How can I stop fighting?
April 29, 2007 11:42 PM   Subscribe

So, last night I was ejected from yet another bar, and I think I need some help.

In the past few months, I've been removed from about a half dozen bars for fighting. It started as a one off thing, and I still hold on to the idea that I had good reason for starting that fight but I was drunk and I may just be trying to justify it to myself after the fact. I'll just go out to the bar by myself to relax, and I end up picking a fight with a stranger. I was even kicked out of a diner for getting into a shouting match with some random guy also sitting at the counter. I am lucky that nothing criminal has ever been brought up against me. I don't know why I do this, though.

Academically, my year has been great. My grades are great. I fell in with a good group of people after having kept to myself for a long while. I have three good part-time jobs right now, am fitter than I have ever been, and my team is going to nationals. I still feel depressed at times, but over all I feel like I am doing well. Why am I trying to sabotage myself then? What can I do to stop this? I'm trying to see a shrink, but my school doesn't have any openings until the summer session starts so I have to wait a few weeks.

Drinking is the next obvious issue. I cut down my drinking a lot, as I was quite the binge drinker for a while. Last weekend was the first time I had been out in a long while. The thing is that two of my fights occurred sober, so I can't blame it completely on booze.

Does anyone have any experience with this? Has anyone beat something like this? How did you do it? I feel like (and have been told before) that I'm an incredibly nice and thoughtful guy. People don't believe me when I tell them where I was over the weekend, and they are incredulous when they see it occur. I don't want people to be afraid of me, as some of my friends have obviously become. I know this sounds pathetic, but please, any advice you have would be most welcome.
posted by Loto to Human Relations (46 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, I left this out, but by "Drinking is the next obvious issue" I meant to imply that I am done with drinking.
posted by Loto at 11:57 PM on April 29, 2007

What kind of team are you on? More than likely, they're going to want to support you in this. Within that team, there's always leadership positions that you can go to, even if that isn't the coach.
Think about who you've got a good relationship with through that connection and go see them. Tell them exactly what you just told us, because real face to face interaction's going to be one of the best things right now.
posted by lilithim at 12:13 AM on April 30, 2007

By most accounts, I am a nice and thoughtful young woman. Occasionally when I drink, I become consumed by uncontrollable rage. I've never taken it out on another person physically, but freshman year of college I frequently left a wake of damages in my path on the weekends and established a reputation as a mean, angry drunk--not exactly the most flattering thing for a young woman. I wouldn't consider myself an angry person normally, but I am prone to stress, anxiety and depression. Being drunk exacerbated all of these things. The more stressed I was in daily life, the more likely "blowing off steam" in the form of drinking was likely to result in broken furniture and attempts to pick fights with strangers.

One day I was at party and got into a stupid argument with some random guy that left me enraged. I ended up making a fool of myself yelling at him in front of our mutual friends, stormed off alone, drunk dialed someone 3000 miles away and yelled incoherently into the phone for a while before passing out. Obviously this isn't quite the same as physical fighting, but I was incredibly embarassed nonetheless. That was the last time I've become belligerent while drunk.

What changed? I realized I needed to change my behavior; that fighting didn't make me "cool," it just made me an asshole. For a while, I just didn't drink very much, or any hard alcohol. Sometimes when I drink now I'll feel that 'twitch' of anger being switched on (my friends say that you can see it in my eyes--like a Jekyll and Hyde thing. Scary), but being totally aware of it happening has helped my self-control a lot. I get stressed and (drunkenly) think, "damn, I want to punch someone!" and then immediately afterword I think, "I'm drinking to relax, not to wind myself up. Maybe it's time for a glass of water and a break from this party for a little bit." (It helps if you smoke. Though I don't anymore, a cigarette is a nice excuse to go outside away from people you might try to engage in a fight.)

You also might have to accept that this is something you can't beat by yourself. Look into anger management--I know a bunch of people that it has helped, both mandated and not. Good luck!
posted by cosmic osmo at 12:17 AM on April 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

You are courageous for being honest and seeking help. So, I don't want to sound harsh in saying this, but it might help you see how things are: You are not a nice and thoughtful guy. Nice and thoughtful guys don't pick fights and get into shouting matches with strangers. Sure, we all get to our breaking points and behave in ways that are contrary to our normal nature. But you do this regularly, which means you are not as nice a guy as you think you are, or as nice as you probably want to be.

So, take a look at your other behavior. When you are not picking fights, do you insist on your way? Do you subtly manipulate and control people, without the people realizing that they are being manipulated? How do you act when you are disappointed? You say you are very fit... any steroid or other drug use?

