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I was an asshole. I can admit that now. But I had to come very close to losing everything before I was able to face the truth about myself and my behavior. On the verge of losing my wife and children, I had to take a long hard look in the mirror. I didn't like what I saw.
To get a really accurate picture of myself, I had to wait until I was sober. If I looked at myself when I had been drinking or smoking, I got a distorted image. In a state of mild or even advanced inebriation, I tended to give myself a very generous (and highly unrealistic) review. So step one for me was to be sober when doing my self-evaluation.
What I saw was a spoiled, temperamental, immature, self-serving, grown-up brat who blustered around, snapped at people, forced my family to walk around on eggshells to keep from setting me off, and overreacted to trivial things. On the positive side, as a defense attorney I had gained a nonjudgmental attitude toward the mistakes people make in life and I was (and still am) very passionate and kindhearted. But not to the people who mean the most to me. To my loved ones, I was hard to please, critical, and moody. Why was this? I asked myself. The answer, I believe, is because it's much easier to be nonjudgmental toward people who have no direct impact on my life. What did I care what my clients did? They didn't do it in my house, so it didn't affect me. I was shocked when I realized I gave virtual strangers the benefit of the doubt, but wouldn't grant those dearest to me the same kindness. Shame settled on me like a heavy coat.
During my continuing recovery, I decided to assess possible reasons for my bad attitude. I am an only child and rarely had to share my toys or parental attention with other children when growing up. I also realized that during my whole life, I held others responsible for my own failings. Nothing was ever my fault. Could I blame my upbringing? After further soul-searching, I concluded that I could not. In fact, it was another of my negative characteristics that I always placed blame for my actions on someone or something else. I had to concede that I had good parents. I had to concede that I had a good childhood and a safe, comfortable childhood home. Therefore, I could not blame my upbringing for my personality. Besides that, I hadn't been under the authority of my parents for decades. It was a hard pill to swallow that my behavior and my choices were, in fact, my own. I knew I needed to start taking accountability for my own actions. If I had a bad day, that was no excuse to go home and rail at my wife or snap at my children. The cloak of shame grew heavier.
But didn't I always apologize when I got out of line? Yes, sure I did. But they were fake apologies. For instance: "I'm sorry if you were upset by something I did" or "I apologize if you overreacted to something I said". It was more difficult than you can imagine for someone like me to shift to genuine remorse, to say the words that needed to be said: "I'm so sorry I hurt you. I was wrong and I hope you'll forgive me". Those words left me vulnerable. Those words required me to admit fault, to take responsibility. To be honest, I still struggle with a direct apology. But I'm doing better. And I'm having to apologize less now; I've taken my recovery seriously.
At first, I wanted to blame alcohol for my bad behavior. But, it didn't take long for me to realize that wouldn't hold water. No one put the drinks in my hand. No one forced me to imbibe. And alcohol never created characteristics in me. It may have released some or uninhibited some, but it did not produce them. Nope, alcohol was no excuse.
When I carefully examined the triggers that used to set me off, I realized they were mostly minor incidents. It was my selfishness that blew them out of proportion. I didn't like being inconvenienced in any way and responded with ire disproportionate to situations. I was alienating my loved ones over ridiculously trivial matters, problems that are just a natural part of living. Tiny problems, when looked at with a larger view. Instead of flying off the handle over every little piece of bad news, I should have rallied around my family, assured them everything would be okay, and told them we'd work it out together. A flat tire? So what. A dented fender? Big deal, it's just a car. Are you okay? A bad grade? We've all had them. I'll help you with your homework. Those are the responses I wish I'd had, and the responses I am trying for now.
The old me. I shudder to recall: I flirted with women, but it was my wife's fault for not paying enough attention to me. I made my secretary cry, but it was her fault for being too sensitive. I hurt my son's feelings, but it was his fault for provoking me. I was rude to my client, but it was his fault for showing up without his paperwork. I fumed all evening in a black mood, but it was traffic's fault for slowing me down on my ride home from work. I embarrassed my daughter in front of her friends, but it was her fault for bringing them over without asking first. Etc., etc., etc. I was squandering my good life and beloved family.
Finally, it all came to a head, as it certainly had to. I remember it well. Suitcases by the front door, red-rimmed eyes in my wife's strained face, my children apprehensively hugging their favorite toys and shooting confused looks from me to their mother. It was then I imagined them all killed in an accident on the highway as they took their leave of me. Nothing would matter then, certainly not all the trivial things I'd been focused on. The icy hand of dread squeezed my heart and I fell to my knees. For perhaps the first time in my life, I issued a heartfelt and genuine apology. And lucky for me, my wife heard the sincerity.
At that moment, my recovery began. Are things perfect? No. But they are so much better. However, I have to be vigilant with myself. It's not easy to recover from being an asshole because so much of it centers around automatic responses, habitual behavior, and thoughtless actions. It helps to force myself to take a breath or two before I react or respond to any situation. Sometimes I slip up, but I quickly realize my mistake and take steps to rectify it immediately. When I'm tempted to stew or fume, I remind myself of that awful moment when the suitcases were sitting by the door and I imagined my family gone. That usually does the trick and I straighten right up.
I was finally able to remove that cloak of shame that had weighed me down. But it's still hanging in my mental closet. I don't want to ever have to put it back on.
~Nameless Recovering Jerk
P.S. I appreciate Karen & PJ allowing me to post anonymously on their blog. It is part of my self-directed recovery to share my experience with others. I also hope someone else might learn from my mistakes. I am currently researching and writing a book on anger management, the effects of moodiness on the family unit, and the process of self-healing.
In : Guest Posts
Tags: anger rage anger management moods family
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