In much the same way a coffee table contains no actual coffee, a brain fart lacks any form of measurable gas. This doesn’t mean the coffee table should be scrapped or deemed false advertising because there’s no trace of coffee. It just means that maybe you shouldn’t question the name and just sit down at it, prop your feet up on it, and have some damn coffee. Likewise, just because you can’t find gas in a brain fart doesn’t mean you should give up on whatever it is the brain fart was attempting to fuel.
I fear that analogy will only make sense to me, but confusing people is often a side effect of wacky analogies, and they make me laugh, so whatever.
Like most people, sometimes I know exactly what I need to say but have no idea how to say it. I struggle to put some pretty specific feelings into words. It’s usually in those moments that I know I must now TRY to put those feelings into words – brain fart be damned – because I know it’s the only way I’ll ever be able to address them within myself. But sometimes, in moments like this, I struggle in coming up with a concise way of describing those feelings in such a way that it is immediately understood and maybe even universally relatable to a variety of people.
In other words, am I so screwed up that the reason I can’t put this thing into words is because I’m the only one affected by this?
Case in point, the title of this little full length fortune cookie. I know exactly what I want to say, but that’s a terrible title. Just awful. I just don’t know what else to call it. There is no actual tipping point of self anger. There are, in fact, LOTS of tipping points, and many of them are illusions and mirages and some more closely aligned with self ignorance or chronic stubbornness. About the only thing I know for certain about these “tipping points” is that I believe them to be fairly common. And if that is true, then I am most certainly NOT the only one affected by this problem of which I speak.
The other part of the title – the “self anger” part – simply means “getting pissed at yourself.” In this case, however, the anger I’m addressing here is bigger than getting pissed off because you forgot your lunch at home, and it’s different than depression. I’m talking about the type of anger that festers for weeks, months, or even years. The type of anger that begins to define you. Or, in some cases, the type of anger that has already become the theme of your autobiography.
There is only so much dialogue (especially angry dialogue) that can take place within the confines of a single person’s mind before that person shows signs of true mental fatigue. Or, put more plainly, they start going a little cray cray. This is most definitely true of addicts, but I think it is much more common than that. Self anger is mainstreamed and far more inclusive than just us addicts.
I also believe two more simple truths. First, I believe the anger a person feels towards themselves is almost always completely, morally justified. And second, I believe the person already knows how to fix the problem as soon as the internal dialogue starts. That second part is the most important. Here it is said slightly differently: A person with chronic self anger or hatred already knows the steps – whether mental or strategic – to escape their anger. They already know!!!!
The anger and the cray cray comes when the person simply ignores their own wonderful advice for – again – weeks, months, or even years. And that is just ridiculously ironic. To know the answer that will remove a person from this anger – to be able to describe the steps necessary to fulfill the removal – and yet it is blatantly ignored for years. It’s either irony or stupidity. But trust me when I tell you that is is VERY real.
Before I get into how this affects addicts, let’s look at a couple of examples from everyday life.
At some point in your life, you have ended a relationship with somebody and within hours or days regretted it. Maybe you called them up and told them you missed them, maybe not. That’s really not required for the example. Whatever happens, whether they find somebody else or just decide they like being single or maybe you actually did them a favor, you realize that you will never get them back, and your decision suddenly haunts you. For weeks, months, or even years, you live with a dull, festering sadness that mutates into anger and stays there because you allow this “self anger” to silently and slowly destroy you.
And you already know how to fix it. From day one. You’ve known all along. You simply come to terms with the fact that you made a mistake, you pray to God or Zeus or The Rain King and ask Him to remove your burden, you convince yourself that something better is out there, and then you move on, go bang your old college boyfriend, experiment with turning gay, whatever. But do you do exactly what you know will fix it? No, you do not. It’s almost like you live to be angry at yourself because “you deserve it.” Blah.
Other examples: you hurt or betrayed somebody, you said no to something to which you should have said yes, you made a poor decision that changed the trajectory of your life. There’s a million reasons why you might be drowning in “self anger,” but there really aren’t any specific ways to swim out of it because every solution to every scenario perfectly fits ONLY the situation that affects you at that time. But because every occurrence of self anger has its own specific resolution, there isn’t a damn soul on Earth that can help you fix it.