In short, you won't likely resolve this without regular outside help. You may have an anger issue; maybe you have some unresolved issues that manifest themselves in lashing out at strangers.

See a counselor; find one you are comfortable with and go regularly. He / she can give you advice and behavioral therapy methods to first of all, control your behavior, and then to find out why the behavior exists, and deal with it at the root.

Yes, I have been through this; not to the point of picking fights with strangers, but when I got frustrated, I would get out of control enough to throw things, punch walls, break things, etc. Never to hurt anyone, but I could have. With a counselor's help, and a lot of work and self-examination, I was able to deal with frustrating and anger-inducing situations in a better and more productive manner.

Good luck! There is not an easy, instant answer, but your open attitude shows that you are willing to put the "not so nice guy" behind you.
posted by The Deej at 12:18 AM on April 30, 2007

Some people with problems they feel are alcohol related suck it up and go to AA meetings. You don't have to say anything, you don't even, at first, have to think of yourself as an alcoholic. But you said it:
"So, last night I was ejected from yet another bar, and I think I need some help."
I need some help being the still, small voice of self-recognition that you do, and the first step down a long road to being a better man. AA doesn't work for everyone, but it has the big advantages that

1) AA meetings are not usually held in bars, so if you go to them, you'll be far less likely to get into bar fights.
2) You can easily find an open AA meeting in your area (State College, PA) and you don't need appointments. You just go. Getting your backside in a chair in a meeting is the biggest issue at the outset.

AA is not anger management class. You might benefit by that, too. AA is not a find-some-older-wiser-friends-to-hang-with network, but you might benefit from that, too. But you've got to start somewhere.

You might as well get your posterior in a free chair at an AA meeting, as soon as possible. Good luck.
posted by paulsc at 12:27 AM on April 30, 2007

Some people just can't handle alcohol. I don't mean they get sick or get drunk quickly, but that they become a different person while drunk. Maybe you're simply an Angry Drunk. I've known people who are genuinely sweet and kind, but once they put back a few drinks, they change. It's a Jekyll and Hyde thing. You said this happens sometimes when you're sober, so I don't know if this is the whole story. Lay off the booze for a long time and see if your behavior changes.
posted by zardoz at 12:29 AM on April 30, 2007

I think the first tag you've got on this post is probably the major factor of this question and I think it's telling that you don't mention the word "anger" at all in your post. Drinking obviously has something to do with it, and you should pay particular attention if you do not follow through on your intention to cut it out, but it sounds like the fighting is an issue in itself.

As someone who's had some serious counseling for (among other things, mainly depression) anger issues, I think you need professional counseling specifically about anger issues. You are bringing that anger with you when you go out, it's coming from somewhere in your life apart from these altercations. It's coming out in a completely inappropriate way that could easily having you wind up with a criminal record. I'm sorry about the generic counseling plug but I don't think the cyber couch routine is likely to produce much deeper insight on your situation.
posted by nanojath at 12:31 AM on April 30, 2007

you have realized you have a problem and it bothers you. kudos, that's the big step. obviously there is a lot to discuss with a professional here but you should do your best to make an effort until then. (btw, you got college health insurance? does it cover an off-site psych.?)

you wrote that it's the booze that makes you lose it and that you're cutting it out. that's a good start. you probably know humans are habitual creatures. it will be less difficult to resist with time and you don't have to go cold-turkey if that's too tough for you (though that's not meant to discourage you.) what you need to know now is what your limit is. not passing out but "getting into that zone - limit" ... when do you become the unhappy drunk? is it a beer or three? more? count what you consume and mix it with non-alcoholic drinks. peer pressure is apeshit, we all know that, but water can pass for vodka any day. (you get the idea, I am sure.)

also great: go out with the opposite sex (or whoever you feel attracted to). most people are reluctant to make a total ass out of themselves in front of people they are interested in.
posted by krautland at 12:36 AM on April 30, 2007

To reiterate, I am getting counseling, it just doesn't start until Mid-May, when they will have an opening for me. She's trying to get my into an anger management group beforehand, but I'm not sure when that is going to happen. I can't afford a normal shrink (not covered by my insurance) so I have to wait on the school provided facilities.

No steroids, no other drugs or meds. I won't smoke pot because I've seen it ruin some perfectly decent people, and I don't want to replace one substance with another.

