How I Healed From Anger And Abuse And Found Peace

Rehabilitation and therapy helped Kortney Olson overcome addiction and trauma. Here’s how she works through her anger issues today as CEO of a multimillion-dollar company.

James O’Gorman/Courtesy of Kortney Olson

We all get angry – for a number of reasons. After all, there are many types of anger. But sometimes all-consuming anger can change your life. Just ask Kortney Olson, 39, former arm wrestling champion, founder of empowerment athleisure line GRRRL, and author of Crushing It: How I Smashed Diet Culture Addiction and the Patriarchy. She has put a lifetime of experiences into her four decades.

“When I was 21, I had been raped, diagnosed with an eating disorder and depression, and was a real drug addict and alcoholic,” Olson says. Her immense anger led to her lashing out and even being arrested.

But with the help of rehabilitation and therapy, she worked through her anger issues. And she started to heal. Now Olson is CEO of a multimillion dollar athleisure wear company that celebrates body positivity. Hundreds of thousands of enthusiasts Instagram followers applaud her message of strength, inclusiveness, addiction recovery, and reclaiming what it means to be a woman.

Here she shares her inspiring story. (And here’s why controlling your anger can help you live longer.)

Eating Disorder

Growing up, I was taller than all my classmates. Once I was in high school, I became fully body aware and started counting calories. As the daughter of divorced parents and an alcoholic mother, this was all I had control over.

A year before I entered high school, I discovered inspiration in the form of a tiny supermodel. I flipped through the pages of Fashion and found photos of Kate Moss. I thought: This is what I want to look like.

At that time, the only thing I had control over was food. Although I was very well put together on the outside – 4.0 points average, student body president, cheerleader, hotter on the saxophone than Bill Clinton – on the inside I suffered from severe body dysmorphism. In high school I was dealing with anorexia and bulimia. In my senior year, I was sure I had found the holy grail of weight loss when I was introduced to speed after doing our Sadie Hawkins dance. (A side effect of the drug is weight loss.)

Drug Addiction and Sexual Assault

I would become the first female president of the United States. It had been my ambition since primary school.

After spending my senior year high on meth, I was devastated that I had bullied all my purses. At the time, I was so committed to losing weight that I didn’t care. But when the addiction started to spiral out of control and I missed class and unable to speak in coherent sentences, my favorite private Catholic high school teacher called me out.

To keep my father from getting involved, I agreed to attend a boxing class. Taught by an ex-heroin addict and former Golden Gloves boxing champion, this man would become my savior. Not having the resources to navigate red flags, I ended up alone with this guy watching videotaped boxing matches at his home.

I would be his last world champion fighter before he retired. But instead I was one of the last women he drugged and raped.

pull out

When I started college, I started drinking daily. Unable to let go of the image of a world-class girl wearing gloves, I slipped into anger and self-loathing. Soon I drank my first drink of the day at 10:00

The drinking fueled by ego, and then the anger would begin to flow. Whether it was an 80-year-old woman stumbling down the street with a walker, or three grown men in a bar, I challenged anyone who looked at me the wrong way to a fight. And when no one wanted to fight me, I kicked holes in the wall, knocked over fridges, smashed lights, or knocked over people’s garden ornaments.

In addition to being violent, I also became sexual. From the product delivery man to my 50-year-old professor to the innocent lesbian friend with a deep crush – I slept with everyone and everyone.

get arrested

Being cute, charismatic, and a criminal justice major, I could talk my way out of a paper bag. Being white and female probably helped too.

The only time I was ever arrested was after my first DUI at age 19. I had drunk three times the legal limit. I also had three other sober roommates in the car with me. Although I was arrested, I persuaded the officer to release me with one of my sober roommates.

(Overwhelmed with anger? Try these 24 things to calm down.)

Starting to heal

After my second year, I decided to take a break from university and went back to live with my father. But without any realization that I was an alcoholic and addict – and without any program – I started meth again.

After many arrests and deaths, threesomes and robberies, kidney infections and cases of pink eye, I realized I was not where I was supposed to be. I ended up going to rehab.

Goes to rehab

Going to rehab at age 21 helped with my anger. It was the first time I ever spoke to anyone about my rape. Talking to a therapist helped me recognize that it wasn’t my fault. That was the first step in helping me overcome my anger.

Rehab was also the first place where I was introduced to the 12-step recovery program. While it still took me several attempts to get clean and sober after rehab, this introduction to the scooters was the catalyst that led to a new level of awareness around my childhood trauma, which was of course the source of my anger.

I stayed clean and sober for 90 days before the process started all over again – along with the rage and rage. Finally, after learning that I was a co-defendant with four felony charges hanging over my head, I stopped drinking and taking methamphetamines for good.

At that point, I had been in and out of 12-step recovery meetings and had gone through the steps. Unlike my previous lows, which were physical and mental, this time it was spiritual.

Strategies for Dealing with Anger

In my experience, putting pen to paper is the best tool for dealing with anger—in my case, a response to suppressed trauma. It was imperative to spend time processing all my resentments which, more often than not, have been the cornerstone of my anger. Without awareness of a problem, there is no problem to solve.

Most of the time, people use substances – whether shopping, gambling, sex, food – as a band-aid. And for most of us, the easiest way not to look at our own stuff is to look at others. That’s why it’s so easy for people to judge other people.

You cannot manage what you cannot see. So by doing this inner personal work, we can analyze our own character flaws that we have often taken on in response to feeling hurt, scared, powerless, or threatened. We can build our own character by reaching out to those we have hurt and asking for forgiveness, as well as forgiving those who have hurt us. There is no reason to walk around with excess baggage.

Aside from this work of inventory, I always make sure to cover the basics of getting enough sleep, eating enough, and avoiding loneliness — which was nearly impossible in this pandemic.

Practicing Assertiveness

One of the other tools that have helped me tremendously in managing anger is practicing assertiveness. Because I’m doing people a favor, I often feel guilty about hurting someone else’s feelings. So I found myself saying ‘yes’ when I wanted to say ‘no’.

The trick with assertiveness is that it’s like a muscle – the more you use it, the easier it gets. Just like the first time I did a bicep curl. The weight felt heavy and clunky. But after a few sessions, and repeating the movement, it started to feel like second nature.

After discovering assertiveness, I practiced saying no at every opportunity. The person at the mall who offers me a free sample. The cashier at the supermarket asked me if I wanted to sign up for a club card. And even the charities that are looking for donations.

At first I felt like I was being incredibly rude. But the thought of being persuaded to buy an overpriced wonder lotion of miracle coral in the Dead Sea — and being outraged that I would never use it — was enough for me to get over my perceptions.

anger returns

Fortunately, I have not had a relapse of anger. As long as I’m sober, I can handle my resentment on the spot. And because I’ve taken a thorough inventory of my life, there’s nothing left to pop up and take me by surprise.

Anger is a lot like black mold. In the dark it will fester and grow. But as soon as we shine a light on it, tear it down and pull it apart, we stop the growth and start cleaning the walls.

Next: Why Anger Can Really Make You Happier.

–As told to Nadine Jolie Courtney

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