Anger was the topic of our Tuesday meeting, and I heard good stuff, from people whose thought processes I can understand. I share more commonality with the Vietnam-vet biker who says, “Rage is the wind that blows out the candle in my mind,” than I do with the average 50-something I meet on the street. One of the things I love about AA is the wonderful cross-section of purposeful, thoughtful, flawed, and honest humanity I’ve come to know because of meetings.
I got to share that last year I took on the F’d Be I, the Dept. of There-Is-No-Justice, the U.S. Secret-ary of Health and Inhuman Services, the Attorney Generality, and the health-care-not industry over the moral and civil-rights outrage perpetrated on my defenseless 79-year-old demented mother [is that bitterness I hear?], and nine months of misery later, this caped crusader for Truth, Justice, and Human Rights for Alzheimer’s Victims was a sad piece of a work, drowning in her outrage, and my mother was dead, free at last. I got very ill last winter, and by early spring it was clear that my outrage over injustice was harming only me, and I was going to have to change myself so I could live in an unjust world.
Resentment, says the book Alcoholics Anonymous, is poison to the person who nurtures it. How are we to make peace in a life where people and institutions do wrong and suffer no consequences? How are we to live serenely in a world where sh*t happens to innocent people? The fellowship of AA has devised many brilliant means of doing just that.
Mostly, they all boil down to what Gandhi said: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Start with giving grace, unearned forgiveness, to people who wrong you, as you have received grace from the loving God in your own imperfect life. Practice restraint of tongue and pen. Do not retaliate, argue, fume, or chew on arguments in your head. Instead, go do good work, own your own part in the shit, and be grateful for the ordinary miracles in your daily life. Work with a mentor. Wash your floors. Reach out a friendly hand to someone in need, and in general, learn to stay out of the bad neighborhood that is your own selfish head.
I am ceaselessly surprised that these things work. They work, in that they build a level of inner peace with the ebb and flow of life. Even if you choke on what you know is hypocrisy as you pray for the person who has offended you, doing it on your knees with your teeth gritted every day for two damn weeks, just because your sponsor suggested you try it, by God, it works! The one who changes is you, not the world, not your neighbor, just the one you live with day in and day out ~ that person becomes someone kinder, calmer, thankful, and a little more honest.
An aging ex-gangster at the meeting said his morning prayer is simple: “Hi, God, I’m awake, good luck.” Laughter is like tapping anger in the back of its knees: down it goes, toppling over like the great pretender that it is, mostly smoke and mirrors, self-justification and often fear masquerading as righteousness. Laughter heals a lot of wrongs, including our own. I’m grateful to be part of a community that laughs at itself and goes to sometimes great lengths to help others.
These days, I practice a lot of not saying the judgmental things I think about others. To a trusted few, I say whatever I think and laugh at it. My head, says one friend, is for entertainment purposes only. When the serious stuff that warrants deep thought crops up, I go to someone who has the kind of faith and wisdom I want, and I sound it out.
A line in a humble little book changed me this year. I found it in AA’s “12 Steps and 12 Traditions” under the discussion of the tenth step, in which we make a practice of honest self-examination and prompt admission of wrongs done. In a paragraph advocating a more merciful view of others, the writer says, “it is pointless to become angry or to get hurt by people who, like us, are suffering from the pains of growing up.” The italics are mine.
If I can recognize that my life is a series of adventures in growing up to be the person I want to become someday, if I am in the process of becoming and haven’t yet arrived there, how can I not grant you the grace of your own suffering?
You too are on a journey. I might enjoy thinking, in the private entertainment center of my mind, that you’re damned far behind me thanks to your stupid behavior ~ enjoy thinking that privately for, say, ten minutes max. Okay, twenty, AND I get to tell a trusted friend. Anything more than that is a resentment, otherwise known as beating myself with a hammer and hoping you are the one it hurts: a habit to avoid.