I went to an AA meeting once, back when I was drinking much more heavily than I have been, but found the whole God thing off-putting. I'm an atheist, so it wasn't really the place for me. Also, I never used to be an "Angry Drunk" so I know I can't just blame this on drinking (although by stopping, I hope to have more control over the anger when it comes up.)

And Deej, that wasn't harsh at all. This does bother me, and I don't consider myself the nice guy I once was. I'm just another asshole at this point, and it bothers me greatly. That's why I want to beat this.

I know that this site is no substitute for real help, but honestly I'm more interested in anecdotes and advice from people who have been through this, or know people who have. I don't know anyone who has been through this personally, much less been in a fight.

I just made that call last night cosmic, just before dropping my phone into the sink, which is part of the reason I'm here. When my phone dried out enough to work, I had voicemail from a very concerned and very tearful friend which broke my heart to hear.
posted by Loto at 12:59 AM on April 30, 2007

I almost forgot, thank you all for your posts!
posted by Loto at 1:00 AM on April 30, 2007

Why do you drink?

Probably because somewhere inside you, there is a part that really doesn't like you. I know this is why I smoke so much pot-- because there is a part of me that thinks, "You're a fucking liar, you're useless and you're a fake." Smoking shuts that voice up. Drinking, for me, sets me spinning into an illogical, often belligerent, ranting and raving side of my personality.

I agree with The Deej: maybe you need to consider that what you show others ("I'm a nice guy") is Pretend. It's Pretend because it helps you move through society when it suits you, which is probably most of the time.

As someone who has also spent a number of years in counselling, I know now I have 'Deep Rage' which stems from a primal wound in me, that causes me to pour acid and hate on myself and sometimes, when I am coaxed into further arrogance (most often by booze), onto others.

You fight and get drunk to prove you exist, because you know a lot about you is Pretend. You're trying to force your core self to see you Exist and you need Help. 'I got into a fight' = 'I must exist because I had an effect on another person.'

Do you ever feel that the Real You isn't addressed by family or loved ones? That they effectively don't confirm your existence?

I don't know you, obviously, so I guess I am approaching this question as a 'generic' You. I know a few people who do the same thing you've described and this is the answer I gave them. Not meaning to make out like I have you all figured out.
posted by gerls at 1:39 AM on April 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

"... I went to an AA meeting once, back when I was drinking much more heavily than I have been, but found the whole God thing off-putting. ..."

Loto, I'm not a friend of Bill W. myself, and I'm not trying to sell you on AA. But one meeting does not an honest effort make, and there are plenty of AA meetings and groups which don't put much emphasis on the spiritual aspects of the program, and where the Higher Power can pretty much be AA as a methodology, itself. They aren't selling religion, they are there to help you keep your life from being lost to drinking. If you're drowning, you don't stop drowning by being picky about the color of life jackets. For the next couple of weeks, what's so wrong with making some meetings, and just sitting in a chair listening? Nobody will ask more of you than that. Your mere presence, until you get started with other things in a couple of weeks, may be enough immediate help to keep you out of further trouble, until you do find better strategies. It costs nothing but your time and effort to make the meetings, and you can go today.

That said, have you heard of Rational Recovery? It's an alternate approach, with a lot shorter track record, but its adherents generally say what you've said about religion. May be it would be your bag.

Because whatever you do, going to bars doesn't seem to be a good strategy. And for some people who are seemingly allergic to alcohol, irritability and poor decision making and emotional control can persist for hours and even days after their last drink. You don't have be hammered to be under the influence.
posted by paulsc at 1:39 AM on April 30, 2007

Stop drinking alcohol. Start smoking pot.

Bad idea. It makes some of us paranoid, and that's the last thing Loto needs - an even bigger irrational excuse to pick a fight.

Stress can be a funny (peculiar, not ha-ha) thing. You may not believe you're stressed, you may not notice you're stressed, but, particularly if it's the type of stress you get from 1001 little things, it can all add up at leave you at a "99% full" level where all it takes is one little drop - a wrong glance, a misheard word - to put you over the edge.

Maybe college + 3 part-time jobs + team responsibility has got you at that level? Regardless, talk to someone - your coach, your family (I never could talk to my father about it until afterwards, but my sister took the brunt of it), your friends. Your minister? (I'm not religious, but I reckon one of the bigger disadvantages of atheism is that you have one less disinterested/impartial party to turn to when you need some advice.)
posted by Pinback at 2:00 AM on April 30, 2007

First of all don't put yourself in a situation to get in a fight. Go to the bars w/out dance floors or some such. Go to the more relaxed bars and play some pool. Try hanging out while drinking slightly less and smiling a bit more. I'm usually the guy at the bar who offers a smile and a drink to _anyone_
posted by prodevel at 2:38 AM on April 30, 2007

go out with the opposite sex (or whoever you feel attracted to). most people are reluctant to make a total ass out of themselves in front of people they are interested in.