And why is that? Because every single time you get angry at yourself, you already know how to fix it from the first minute. That’s refreshing, isn’t it?
Well, the short answer is “no” and the long answer is “HELL no.” It is not the least bit refreshing. It is maddening. It is like hearing Dr. Phil drone on inside your own head all day while he assists in the cray cray. I mean, has there ever been a more annoying voice than Dr. Phil? No. The answer is no.
Anyway, imagine you’re me for a second. You start drinking heavily around nineteen or twenty, not long after you take up dipping Skoal Cherry. The Skoal soon makes way for your eighteen year love affair with Kodiak, but during that same time, name brands mean little with the beer. As long as there are at least a dozen in the fridge, it could be called Leprechaun Piss Ale for all you care.
Regardless, the drinking gets heavier, and by your mid-twenties, you already know you are a problem drinker. Would you admit it to Jesus if he had a knife to your throat and was offering a truck bed full of cash for your honesty? No, you would not, but YOU already know the truth. And that is NOT who you want to be, nor do you want your life to turn out to be an alcoholic haze when you look back on it.
So, at maybe twenty-five years old, you already know you are an addict and you already know how to fix it. That one’s pretty obvious, no? You just stop freaking drinking and get you a nicotine patch for the Kodiak. Or f**k the patch, just f**king quit, you pansy!!!! But no, you take this very astute, very simple yet intellectual advice, and you ignore it for FOURTEEN damn years.
This is a good example of where the self anger and the cray cray come in. By the end of that fourteen years, you’ve reached the point of self anger where suicide is preferable not only to alcoholism, it is preferable to what happens AFTER alcoholism. It is simply preferable. That’s a pretty severe level of self anger. And as I look back at that time two or three or seven years ago, that mindset is most definitely cray cray.
So we’ve established the self anger of addiction and a few examples of other occurrences of self anger within “normal” lives. But what about the “tipping points?” Well, the RESULT of the tipping points are those moments where time stops and you’re blessed with a nearly angelic feeling that you are seeing yourself from outside your own body. Everything is Windex clear and the answers to every bullet point are so profound that they are stuck in thought bubbles around your head. With everything so clear and all the problems answered so impeccably, it’s set up perfectly to allow these tipping points to result in real, positive change.
But that seldom happens. And again, that’s the RESULT of the tipping points. So what the hell are the ACTUAL tipping points? Well that’s easy. When you become so angry at yourself that you hate your very existence, or you consider physical harm to yourself or others, or you have a job or health scare as a result of your chronic anger, or if you begin to lose hope that your future includes a joyful or content version of yourself, or if you have a serious fear that your mental health is teetering on a point of no return, you have reached a tipping point.
What’s disheartening about all of this is that I could not have written this article two years ago. I do not believe that a person embroiled in their own personal battle with self anger or hatred – be it addiction or poor choices or body image or whatever – can recognize the tipping point where it will all change. Retrospectively, sure, they can tell you when it happened, but NOT when they’re in the middle of it.
However, what’s wonderful about this is that I can look back and know that my personal pep talks and my advice to myself on how to fix my anger were dead on perfect. For more than a decade, every piece of advice I told myself was perfect, and I KNEW every piece of advice I gave myself was perfect WHILE I was embroiled in the self anger, and that is a very positive outcome of this. That means that if it ever happens again – and once an addict, always an addict, so my struggles are not over – I will know my advice to myself is correct, that my ideas on how to fix ME are good ideas, and that hope exists on the other side.
There is an unfortunate subplot to this, and that is the view from the spectator seats. If you know your friend or loved one is suffering severe self anger or hatred – no matter the reason (but heavily magnified if it’s addiction) – you need to tread lightly. It will sound like the most insane reaction imaginable, but if you offer advice, even if it is the SAME advice they have been telling themselves for weeks, months, or years, there is a really good chance they will do the complete opposite. Why? Because in their warped sense of reality, they believe their revival must be from their own inner strength, not the advice of someone else. It’s one reason why pride has gotten a rotten reputation, especially among addicts.
I read a few articles leading up to writing this to help me determine the most succinct way to corral my thoughts (but alas, they were deemed un-corral-able,) and one article in particular was laughable to me. I chose not to quote it or cite it because any article meant to help people should face very little criticism in my opinion because it might help somebody other than me, but I’m going to paraphrase it in order to give people an idea of how this concept of mine differs from the field of psychology viewpoint. I might agree with a lot of what I have read about mental illness, depression, and addictive behaviors, but I did NOT agree with a good portion of the article I read. But that is not to say that others could not benefit from this advice.
