“Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If we are still clinging to something in our hearts—anger, anxiety, or possessions—we cannot be free.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh
My anger has taken over me more than I care to admit. I’ve broken windows, smashed chairs, had movie-worthy brawls on the beach, and said gut-wrenching things that brought people I care about to tears.
I grew up in a time when mental health wasn’t taken seriously and wasn’t even on my radar. I took my wild nature to be screwed up and hopeless. And unfortunately, the thought of seeking support only created more anger. I felt like I was weak, pathetic, and a wreck for not being able to get my life together.
So, not understanding why my emotions were such a rollercoaster (undiagnosed depression and bipolar II), I didn’t know where else to turn but my dear friend. Sailor Jerry, purveyor of fine spiced rum. Alcohol only fueled my emotional outbursts and made the problem worse.
Knowing that the kind of anger that lives inside of me brings out the emotional babble in the show. Because it took years of therapy to overcome the guilt that came from identifying with those actions and feeling that I was that way as a man.
I feel so different from the person I am now.
In therapy, I understood that it is not my fault per se, but it is my responsibility do something about it.
Nothing drove this lesson home more than being a father.
And if my daughter is anything like my wife and I, we have a wild child ready to test our limits.
Living with Canadian winters means it’s inevitable that you’ll lose control of your car at some point. I once did a complete 360 on the freeway on my way to work when I lost control on ice. I didn’t think; I just acted on what I learned in driving school.
If you are driving your car and it starts skidding, you are driving with the flow of your vehicle and movement in the direction of skid, No against this. This is how you regain control, even if it seems counterintuitive.
Anger is the black ice of emotion. You are often thrown into a spiral of anger before you even have a chance to consciously realize that you are losing control. That’s why I’ve found the practice of mindfulness and daily meditation to be life-changing.
Anger never goes away because you never stop experiencing the emotions of life, but through mindfulness practice you create space between the stimulus (my wife and I fighting, exhaustion from a sleepless toddler and the shops we have to run) and the reaction (thinking it’s time to end the marriage).
You can choose to react and act differently because you see the trigger for what it is you.
Think of it as a gigantic pause button that you can slip into Nut mode. You see the stimulus, stay present, and respond with intention. My daughter is not intentionally trying to throw our lives into chaos. My wife and I don’t fight because we don’t love each other anymore. We’re dealing with the whirlwind nature of a toddler, running businesses, and being pushed to our limits.
If you plan to stay married, it is better to communicate your feelings with your partner in a respectful and constructive manner. I get it. Easier said than done, but we must believe that we are not inherently flawed and beyond help.
All of my previous relationships had their fair share of struggles (the trigger) which led to my devastation turning into a belief that it was time to burn it all down (the reaction). Without a pause between stimulus and response, the center became a breeding ground for an unconscious poisonous cocktail of guilt, shame, and the need to escape the unpleasant reality of what I was facing.
Let’s be honest. I wasn’t trying to change. Fixing a relationship without tools is damn near impossible. Through therapy, I gained a deeper understanding of my emotional struggles and the root causes of my anger. I now have a fully stocked tool belt that suits me.
And that’s where the power of mindfulness comes in. You will learn to recognize and trust yourself well enough to tap into the greater energy around you and become calmer in any situation. You see black ice, hold the steering wheel and control the situation by holding on to the stimulus.
When faced with a challenge, do you have the mental flexibility and self-awareness to stay centered and connected to that space between stimulus and response and move forward in a way you can be proud of?
Or do you fight challenges only to give up because negative self-talk and conditioned thinking keeps you repeating the same destructive pattern, leaving you feeling guilty and ashamed?
I’m not saying I’ll never get angry again. But I certainly try my best not to throw rocket fuel into the fire. Addressing the root of the problem—undiagnosed depression and bipolar II disorder—helped me better understand how to cope with the roller coaster of emotions and feelings I previously felt were out of my control.
Life is a lot like being at a high-stress athletic event. Being able to react to another player’s actions without emotional triggers often means the difference between a wise or bad decision and ultimately winning or losing the game.
The only difference is that the game of life really never ends. We only lose when we stop improving and holding ourselves to a higher standard of how we show up in the world. Taking full responsibility for our lives can be scary, but it also creates a sense of personal freedom. This is because it allows us to take steps to become the people we know we are capable of being.
To thrive, you have to make a conscious decision to go with the flow of your emotions and direction towards anger, shame and guilt, No away from them. You have to sit with these feelings, stop to recognize how you were triggered, and consciously choose a response that makes you feel good. In this way, you regain control of your life by freeing yourself from a pattern of behavior that no longer serves you. Remember, practice makes progress.