My experience has been that the opposite is true -- nothing will make a group of young men more belligerent than having an audience of young women, and sometimes vice versa. It can become very ritualized and scripted, with people both encouraging and defusing the violence -- an example that most people here will have seen is the ritualized violence on old episodes of the Jerry Springer show.

I have never been violent in the way you are describing -- going out and picking fights. But in my teens and twenties I was just as angry as you seem to be, and it really ruled my life for a long time. In retrospect, I badly needed both counseling and anger management classes, and girlfriends of mine at the time consistently told me so, but I dismissed that advice. I think it is amazing and awesome that you are that much more self-aware and self-confident than I was, that you are able to see the need for change and for help.

I think the advice of AA is great. Your problem in not just alcohol, and you are aware of that. (And there is that whole religion thing, but lots of people in AA aren't completely into the religion part of it.) But your problems overlap with what a lot of people in that AA meeting will have faced, and just being there will make you a part of a community that is addressing these problems, not pretending that they don't exist.

I also think that talking to your coach (or someone approachable in the sports administration at the school) is a great idea. If you pick another fight and get arrested, you may be off the team for the rest of the season. If you aren't playing hockey, your anger may cause a problem during a game and again get you kicked out for the season. An administrator in the sports department may be able to make some phone calls and get you priority access for counseling and other services, for example, but they can't do this if you don't go and talk with them. (Finding the right person will be the trick, though -- there can be a culture in athletics of covering up problems, tolerating violence, etc, and a person with that approach will not help your situation at all.)

In my case, sometime in my late 20s I just sort of decided to become a less angry person. It was having a very clear negative impact on my life and relationships, and things needed to change. I never did go to counseling or classes (though I probably should have) but I did read some books from the library, and then just focused on letting the anger go. Essentially, I guess I did a little behavior modification routine -- when I'd feel anger coming on, I would consciously force myself to smile (a real smile, a happy smile) and think about happier things, and do things like go on a walk instead of displaying inappropriate anger. And lots and lots of little changes added up to a big change, but it took a long time and was kind of ad hoc and maybe hasn't been a perfect success, I don't know.

So that's what I did, but if you are picking fights routinely, I don't think that you really have the luxury of waiting until you are ten years older and then hoping that a half-assed homemade approach will work. Like you said, you might end up in jail; there is also a very real risk of picking a fight with the wrong person who will hit your head on the bar hard enough to give you brain damage or who will be carrying a gun. There is a real self-destructive aspect to what you are doing (are you halfway hoping that the guy will have ten of his friends in the parking lot?) that is really dangerous, and needs to stop. Again, I think it is wonderful that you are addressing this, and I wish you all the luck in the world.
posted by Forktine at 2:52 AM on April 30, 2007

Nul points to the horde of commenters thus far who completely ignored that he's been in at least two such fights having drank nothing.

It sounds like it could possibly be manic behaviour, but IANAD and you really should find someone to talk to before college reconvenes.
posted by genghis at 3:16 AM on April 30, 2007

I would try to hold one simple principle in my mind: there is never a good reason for fighting or shouting at anyone in a bar.
posted by londongeezer at 3:36 AM on April 30, 2007

I had good reason for starting that fight

No you didn't. Because there isn't one.
posted by slimepuppy at 4:27 AM on April 30, 2007

Oh, and to expand on that comment: as long as you believe yourself being justified in starting fights and beating people up, the chances of you stopping are limited. Yes, wanting to stop is a great step in the right direction, but you seem to want to stop because it's alienating your friends. Not because of the core reason: you're picking fights with random strangers... and don't know why.
posted by slimepuppy at 4:31 AM on April 30, 2007

Nul points to the horde of commenters thus far who completely ignored that he's been in at least two such fights having drank nothing.

