Fire warms. Fire brings life. But Fire can also be destructive and deadly. I was so afraid of the dangerous power of Fire that I never learned how to use its good and necessary qualities when I was younger. Like many who grew up around violent or hostile situations, I grew to believe that someone getting angry equalled someone else about to get hurt. So I feared anger, and I tried to stay out of things as much as I could. As an adult, I feared it so much that I was seldom even conscious of anger in myself–it was automatically turned inward, manifesting as depression or anxiety.
Fire is much more than anger, but anger is the aspect of Fire we in recovery struggle with the most. Some are like me, and others went an opposite path, becoming adults who have trouble controlling their angry impulses. It’s really two sides of the same coin–either we’re smothering the flame because we don’t know how to use it well, or we’re flinging it around wildly for the same reason.
In twelve-step recovery, we are encouraged to look at and let go of our resentments. We’re warned that resentment will sabotage our recovery and growth, and we might think this means we have to learn never to get angry. This is not true. Resentment is anger that has been misfiled–not fully felt, not dealt with, not mixed with the other elements. It’s another way of reacting to Fire in a way that harms ourselves. As such, it’s something we can do without.
We can’t do without the ability to feel anger. Anger, in its purest and cleanest form, is a survival trait and a catalyst for needed changes. It’s that voice that tells us this is not right. It’s the tool we use to jar ourselves out of apathy and fear and DO something about what’s making us unhappy. It’s Gandalf at the bridge shouting “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!”
Working our program teaches us to examine our reactions and our motivations. We learn, gradually, to understand what parts of our reactions are genuine and appropriate anger and what parts are coming from fear, wounded pride or a hundred other sources. Our spiritual work helps us acquire the courage to deal with the real anger by taking useful action.
As we begin to channel this aspect of Fire more constructively, we clear space in ourselves for other aspects of it to come forth. The spark of creativity is awakened, sometimes in completely new ways. We become able to feel passionate about our goals and to harness that passion into work. We find our voice with others and speak honestly about our needs. Fire gives us conviction. If we connect with Fire, it burns away all of the bullshit and self-doubt we collect, leaving our purified truth behind.
I’m not going to lie. Fire is still tricky for me to hold, and I have a long way to go before the changes I’m talking about are a consistent part of me. When I’m angry–and actually aware of it–I feel a whole new set of sensations in my body and a new set of reactions in my mind, and it’s hard for me to know what to do with them. Even when I feel that I’ve processed it and acted appropriately, it’s hard for me to get back to feeling calm and grounded afterwards. The energy of Fire is still zinging through me and I’m not experienced at channeling it, so I feel out of control even if I’m not acting that way.
Eventually, it all comes back to balance. I’m not meant to dwell in Fire all of the time, and when I feel zingy or shaky it might be time to bring in some of the other elements. The important thing is that I don’t do this out of fear or out of a desire to escape the searing truth.