It just wasn’t for me. And that’s okay.
The article stated that those people entrenched in self punishment or anger might not benefit from telling themselves to be nicer to themselves because it would lead to a deeper anger based on the fact that their growing anger now stems from not only from the original anger-inducing catalyst but now an added INABILITY to be nicer to themselves.
I don’t necessarily disagree with the sentiment, but I wholly disagree with the reality of that position. Take Denton the Alcoholic for instance. My self anger and hatred came from a refusal to quit, an inability to picture or accept life after addiction, and a paralyzing fear of the effort it would take to find the man I wanted to be inside a shell of a man that had just wasted twenty years of his life.
The article I read – and I read it three times to make sure I was interpreting the full message – made me feel as though somebody who had never experienced a severe level of self anger was giving advice based on a desire to have you call and schedule an appointment to begin weekly psychiatric and/or counseling sessions to address the ways you could begin to heal your anger. Better to hear good advice from a trusted professional, it claimed, than to believe yourself and risk furthering your anger because you refuse to listen to yourself. I did not get the impression that the person writing the article had ever experienced a severe level of self anger or hatred.
The practicality of the advice from the article is understandable. If you hate yourself and you’re attempting to be nicer to yourself, there is a chance you will get even angrier at yourself if your attempt fails and you hate yourself for not being able to be nicer to yourself. The problem with the article is that it recommended seeking professional assistance VERY early in the article and never described how the attempt at being nice to yourself actually leads to a worsening level of anger. They just said it was going to happen and that was that.
But I contend that if a person embroiled in a personal battle to overcome self anger can find it within themselves the strength to acknowledge HOW to get themselves out of this crippling existence, and then somehow acknowledge their own advice to be correct, I do not see the negative in that nor do I think they should ignore it in favor of a “professional.”
When I was in the last few years of active addiction and I got to one of those really low tipping points where I knew I had to quit to save my health, my life, my job, and my family, I already knew how to do it because I helped form those ideas during the earlier years of my two decades of addiction.
I knew what to do all along. The same advice that helped me quit for a few days or a month on a few different occasions finally stuck around and helped me quit for good. I actually love that I knew what to do all along. I gain strength from that to this day.
Right now I’m imprisoned by two distinct causes of self anger. For BOTH, I already know the answers that will free me from the anger. For both, I am terrified to listen to my own advice. It’s maddening, and yet maddeningly simple.
First, I eat like shit. I am easily thirty pounds overweight, I’m exhausted all the time, I’m out of shape, I would probably smash somebody’s camera to bits if they tried to take a picture of me (although that sounds pretty labor intensive,) and I am so easily winded I probably wouldn’t be able to fight off a petite male rapist. But do I need counseling to help me with that? Hell no.
I already know what will happen if I eat better. I completed the Whole30 diet this past summer. I dropped twenty pounds, proved that the symptoms of my heart condition essentially disappeared when eating completely all natural foods, and was even able to run a 5K in under 38 minutes (and that’s with asthma and a heart condition that essentially forbids running.) I looked and felt f**king SVELTE!!
So no thanks. I don’t need your advice. I need to f**king man up and take my own.
There is also a great deal of self anger at having wasted twenty years of my life. That one is pretty tough to handle. But I don’t need advice on what to do about it. I know the biggest piece. I know I have to just suck it up and say, “Well, dumb ass, you reap what you sow. Now go LIVE.”
But that’s not good enough for me now. Yeah, it’s a necessary start, but that’s where the advice running around in my head begins to resemble overly ambitious bucket lists of hundreds of men whose favorite saying throughout their entire lives has been, “Yeah, that would be cool, but….”
As I was writing this, I wondered if all the self anger would disappear if I followed Tim McGraw’s advice and actually became a dude that lived like I was dying. I mean, has anybody ACTUALLY done that? If so, could any amount of self anger or hatred exist in a man who was actually living as if today was their last day? Why in the hell would it? If today were my last day, I would consciously choose to disallow anger in my day.
I’ll stop there. I think that last paragraph is best piece of advice I’ve ever given myself. If only I would listen.