When someone has a drinking or drugging problem, it affects their life and moods even when they're sober. For someone with a alcohol problem, drinking on a friday can make your moods uncontrollable on a sunday.
posted by milarepa at 4:46 AM on April 30, 2007

And once a behavior pattern is set up while drinking, it doesn't necessarily evaporate while sober. Picking fights seems to have some occult reward for Loto - he gets something back when he does it, even if he's not aware of it. Some part of him is aware of it, and seeks it out even without alcohol. He wouldn't have to go to too many AA meetings before he heard someone talking about this exact behavior - probably someone who has a pretty good idea what's going on with themselves when they act that way.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:30 AM on April 30, 2007

My girlfriend dated a guy years ago who would get in bar fights: he and his friends would pick a fight with whomever was willing for reasons unfathomable to rational people. About a year after she broke up with the idiot, she learned that one of the friends started a fight just like always, took one punch to the head, hit the ground, and died right there.

No one remembers what the fight was about.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 6:51 AM on April 30, 2007

Do you feel that the world is conspiring against you? What are these random strangers doing to set you off? Is it a look? Do they say something that you can not tolerate?

A good friend has admitted to me that in his youth he would go out looking to get fired up so he could pound on some asshole in a bar. He thinks it was simply part of being a young man and growing up. From what I have seen of his current actions I'd say that he couldn't say no to a challenge, he probably took everything as a challenge. He can't let small dickish comments pass.

He no longer gets into fights like that but I can see how it used to happen. He is still angry and tense and IMO quite paranoid and righteous. He still takes things personally and kind of considers it his duty to stand up and not let drunken comments pass. I have heard him offer to fight a guy who was saying racist and homophobic shit. The guy declined.

My friend hasn't been in a fight in 2 years but his anger still tortures him. You are on the right path by recognizing that you have a problem. My advice is to let things go. If you are getting riled up in a bar-- Just. Leave. Then before you know it, two weeks will be gone, you can see the school therapist and start the real work.

I don't think that you are necessarily a bad guy because of this.
posted by bobobox at 7:21 AM on April 30, 2007

What makes you angry? And I mean right now, cold sober. Maybe the key is figuring out what pisses you off, then convincing yourself that, whatever it is, it's not worth the effort.

Alcohol doesn't have to be the underlying factor, though I certainly agree with milarepa that it can be.
posted by kisch mokusch at 7:30 AM on April 30, 2007

My mother once had an employee who said that being arrested on a million dollars bail taught him that if you want to change your life, you have to change your playmates, change your playthings, and change your playground.

OK, you gave up alcohol? Great first step. But you're still getting in bar fights so you need to give up bars too. And you are going to need some new activities and new friends to go along with these changes.

Good luck, I'm rooting for you.
posted by ilsa at 7:50 AM on April 30, 2007 [2 favorites]

You probably aren't breathing right. Chances are you're breathing high up in your chest, and when you get mad, you breathe quicker, and your blood pumps up, and your brain explodes. Obviously not scientific.

When something starts to make you mad, make a conscious effort to breathe from your belly. Lengthen your breath, imagine your breath being pulled by a band of muscle running from your crotch (or deep in your belly if you don't want to be explicit) to your throat, instead of being pushed by a band of muscles running from shoulder to shoulder. I'm not talking about a sigh, but a set of relaxed deep breaths to help ground yourself. Stay off your toes, try to plant yourself; if you tend to lean forward, lean back a little.

I guess this all falls under the "relax" umbrella, but learning to breathe calmly and step away ended my fighting days. There's stuff like yoga you can do; sometimes weight or other athletic training can leave your muscles feeling bunched and that can keep you in a mindset to spring and attack, and yoga can really stretch those springs out.

Or you could try taking some martial art or other. For some people, learning to discipline the fighting urge is more effective than learning to sublimate or eliminate it.

Plus, what others said about various forms of counseling. Help yourself.
posted by breezeway at 8:11 AM on April 30, 2007

How about a different opinion?

Have you considered entering an Ultimate Fighting/MMA/Toughman contest? If you need to whip someone's ass, there's opportunities to do it every night of the week and get paid for it.

So you're an aggressive asshole - there's gold in them thar testosterone-fueled hills.
posted by unixrat at 8:21 AM on April 30, 2007

...or, you know, meditate and hug butterflies and whatnot. I suppose that could work too.
posted by unixrat at 8:22 AM on April 30, 2007

If you've always been this way that's one thing; if this started just a few months ago, when you began getting thrown out of those bars, I would look for some cause that occurred around that time-- and since you are doing well in the various compartments of your life, I would look for something physiological.

You mention your team, did you sustain a concussion? Are you in a sport in which there are recognized brain injury issues such as soccer or football? Did you by any chance suffer any strong blows to the head during that first bar fight?

