AA orthodoxy depicts an especially dire portrayal of the negative consequences of resentment and rage for those of us addicted to alcohol, and who seek recovery through AA. Bill Wilson, AA’s co-founder primarily responsible for the AA canon of beliefs about alcoholism and recovery, doesn’t mince words regarding the negative impact of resentment and raging anger for alcoholics.
Resentment is the number one offender. It destroys more alcoholics than anything else. (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 64)
I’ve experienced the gift of recovery through the Fellowship of AA since I had my last drink, a can of Ballantine Ale, on October 14, 1972. I went to my first AA meeting several days later, and the first person in AA with whom I identified was Stanley S. Stancage, a raging alcoholic, both when sober and while drinking. Stanley died of alcohol poisoning after chug-a-lugging a quart of 100 proof vodka in an alcoholic rage, paying the ultimate price for our alcoholic malady.
Resentment and anger, ofttimes apoplectic rage, have dogged me throughout my forty-three years of recovery. I’ve sometimes asserted that I am “constitutionally incapable of pausing when agitated.” My resentment and raging behavior have resulted in abundant negative consequences — lost friendships, lost jobs, lost wives and lovers, lost esteem and reputation. I’ve often been as powerless over resentments and raging anger, as I know I would be over alcohol were I to take the first drink.
According to the teaching of Bill Wilson, I likely am doomed to die a horrible alcoholic death. However, unlike Stanley, I have yet to be tempted to take a drink. Despite sometimes raging resentments all throughout my four decades plus of being sober, I have never experienced the thought, much less a compulsion, to take that first fatal drink.
I attribute this to three significant factors:
1) The period of my active alcoholism was so awful, so horrible, so unmanageable, as well as unbearable, that I know and accept this reality — no matter how bad a situation sober might be, even during my worst ravings, taking the first drink would no doubt inevitably make the situation a hundredfold worse.
2) In my first decade of getting sober in Manhattan, NY during the 1970’s, I had this dictum reiterated at most meetings: “No matter what — whether your ass falls off or turns to gold — no matter what, don’t pick up that first drink!”
3) I worked during the mid-’70s as an alcoholism counselor for an outpatient treatment program at the head of the Bowery. I had a number of clients on my caseload, who lived the down and out, in the gutter, existence of a skid-row alcoholic, pan-handling, washing windshields, living in flop houses, being preyed upon and beaten up, eating maybe one meal a day, becoming lice-infected, etc. Some lived a brutal life on the streets for decades and did not die! I’m convinced were I to pick up that first drink this would likely be my destiny. At age 72, I’m way too creature-comfort-oriented and cowardly to live this kind of desperado lifestyle.
Throughout over four-decades of recovery, I’ve always been acutely aware of the intractable results and negative consequences associated with resentment and rage. I’ve done a number of thorough 4th and 5th Steps dealing specifically with resentment and rage, I’ve written reams of musings about the resulting negative consequences, I’ve seen a number of excellent therapists, and I’ve experienced anger management workshops, both as participant and facilitator. Until recently, I was an avid long-distance runner, completing several marathons.
I’ve been inordinately fortunate never to have been arrested for becoming verbally abusive with strangers or with partners in the public arena. Neither have I ever had an accident nor gotten a ticket due to uncontrollable road rage. As obnoxious as I sometimes have behaved, I’ve never, not once, ever been in a fist-fight. On several occasions, much larger individuals backed away, because I was so deranged they didn’t want to risk dealing with me — they saw “the crazy” and chose not to mess with it.
Causes and Conditions
There are a number of factors in my life history, which possibly influence my propensity for debilitating resentment and rage. Both of my parents were aggrieved children of alcoholics, who abandoned them. My maternal grandmother was an alcoholic, who deserted my mother — also a “rageaholic” —- and her sister, when they were 10 and 7. They were physically abused by two old-maid aunts, when my grandfather uprooted them from their upper-middle-class home in Detroit, dumping them in Jackson, Mississippi to be raised by his two older sisters.
My paternal grandfather was a gambler and an alcoholic. His mentally-challenged wife was deemed incompetent by the rest of the family to raise my father, who at age 14, topped over six-feet. He was dispatched from his small, Southern Baptist, hometown environment in Mississippi to live with a black-sheep branch of the family in Indianapolis, who were socialists and freethinkers during the roaring twenties. There, he was seduced by the wife of an older cousin.
On both sides of my family there was considerable wealth that by the time it got to my parent’s generation during the 1920’s had been squandered. Though we didn’t have the financial means, we still maintained upper-class pretensions as part of the elite social circles of small-city life in Jackson. I always felt like the fake our family mostly was.
Early on, I became a power-driven over-achiever, staying away from home as much as possible. I partook in numerous extra-curricular activities during high school. During adolescence, I became obsessed with war, reading every history or novel about war that I could find. I spent hours on an early-morning paper route, daydreaming I was a victorious war hero.
During the late ’50s and ’60s, my family was actively involved in the civil rights movement in Mississippi. So much so, that we had crosses burned in our yard by ardent Christian KKK supremacists. An early girlfriend dumped me, because I worshiped an idol of the Virgin Mary. Speaking of girlfriends, I had many, but when you throw up on them while drunk, you hardly get to first-base, much less hit a grand slammer!
Off to college in Cincinnati I went, where I was again an over-achiever, becoming involved in radical left-wing politics as an SDS member of student government. I also was executive editor of the student newspaper and ran the student theatre, all the while maintaining a cum laude grade-point average. I was grievously affected both by the Cuban Missile Crisis and the assassination of JFK.
I was a star in every endeavor with the exception of romantic relationships. I became convinced I could not have a decent relationship with a woman to whom I was also attracted. My longest relationship was with a wonderful girl with fullback thighs, whom I abandoned drunk at the altar.
