The Half Life of Frustration and Anger
Day 653 since my last sip of alcohol. A noticeable change in these past nearly 22 months has been a gradual softening of the sharper edges of my personality.
I didn’t always have a temper. I didn’t even know I was capable of really losing my cool until that certain evening in 1997 when I was so upset with one of my new co-founders that I kicked the metal door in the back of our first restaurant as hard as I could. It shocked him and ended that particular disagreement. But it also shocked me, especially because I think it nearly broke my big toe. It was the beginning of a new phase of my adulthood.
It all came to a head a decade later in August 2008 when I slammed a door, yet another heavy one made of metal, so hard that it seemed it would surely come off its hinges. Our President and head of real estate, both ten years my senior, were still in the room I left so abruptly and I’m sure they wondered why they worked for me. The next day something changed. My body shut down with crippling pain running through every muscle in my body. I went to the doctor. There was nothing wrong with me. It was stress and anxiety the understanding physician concluded, and that day began my very rocky journey towards peace and serenity.
Fast forward to the present day, I was at a meeting earlier this evening. “I just didn’t know it was the alcohol”, someone shared to the group gathered around the outdoor patio. And that was true for me too. Multiple meditation and yoga retreats over the 10+ years after the second metal door incident gave me new awareness and brief glimpses of the calm I began to desperately covet, but those peaceful feelings didn’t last. I never drank every day, but when I drank more than 3 in one sitting, it wasn’t infrequent that I could get to 6 or 8 or 10. And I did that at least once a month, and sometimes quite a bit more. “That’s nothing compared to my college years,” I told myself and others usually to nods of agreement.
Also earlier today, I learned that someone I’ve known and worked with for many, many years – someone who I think the world of – may be stealing from the company. Accusations of theft used to throw me into a fit of rage. Lots of quick action, cursing, brutal discussions with other members of senior management. I’d always bring that home with me, too.
653 days since my last beer and my reaction was anything but anger. I listened and I most definitely felt a sadness come over me. But it was anything but rage. I didn’t meet the accusation of toxic behavior with toxic behavior myself. I felt soft, almost understanding. I know people steal. I know people are dishonest. I hope and even pray that it won’t be people who I trust. But of late, even when it is, I’m able to witness my feelings from afar, observe my own role in the situation as it unfolds, and thereby temper the reaction almost immediately.
The half life of my moments of anger and frustration is dropping rapidly. Plummeting, in fact. And while some might say I have every right to be mad, literally screaming at someone for an immediate investigation, moving everyone’s attention to determining who is guilty or who is lying/making false accusations, I feel very little other than that soft sadness that a special culture and good people I care so much about – really, really good people – can still create situations that break trust, the very thing that gives us hope.
I don’t know where it ends. I know the standard corporate protocols in these situations, and I’ll likely agree to let them to go forward. But I also know the corporate reactions don’t usually serve the company, the people involved, the people not involved, and most definitely don’t help the company’s performance. Trust is the glue that holds everything together until its broken, at which time the rigid policies and procedures take over. I almost always step aside at that point and let others do what needs to be done. Some seem to actually thrive in those scenarios… following procedures and placing blame is so much more straightforward than finding creative ways to reestablish trust, even with those who have breached it.
But the point of all of this is that I’m grateful that I don’t feel real anger over any of it. That’s a gift – one that took years and 100% abstinence from alcohol to achieve – and I don’t take it for granted for even a minute.