Even if so, some selection from the menu of behavioral and cognitive solutions proposed in this thread may be plenty for you to control this problem, but you also might want to see what options are available through your school to be evaluated for a brain injury.
posted by jamjam at 8:37 AM on April 30, 2007

You say your done drinking and if you can just swear it off for good and all then maybe AA isn't for you and therapy and anger management is, but if you keep promising your self you'll quit and can't seem to make it stick then maybe a seat in a chair at a meeting is something to think about.

The basic questions are when you start drinking can you stop at will (i'll go out for 2 and just have 2 every time)? and when I choose to stop can i stay stopped? has some useful resources and some questions you can answer to decide for yourself.

One of the promises of the program is "cease fighting everything and anyone" so ...
posted by jeffe at 8:38 AM on April 30, 2007

You aren't going to resolve this pattern all at once. If you can't start counseling or anger management for a few weeks pay attention to your environment and do what you can to avoid triggering situations.

I suspect that some of the above comments regarding you seeing everything as a challenge are on track. I also think it is likely that you have a lot of pride and are easily offended. Getting personally offended when the world and others do not meet your expectations will often leave you feeling angry and hurt. Others don't know what your standards are and many won't care. When a situation, for instance a conversation, does not develop according to your expectations, seeing it as a defeat on a personal level will just entangle you further. If any of this resonates with you check out a book on cognitive behavioral therapy and look at the sections on cognitive distortion. The classic book here is 'Feeling Good' by David Burns. It is frequently recommended for those dealing with depression. That isn't your problem but the chapters on cognitive distortions are good and may be of help to you.
posted by BigSky at 8:42 AM on April 30, 2007

I think breezeway's advice about breathing might help. The breath is a much more powerful than we realize. I've had to learn similar techniques to deal with panic attacks, and they really do help.

Also, anger can be a symptom of depression. You mention that you get depressed now and then, but maybe you're actually a bit more depressed than you realize? I second the recommendation for the Feeling Good book -- it really isn't the typical self-help shtick one would expect from a book with such a title. And one of the many great things about cognitive behavioral therapy is that you can do a lot of the work on your own -- so it might help you while you're still on the waiting list to see a counselor.
posted by treepour at 8:59 AM on April 30, 2007

Perhaps you need to develop a stronger sense of self-consciousness. Getting into fights in bars with random strangers is seen as a pretty low-class activity by most well-adjusted people. Personally, I'd be mortified if I were you.

The next time you think someone has given you the stink-eye, and you're preparing to deliver your heroic beatdown, carefully consider what the other patrons of the bar are going to think about you. I guarantee most of them will regard you as a dangerous douchebag.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 9:02 AM on April 30, 2007

I have to disagree with prodevel. If you are getting into fights the last place you want to be is in a bar, whether you yourself are drinking or not. Drunks are too easy to pick fights with.

And if you are in a bar, good god please stay away from the pool table!!!

In my 6 years experience as a bartender I learned that almost all bar fights start at either the door or the pool table. At the door, egos are challenged by the bouncer. Someone is offended because they look too young/don't have ID, or don't meet the dress code, or the bouncer remembers the fight they started last time they came to the bar.

At the pool table, egos flare because everyone is watching your game, critiquing your shots, etc. Someone gets upset about the rules you're playing by or feels like someone jumped their turn at the table, or a pool cue knocks over a drink or pokes someone sitting too close to the pool table, and the next thing you know cues are swinging. A billiards club is different than a pool table in a regular bar, because you're more likely to be playing against friends (not strangers) and you're not keeping other players waiting.

But seriously, if you're having trouble keeping your violent side in check, stay the hell out of bars. Get better before you set foot in another bar or you're likely to get banned, hurt, thrown in jail, expelled rom school, etc. Trust me, the bars don't want your kind anyway. Not until you're under control.

Good luck and kudos for having the smarts and the courage to face this.
posted by mds35 at 9:18 AM on April 30, 2007

Also, you might neeed a new sport or new friends. I hate to generalize, but when I bartended, one of the local college teams was notorious for starting fights. We eventually banned them as a group. Right after we banned them one of them stabbed a patron at a bar down the block. Other bars eventually followed our lead. I won't tell you which team it was, but it was a competitive sport where the players are strong but shorter than average (Napoleons) I'm not talking about jockeys. Something about the team was prone to violence. Not sure if it was unique to this particular crowd or if it is endemic to the sport.