Becoming increasingly suicidal, especially after flunking out of graduate school, I volunteered to go to Vietnam to have Charlie do what I was too cowardly to do, kill myself. Despite my best efforts to die, I survived Vietnam, including the brutal Tet Offensive, and on April 4, 1968, returned to the USA, landing in Washington, DC about three hours after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Washington was in flames just like Vietnam had been that I left 9,000 miles behind. I lost more hope when Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated, followed by the police brutality in Chicago during the Democratic Convention.
I had gotten married two days before I flew to Vietnam in 1967, because my then casual girlfriend, another nice girl with thunder-thighs, was pregnant. I was so convinced I would die a hero’s death in Vietnam, I couldn’t conceive I’d have to face the reality of a family. Nevertheless, I survived despite myself, and after we had a second daughter, largely due to my resentment and rage, we were divorced.
In 1972, I went to New York to marry a second wife and to make a career in the theater as an actor and director — instead, I got sober, a most propitious deal!
I spent 2003-2005 in a second combat zone as an unarmed peace keeper in Sri Lanka. A volunteer Red Cross Mental Health worker at Ground Zero, I assisted first responders and families of victims for several weeks after 9/11.
I’ve stayed sober through two additional divorces and the ordeal of a son from my third marriage, who spent 10 years in and out of prison, psyche wards and rehabs, but who, gratefully, shares recovery with me today. Currently, I deal with the vicissitudes of the aging process and a nation that becomes more fascist with each passing war.
In addition to Severe Alcohol Use Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, I have been diagnosed with three other DSM V psychiatric diagnoses: Bi-Polar I Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
Nevertheless, I’ve never picked up the first drink again, all the while dealing with my still at times unmanageable issues of seething resentment and raging anger.
I’m not the only one.
The Angriest Sober Person in AA
Earlier, I mentioned Stanley, the raging alcoholic who died drunk. Well, during the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, I knew another raging alcoholic, Marty O’Farrell. Marty was a successful public relations and commercial film producer in New York City, who had a horrid family background. Abandoned by his mother, he was raised by a violent, alcoholic father. Marty married a nurse with a small son, and they had two children. The step-son at age 11 died in a freak accident, when their cat jumped on the lid of a hope chest in which he was hiding. It closed, locked tight, and he suffocated. Marty and his wife’s relationship did not survive that tragedy.
Marty would rant and rave apoplectically at meetings in mid-town Manhattan. He was known as “the angriest sober person in AA.” Nevertheless, he never drank. People tolerated him with love and compassion.
I hadn’t seen Marty for ten, maybe fifteen years, when I ran into him at a mid-town Manhattan meeting in the early ’90s. He was as cool and calm as a gentle sea breeze over Hawaii. I barely recognized him due to the smile lines upon his aging, serene face.
“Marty,” I queried, “What happened to the angriest sober person in AA?”
He smiled, holding up two fingers, “Two open-heart surgeries!”
We chatted. He related he was in full retirement, writing poetry, spending time with his grandchildren. Both of his adult children followed him into recovery. He died, knowing he had successfully broken the virulent chain of addiction in his family, a fulfilled and grateful elder.
Marty’s story is extremely powerful for me — sometimes destiny plays hardball. We either change, or we suffer the consequences!
I’ve meditated mostly off and on throughout my recovery, but for the last year I have made a concerted effort to meditate twice daily. Amazing, It Works, If You Work It !~!~!
Though I still suffer from at times seething resentment and raging anger, I’m profoundly aware that both the duration, as well as the incidents of obsessive resentments and explosive outrages have lessened considerably. I’m increasingly able to “pause when agitated,” allowing myself to Just Calm Down. This was a poster, the first thing I saw on the wall of an Alano Club in Jackson, Mississippi, when I attended a meeting shortly after one of my worst rages, while visiting my family. I’m far from perfection today, but I’m aware of appreciable and steady progress.
One of the practices I do, when I become aware of mounting frustration or irritation, is to pause and take several deep breaths, saying to myself a phrase that was ubiquitous among soldiers in Vietnam, “Don’t Mean Nothing!” over and over and over again.
I could be like Stanley, choosing to drink behind my resentment and rage, or I can remember Marty, staying sober despite my resentment and rage. It is my sincere hope that, like Marty, I die sober, satisfied that I too have broken the chain of addiction in my family, while experiencing a most bountiful life in recovery.
About the Author, Thomas B.
Sober from his primary drug of addiction, Colt .45 — preferably by the case lot — since October 14, 1972, Thomas is grateful for the full life he has experienced in recovery for over 43 years. He’s been active at the group level throughout his recovery and in 1978 was the co-chair of the first New York City Young Peoples Conference. He is a co-founder (with his wife, Jill) and current GSR of Portland, Oregon’s Beyond Belief group. Retired from a 30-year career in addiction treatment, he and a fellow Vietnam Veteran colleague, Vince Treanor, were instrumental in establishing the correlation between addiction and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder during the 1980s.
He’s been an active participant on AA Agnostica since early in 2012 and has had the following articles published:
- First AA Meetings (June 2, 2013)
- One’s Religion is An Outside Issue (July 28, 2013)
- A Fellowship of the Religious? (April 20, 2014)
- Book Review: A Freethinker in AA (May 21, 2014)
- Tradition Two: A Flaw in AA Service Structure? (September 28, 2014)
- Several Reports from the Santa Monica Conference
- Sponsorship in AA (February 22, 2015)
- PRAASA 2015 (April 12, 2015)
- Bill Wilson’s Experience with LSD (May 10, 2015)
He and his wife, Jill, live in gainful retirement on disability in Seaside, Oregon with their dog Kiera, and two cats, Savannah and Elsa, writing and helping to expand secular AA throughout Oregon.