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  • Perspective: Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde and Me

    by Phil R.

    Most people who know me would be shocked to hear a description of me as raging, angry drunk. I haven’t had a drink in a long time now and my violent temper does not often surface in sobriety, so that part of me has stayed hidden from people who don’t know me as I used to be.

    I started drinking alcoholically as a teenage binge drinker and escalated to more regular use of a range of mood-altering substances during the two decades of my career of debauchery: wandering through failed ventures, short-lived relationships, heartbreak, poverty, jail, depression – ever further from my dreams as I went. I didn’t connect the dots of the thread of my deep-seated anger until I was years into my recovery – 25 years after the start of my “self-medicating.”

    I was definitely a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde type of person. My tendency toward anger was to suppress it. This bottled-up anger usually emerged as rage. Therefore my expression of anger was either not at all, or as rage.

    I would withdraw into brooding negativity as a passive-aggressive “outlet” for my anger, mostly internalizing it, holding resentments for every perceived slight, fantasizing my revenge, and venting some of the poison as sarcastic comments and rude gestures.

    I have a vivid memory of a road rage episode in which I got out of my van to yell at another driver when stopped at a red light. I knocked on the driver’s side window and was calling him out. I was in a blind rage and had no idea what I was doing. I have never been a fist-fighter so much as a mouthpiece, yet I had the notion to pull this stranger out of his car to beat him. He locked me out after slamming his door on my fingers and I raged and yelled some more, but then traffic started again so I got back in my van and somehow I made it home. It is amazing to me to think of how many reckless chances I took and how many times I survived.

    After a bout of hard drug addiction and my first fledgling attempts at recovery, I began drinking again and my drinking quickly became quite regular and excessive. I had a job at the time – out of character for me in those days – with a work crew of like drinkers. We would drink during the day at work and then blearily drive our separate ways home. I would often rage in the rush hour traffic, half-cut and miserable.

    I didn’t know then why I was so angry. I was thinking I had gotten a raw deal. I thought I was entitled to more, to a better outcome of life. I was angry with myself and God – though I denied the existence of God – for wasted opportunities and a misspent youth.

    The first major turning point for me after hitting bottom and beginning my recovery was when, with the help of my sponsor, I realized my part in each of the many resentments I had listed in my moral inventory of Step Four. I saw that I had played a part in every instance in which I had been angry at someone else for having wronged me.

    I saw then that some of the people who I had a hate on for were just “sick” people, just like I was a “sick” person. That made it easier for me to forgive them and see how I had often done something to precipitate what they had done, even if it was simply not protecting myself and staying out of the way. I was then able to get practical about setting boundaries for myself and preventing being hurt or hurting others again.

    It was an uplifting and enlightening moment when I saw the opportunity in taking responsibility for my part in these resentments. It meant empowerment: I have no power over other people or forces in my life, but I can change how I react by changing my attitude and perspective. I can prevent certain conflicts in the same way. This was refreshing to realize after having to accept my powerlessness over pretty much everything else.

    I don’t see myself as a victim of circumstances anymore. When I notice that I am playing the victim or getting entitled again and experiencing adverse effects, I surrender and get back to where I can laugh at myself again in my humanity. I do have a part in the responsibility of what happens in my life, but the outcomes and unfolding of it all is not mine to control or take credit for.

    I have not picked up a drink or a drug for a long time now, but the moods and dark thinking can creep back in if I am not vigilant in my routines of self-care. A drink is not even required. All that is required for me to revert to an ill-tempered and vindictive nature is a self-centered attitude and a vested attachment to certain outcomes and agendas.

    For me, as an alcoholic, anger is like a drug or a state of drunkenness: it impairs my perception and inhibitions and can make me unreliable, unpredictable, reckless and prone to lashing out. When I get angry it is because I am not getting my way. I am threatened with not having my expectations met; either I’m not getting what I want or I think I’m losing something that I think I have.

    I need to regularly remind myself of my place as an alcoholic, as a human: neither greater nor lesser than others. I stay close to the program of the 12 steps; keep a routine; pray and meditate daily; I go to meetings and I work the steps; I am an active member of a group. As I accumulate experiences of grace in sobriety, I further trust the process of doing the work and letting go and letting God. I am moving toward being more forgiving, getting out of the way, and minding my own business – and when it all goes to hell I have a difficult moment instead of a “bad day.”

    I still get angry. Sometimes I even yell and beat my fists on something (in a safe and harmless outlet such as in my car with the windows closed or at my therapist’s office into a pillow). Slowly, I am learning to express my emotions in positive ways and to sublimate their energies into positive actions. I use the tools and techniques I have learned from the 12 steps and the people on this journey with me. And it works. And it gets better.

    The fact remains that I can change into Mr Hyde again if I don’t work my recovery program. My healthy fear of that fact is essential to my continued success. These days, though, I relate to him less as “who I am” and more as “who I was.” I know my Mr. Hyde is probably still in me. I just haven’t seen him in a long time.

    About the Authors

    Renascent Alumni
    Members of Renascent's alumni community carry the message by sharing their experiences and perspectives on addiction and recovery. To contribute your alumni perspective, please email alumni@renascent.ca.