But you may want to consider new friends. Your buddies are supposed to help you get home alive. If they're letting you get into fights or egging you on, they're not your pals.
posted by mds35 at 9:24 AM on April 30, 2007

Here are two thoughts:

1. Why are you still going to bars? There are lots and lots of social spaces that are not crowded, loud and discordant. I find bars irritating and exhausting and I don't tend to explode in anger. STOP going to bars. Meet your friends in coffee shops or parks, or their or your houses. Tell your friends that they can help you by organizing dinner parties or other social activities at other venues and by encouraging and supporting you in not drinking and in not going to bars. In fact, they can stop drinking themselves since its clear that is a very dangerous behavior for you right now. This will form two functions - one it will be supportive of you and help you in your path and two - it will make THEM feel better b/c they are actively doing something to help you.

Also I would not attend large, raucous parties for a while either. The only thing worse than a bar fight would a fist fight at a college dorm party.

2. Try meditation (mind - this in not religion but a time tested technique for insight and inner peace). Thich Nhat Hahn has a large number of meditation techniques to help you manage anger, grief, and other overwhelming emotions. I think from what you have described, walking meditation would help you greatly. Basically all youhave to do is go for a walk around the block. With each step take breath in, and then breath out. Concentrating on your breath, repeat something like this to your self:
Step one - "Breathing in, I know I am breathing in"
Step two - "Breathing out, I know I am breathing out"
Step three - "Breathing in, I embrace my anger"
Step four - "Breathing out, I hold my anger very tenderly"

Continue around the block at a slow and deliberate pace. By the end you may feel silly, but you won't feel angry.

The idea behind this is that if your anger were a child, by punishing the child you would not make her or him less angry, you would not be able to make that child peaceful. Well your anger is YOU and only by embracing it in a peaceful way can you defuse it. I have found that when I embrace strong emotions in this way I can see to the root of them very very quickly and I realize that I was angry b/c I was hurt, hurt because I felt humiliated, humilitated because I felt unloved, unloved because the person I was interacting was mean, vunerable to the meaness because I was lonely, and I felt that way because... and so on and so on.

One last note: I've found that it helps to hold my hands infront of me, shaped so they are holding something, over my heart (one hand is cupped, the other is cupped above so that the fingers touch the wrist other hand). For some reason it speeds up the emotion assimilation process.

These are called "Gatas" in meditation. Another one you may find useful is (each line is a breath and each breath is a step):
Clouds come, clouds go
The mind is a clear blue sky
Emotions come, emotions go
The mind is a clear blue sky
Anger comes, anger goes
The mind is clear blue sky
... and so on, with each emotion that arises.

Keep in mind, meditation is NOT religion but a technique designed over millenia to help humans find inner peace. Good luck and feel free to contact the email in my profile if you need/want more.
posted by zia at 9:28 AM on April 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Just wanted to take a quick second (I'll post more later, but finals are almost here so I'm a bit busy during the day) and clear a few things up.

When I go out and fight, I am always alone at the bars. It isn't that I have friends that are letting this happen, it is that they aren't there when it does happen. When I'm out with friends the night usually ends earlier and with much less drinking than when I'm alone. We study Saturday mornings, so I don't like missing out on that because of a hang over. Also, the coach is very strict about pre-game drinking and forbids us to drink the night or three before a game. When I have people there to remind me of this I stop, order some wings rather than another pitcher and end up having a very enjoyable, relaxed night out with friends.

Why do I go out alone, then? When I go out with friends it is to have a good time, but when I go out alone it is more about unwinding and I think that may be the issue. I end up feeling sorry for myself for a variety of reasons, which puts me in a foul mood. Next thing I know I'm on the street wandering home. Yes, the obvious thing is to stop doing this, but I've been avoiding thinking about the situation until just recently so it didn't really occur to me.

I doubt this is a physiological problem, also. I haven't had a concussion in over a year and I haven't taken a shot to the head since well before I started doing this.

I've considered going back to boxing, as I remember being a much calmer person when I had a controlled environment to get some of my aggression out, but I don't really want to learn how to fight better before getting some handle on this. Just doesn't seem too logical. But hey, unixrat, how'd you know I always wanted to fight in a MMA tournament? :P
posted by Loto at 10:17 AM on April 30, 2007

... but I don't really want to learn how to fight better before getting some handle on this

I recently learned that a lot of anger management therapy is assertiveness training, which confused me for a minute and then suddenly made a lot of sense. Many people fight or get aggressive because they feel they're not being heard by others, and they feel they're not being heard by others because they don't know how to express themselves assertively but kindly and compassionately. If you don't know how to say what you want in nice, effective ways, other people probably frequently either don't know what you want (because you're being passive and not asking for it) or don't want to do what you want (because you're being aggressive and pissing them off when you ask for it), so you're left frustrated so often that it can explode into rage.

