Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Righteous Indignation.

I just read MrSponsorPants post for today, then sat for a moment,  lost in recollection of my own past coping mechanisms.
I was an exceptionally angry woman, when I began attending Al-Anon meetings. I'd had a rough time of it as a kid; I'd been abused in every way possible.  I grew into an adult brimming with resentment, and seething with rage. I was furious from the time I awoke until I drifted off to sleep at night, and only the subject of my fury changed; my rage was constant, and it was set on "high."

I was lonely, having been taught from a toddler that people couldn't be trusted. I desired intimacy, and feared it. I couldn't handle letting anyone get too close to me, terrified that they would discern the deeply flawed individual I perceived myself to be, and reject me. I was a strange mixture of no boundaries in some areas, and unassailable battlements in others.

I'll never forget a conversation with my first sponsor. We were in her kitchen, preparing a meal, and talking. (From this vantage point, I'm sure it was more that I was talking, and she was attempting to get a word in edgewise, no easy task when I was at full throttle) I was ranting on about how another person had let me down, and my feelings about this, and when I paused to draw breath, she interjected quickly, "Yes, well, righteous indignation is delicious, but it's not very useful as a way of dealing with the issue..."

I stopped short. I was offended that she would label my feelings as righteous indignation. I was offended that she would suggest that I had anything to do with it, the other person was wrong, couldn't she see that? (Years later, we had a laughing fit over the look on my face, and how she had, with that one gentle comment, completely ruined my enjoyment of righteous indignation for all time. It was just ... never the same afterwards.)

I have a choice. I can choose to work to make my time on earth worthwhile through my own efforts, or I can expect/demand that other people fufill my wants and needs, and pronounce them lacking when they fall short. (I seem to be harping on a theme this week.)

My first sponsor taught me that perspective is everything. Where is my focus? Outside myself, narrowed in to the details of the other person's alleged crimes and misdemeanors? What can I hope to achieve by that? I can't change other people; all I ever managed to do was to make two of us miserable, instead of just me.

I recently ran into someone I hadn't seen in a couple of years.  He was furious that his son had asked him not to come over for a while, didn't he have the right to see his grandchildren? Gentle exploration of what had taken place before that request, elicited the information that this guy had become angry about something his son had said to him, and had hurled an object across the room. Narrowly missing one grandchild.

He had no concept of how his own behavior had precipitated the request to stay away - he was too busy feeling righteously indignant about being denied access to his beloved grandchildren.

I asked him, "Does your son have the right to his feelings?"
He replied, "Of course he does!" (frowning at me, for the ridiculousness of the question.)
I asked, "How did you feel when your father became angry and threw things around?"
He looked at me, not wanting to reply - he can't lie in response to that sort of direct question.
Finally, grudgingly, "I hated it. I was afraid of him."
I asked, "Is it possible that your son is feeling that same way about you and your anger?"
Long pause. Really long pause. Then, "Absolutely."
He seemed deflated. I suggested he call his son, make an amend, and take it from there.

After saying goodbye to this gentleman, I couldn't help but relate to the way he had conveniently erased his own unacceptable behavior from his short-term memory, and was only concentrating upon the way he felt his son had wronged him - asking him to stay away. Before Al-Anon, this is just how I operated. It was what kept me from achieving what I wanted most: intimacy with others - close loving friendships, and a healthy marriage.

"We are quick enough at perceiving and weighing what we suffer from others, but we mind not what others suffer from us."

         Thomas A'Kempis


  1. "Mixture of no boundaries and unassailable battlements." Love that. Great post, thanks. I also read Mr. Sponsorpants this morning. I thought it was great. Thanks for your blog.

  2. Righteous indignation ... yes, I've sucked on that one a few times. And I think you nail it when you describe it as conveniently erasing my own part in it, and concentrating on the other. Thanks for this.

  3. I have had to face the three fingers pointing back at me many times. I found humility this way. I realized the things that outraged me were the very things that I had done to others. Yes, your post hit home.


  4. Lovely and thought provoking -- and inspirational, as each of us in ways unimagined pass recovery on to others in our lives.
    -- Mr. SponsorPants

  5. Great post. And an awesome way to think about how I have barricaded myself from things that I didn't want to face. I'm grateful that Al-Anon has shown me to not fear the feelings but to work through them. You are so right in writing that I only make myself and others miserable when I try to change them instead of look at myself and what needs changing in me.