reclaiming my right to be angry

fuck whatever AA taught me

I wanted to write something smart for you. I have been working on a newsletter about how the media has fumbled Gabbi Tuft’s coming out story, and maybe I’ll get around to finishing that up later this week. I have even more thoughts about it after watching The Lady and The Dale this weekend.

February 2021 was one of the hardest months I’ve ever had. A lot of things were pulled out from under me within the span of a couple of weeks and it was incredibly destabilizing. The fact that so many big things piled on top of each other means that my resiliency, of which I usually have quite a lot, is lacking. I don’t have my usual ability to cope with any of these things, so all of them have hit me harder than they probably would have otherwise. I’ve been really sad and pretty sick with grief over them, but I’ve been experiencing another emotion that I’m much less familiar with and therefore ill prepared to handle: anger.

I am not very good at feeling my anger. I tend to push it down, I tend to dissociate or numb out. Some of that is my conditioning as someone who was socialized as a woman and taught that it was my job to sublimate my anger, to “be the bigger person.” The only time my anger comes out is in my dreams—vivid dreams in which I bash in the head or face of the person I’m angry with. Sometimes with a bat, sometimes on concrete sidewalks. The intensity of these dreams always frightens me a bit, I feel so out of control in them, the rage all-consuming.

But another part of my inability to feel my anger is because of Alcoholics Anonymous. For the past decade, I’ve been taught that righteous anger is the privilege of non-alcoholics. Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions explains:

"It is a spiritual axiom that every time we are disturbed, no matter what the cause, there is something wrong with us. If somebody hurts us and we are sore, we are in the wrong also. But are there no exceptions to this rule? what about "justifiable" anger? If somebody cheats us, aren't we entitled to be mad? Can't we be properly angered with self-righteous folk? For us of A.A. these are dangerous exceptions. We have found that justified anger ought to be left to those better qualified to handle it."

The program recommends doing spiritual inventory work to find your part in your resentment and anger, the things you did wrong. This is the “something” that is “wrong with us.” And, yes, sure, maybe I could have done things differently in most situations. Hindsight is 20/20. But sometimes, someone wrongs you in a way that is so deep and undeserved that you have every fucking right to be angry. Sometimes that anger is justified and I don’t want to immediately push it away. Sometimes, in order to heal, we need to feel that anger.

That doesn’t mean I let it fester and simmer and let the resentment build until I snap (and, the program would argue, drink). But it does mean that I give myself permission to really feel the anger because my anger reminds me that I deserve better. I am angry because I know I shouldn’t be treated this way. I am angry because I know this isn’t fair.

I am angry because I love myself.

Feeling my anger allows me to harness it. Harnessing it allows me to set boundaries, to demand more for myself and of others. Harnessing it allows me to avoid wallowing and being swallowed by grief. Harnessing it allows me to walk with my chin up even with I’m being beaten down. Harnessing it allows me to fight back.

My anger is also protective. It comes as a warning sign, a signal that something is wrong. It allows me to build walls where I need them, it keeps me grounded and present.

Not trying to stuff down or pray away my anger is new territory for me. It means that I don’t quite know what to do with it when I let myself feel it. I’ve tried screaming but that hurt my throat. I kicked my bathtub the other day but my EDS doesn’t like that very much and I hurt my ankle. Usually, I can write through almost anything but I don’t really have the words for it right now.

But I’m determined to learn how to let anger guide me and protect me and help me stand up for myself. I’m in the process of finding a therapist to help me with this. I am done apologizing for my anger, especially when I’ve been treated poorly. I am done making excuses for other people in order push away my rage. I refuse to believe that I’ve truly lost the privilege to be angry about things I have a right to be upset by.

Letting myself get angry is one way of showing up for myself and demanding better. I deserve it.