RECOVERY: Part II (feat. Anger)

KAITLYN STEPHENS + JOSHUA STEPHENS + SUITCASES AND FACES + GOSPEL CENTERED RECOVERY

When I first found out about Joshua's chemical dependency struggle, I went into full-on survival mode. How can I take care of him? What does he need? What do I need to do to make sure he's okay? How do I stay strong?
Stay strong.
Don't be weak.
Get through this.
Just keep going.
Hold your breath...
Hold your tongue...
and your anger... 

I didn't hold back my anger or my tongue. My parents would probably say, most likely - definitely - absolutely say; 'She never figured out how to do that'! (That's a story for another day...

I searched and searched for resources; books, blogs, pastors, conferences, anything to help me navigate the enemy that is Addiction. Specifically, how to navigate walking through addiction with your spouse and what to do with all the emotions I had boiling up inside of me. So, after failing to find the resources I wanted I turned where any sane (or insane, depending on your perspective!) person would: counseling. 

To this day, I've spent countless hours and literally thousands of dollars on counseling. And, as much as I wish I could tell you I remember every bit of our conversations and lessons learned - I cannot. BUT, one of many tidbits learned has stuck with me ever since: 

Anger is a secondary emotion. 

Wait, what?! 

Disclaimer: Mom and Dad, you might read the rest with caution. And if you do, please know I love you! This is no way reflects on you as parents, but rather it reflects on the state of my own humanity. We are all innately flawed and predisposed by the very nature of sin to default in negative manners, one way or another. It just so happened one of my rhythms was bent toward lashing out at you in anger. And by the Grace of our heavenly Father, He continued to pursue my heart and change it's rhythm. Hallelujah! 

Growing up, anger wasn't understood as a secondary emotion. For me, it was understood as THE emotion; and a level 10 yell was a fairly standard decibel at which I found myself communicating (oh boy did I get in so much trouble for my tongue!!). And, before we get any deeper into the subject of anger let's be very clear. I have in absolutely NO WAY overcome my anger. Joshua's yet to find me to be the docile, soft-spoken, mild-mannered wife we've all seen portrayed in 1950s television. Naw. I yelled at him just last night for something completely out of his control! Yea, like I said, I have not mastered keeping my anger at bay...

All that to say, anger comes second nature to me. We could argue whether we're born with a bent toward different emotions, conditioned for them or otherwise influenced. The point here is no matter how, when or why it is what it is. I like being angry. Can't say why. I know it's not healthy, or godly, or becoming. It's pretty masochistic if you think about it. This burning emotion that fills someone with rage and ugliness; how could that be comforting? I wish I could pinpoint exactly how I came to be so 'okay' with being angry. 

Here's another tidbit I learned in counseling. And, all you theologians out there can have a field day with this but I'm sure there's some solid biblical backing here. The enemy, Satan, and his army of underlings will find any sliver of opportunity to bum rush our lives and set up camp. What the enemy cannot destroy, he will distract. 

Let's take my anger flare up from last night. Joshua was working on his application to seminary and I was watching TV (don't act like you don't Netflix and Chill too! #marriededition). When it got to the portion of the application I needed to complete, I was more than happy to answer the question: please describe evidence of your spouse's call to ministry. However, what followed was an outburst from me. "What if I don't say it the right way?!" I'd yell at him. "Or, what if you don't get in because I'm a sh*tty writer and can't communicate properly? I mean, how do they expect me to qualify in words what only God can!? This is total bullsh*t!" (Yes, we can address my propencity toward foul language at another point in time). 

Even in Joshua's calm and kind response of, "Babe, nothing you say or do will change the outcome. Only God can do that. Just write what you want." Well, I was having none of that. I'll spare you the rest of my anger-filled temper tantrum and bring this analogy back home for you... The enemy was working overtime on me last night. He wanted to use my bent toward anger to create division and discord, yes. But moreover, last night revealed to me where I'm still struggling to surrender to God. 

So, if anger is a secondary emotion, then what was at the root of my outburst? Fear of man. AKA acceptance. I was allowing anger to take the lead in this narrative because my own pride didn't want to acknowledge how desperately I still desire the approval of others. That desire for approval is still deeply rooted in my own sin-nature. 

If anger is rooted in sin-nature, then let's quickly take a look at how we should frame our views on anger: 

Anger is an emotional response to a perceived wrong that demands justice. Not all anger is sinful; it can be the appropriate response to injustice. Unrighteous anger is rooted in man’s attempts to meet his own idolatrous desires. Righteous anger is aligned with the Holy Spirit and flows from the heart of God in love for that which He cares about, spurring us on to gospel-centered action to eradicate evil and injustice. Unresolved anger may lead to resentment. 
— STEPS Gospel-Centered Recovery Workbook Pg. 110

In Romans 12:19 Paul writes, "Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave the way open for God’s wrath [and His judicial righteousness]; for it is written [in Scripture], “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord."  This passage tells us God does not exact revenge and he does not meet evil with evil. If that is true, then what about me/you/we need to change? 

Insert gut-punch moment...  

If anger is a secondary emotion, and, if God doesn't default to anger then what must be true? There must, therefore, be a root of my anger somewhere. This was a game-changing moment for me.  (And by moment, I do mean a period of a few months.) It was as if the heavens opened up and for the first time I could clearly see I wasn't born to be an angry person! 

Sure, I was hurt by the actions of my husband and the actions of others during that period in our life. But I didn't like being angry. I still don't. Anger doesn't feel good. It doesn't feed the soul or nourish my proverbial soils. Though, I'd be lying if I said anger wasn't in some way a comforting emotion. It has, after all, been a default emotion for so many years. 

The big trigger - the huge AH-HA in the sky - anger was a cover-up. It was a wall. My big ol' Berlin Wall I built to keep others out, to keep myself from being hurt. Anger was what I was using as a guardrail for my heart. 

Insert gut-punch moment numero dos... 

This hope [this confident assurance] we have as an anchor of the soul [it cannot slip and it cannot break down under whatever pressure bears upon it]—a safe and steadfast hope that enters within the veil [of the heavenly temple, that most Holy Place in which the very presence of God dwells],
— Hebrews 6:19 AMP

Hope. To trust in, wait for, look for, desire something/someone, expect something beneficial in the future. 

If I ever wanted to be freed from my anger, to begin to peel it back and see what was driving the anger, I'd have to first understand Jesus on a whole new level. IF what Paul wrote to the Hebrews in chapter 6 is true, then what does that mean for me (for you?)? So, I began to pray: Hope, enter my heart. Hope, overwhelm my being. I welcome you and denounce the spirit of anger. Hope, I look for you in every corner. I've seen you yet can't grasp why you've continued to show up for me. Today, I declare total Victory in the name of Jesus Christ. Victory over my anger. Remove this stain from me, Lord. Stronghold of Anger, you MUST surrender! He has and always will overcome! 

This was the first time I acknowledged before Jesus that I too was an addict, dependent on the comfort of my emotions over the comfort of His Grace.