” and walked away. Ha! It was so rude, but I think I just wanted to see what it was like to not kiss people’s ass. It was really the wrong way to go about practicing “my voice” but figuring out how to not need constant approval from everyone takes some trial and error.

There’s something my sponsor said to me during that fifth step which really changed my life. She said, “Give other people credit. They can handle whoever you are and what you have to say.” In addition to wanting to be liked, there was a part of me that thought other people would not be able to handle my truth. If you tell people you don’t want to go to the movies with them because you’re busy, they aren’t going to die and they aren’t going to hate you. It’s sad, but I really had to learn about communicating the littlest things. I’m also learning that I don’t have to be a complete asshole when expressing my feelings.

To a degree, anger and rage has been sort of healthy for me in sobriety. I’m still working on appropriate ways to react to it but after a lifetime of unnecessary guilt and kissing ass, there’s something magical about transitioning from a helpless “please love me” mindset to having awareness of what I truly feel and being able to express it, regardless of the results. It has taken a long time for me to stick up for myself, and now sometimes I may come off as a bitch. But that’s okay—that’s what ninth and 10th steps are for! I get to say, “Sorry I screamed at you, I’m just trying to tell you how I feel and it came out in a mean way.” And I might not be being a bitch so much as just speaking my mind. If I were a man, it would probably be called confidence. Oh, here comes the feminist anger. I’ll move on.

I know now that I’m working the program and when rage bubbles to the surface, I can sit with it and observe it. It’s like a little mental project that I get to break down and figure out why it’s there. It’s always fear of course, but I get to really sit with it, and if I’m lucky, pause before I do anything. If not, someone is usually on the other end of a really nasty email or a passive aggressive Facebook post. But, hey, I’m working on it.

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About Author

Amber Tozer is a stand up comic, writer and actor. She loves being sober even when she hates it. Her memoir, Sober Stick Figure, was published in 2016 by Running Press.