Given the way you describe yourself, as someone everyone thinks of as really nice and laidback, I'd wonder if maybe you weren't very good at asking (nicely) for what you want in life? Or maybe even in figuring out what it is you want?

Since I don't know you I may be off-base here, but if any of this is striking a chord, then an assertiveness training guide like Your Perfect Right might be helpful as you wait for your therapy appointment.
posted by occhiblu at 10:34 AM on April 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

But hey, unixrat, how'd you know I always wanted to fight in a MMA tournament? :P

I know someone who enters them. He told me a long time ago that there are two kinds of entrants:

1. People with issues - anger, money, etc, or people experimenting with life. They fight once and never come back.
2. People who love to fight. People who live for the thrill of going toe to toe with someone else and releasing the primal nature of their person.

Most of the above have approached this question like it's a (#1) when it could be as simple as (#2). If you enter a contest, the deciding factor will be how you feel the next day. If you still feel the lust for breaking another man's nose, you could simply be a hard-ass. If you never want to go back, you'll need to deal with being a (#1).

Note that simple 'toughman' tournaments don't require any training, unlike MMA/UF. Just a willingness to beat the hell out of someone else.
posted by unixrat at 10:39 AM on April 30, 2007

Most of the advice above is probably not going to appeal to you if you're anyone like I know. Seriously? Get a video game you like and instead of going out with your friends stay home and play it. Its addictive and it'll pass the time so you aren't thinking the world is passing you by. Spend a few weekends in from constant partying and you'll begin to realize how insignificant your actions are.
posted by geoff. at 10:42 AM on April 30, 2007

genghis has a point about the manic behavior. I was married to a bipolar for (too) many years, and it is true that violent, angry, irrational behavior can come out of nowhere, leaving you wondering what the heck you did, which seemed SO JUSTIFIED at the time.

That is one direction your counselor will explore, I'm sure. If that is the diagnosis, then behavioral therapy and, if needed, medication can go a long way toward you being your best self.

Good luck!
posted by The Deej at 10:53 AM on April 30, 2007

I fell in with a good group of people after having kept to myself for a long while.

Hmmmm.... did you ever fight before you fell in with this group of people? Just wondering...
posted by Deathalicious at 1:00 PM on April 30, 2007

I've known the people a bit longer than this has been going on, so it isn't them. Like I said, when I am out with them these issues don't come up and I generally just have a great time.
posted by Loto at 2:04 PM on April 30, 2007

I'm a bit perturbed to hear:

When I have people there to remind me of this I stop, order some wings rather than another pitcher and end up having a very enjoyable, relaxed night out with friends.

If you are going out and hitting your second pitcher, then you most defiinitely have a drinking problem.

STOP drinking and STOP going to bars. Either alone or with friends.
posted by zia at 4:08 PM on April 30, 2007

Why do I go out alone, then? When I go out with friends it is to have a good time, but when I go out alone it is more about unwinding and I think that may be the issue. I end up feeling sorry for myself for a variety of reasons, which puts me in a foul mood.

Sounds like you are starting to figure it out. So, in the short term, your highest priority is find a way to unwind that actually makes you feel better rather than feeling alone.

Geoff's comment about getting immersed in a good video game sounds like the kind of thing that might work. Or some kind of on-line game - not necessarily one of those addicting multi-player game but something where you are interacting virtually with other people.
posted by metahawk at 4:59 PM on April 30, 2007

Just wanted to give a quick update. Things have improved drastically for me this summer. The therapist fell through, thanks to this school's wonderful health care system, but my support network kicked into overdrive with helping me through this. I haven't been in a single fight since posting this.

So what happened? Well, I go out a lot more now actually, but drink much less than I did before. I enjoy being the driver, so this isn't an issue. I also go out with friends, rather than alone. I stepped up my training as stress relief, have dabbled in a little light meditation (just controlled breathing stuff), and have started boxing again. The big thing, though, was developing a mental flowchart that I run through when I'm getting angry to determine whether it is worth getting angry over. The result of all this is that I rarely get angry anymore, and in the few cases that I do it is much, much more controlled.

Anyway, I just wanted to thank you all! I'm happier than I've been in a long while, and a lot of it is thanks to the advice given here.
posted by Loto at 6:30 PM on July 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

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