The first draft of this essay was written in early October. I stopped writing it because I did not fully understand what I was trying to say. It started as a revelation of one of my most shameful coping mechanisms. I stopped myself from going there because if I stripped myself of that armor, where would feel safe again?
The people I love will use this against me to hurt me. I know this, and it is my greatest fear which is why this essay has laid dormant for two months. But I’m ready. At least I think so. I’m ready to understand this part of me. I’m ready to open myself up to my family, friends and neighbors because I have come to understand that the only way forward is through.
I am addicted to anger and rage.
I have written, rather flippantly, that anger is my “signature emotion.” I wrote it that way because sometimes the truth is ugly and without the mask of humor, the shame is too hard to take. If you are one of two people in my life, an acquaintance, or my closest, dearest friend, the words “angry person” are not how you would describe me. Even those here who have read my words on this blog understand that my nature is not a warring one. I do not go around picking fights in life, anymore. I write “anymore” because I did punch my best friend in the face once during a fight when I was 19 (sorry Kel) and the physical fights between me and my sister are unmentionable.
I have come far since the days when I urged to punch people in the face, though not far enough. Now, I have more wisdom, more compassion, more empathy and I try very hard to find the positive of all situations and people. But the operative word in that sentence is “try” and the implication in that sentence is… that I fail.
On the whole I am a happy, grateful, genuinely kind and sensitive person. I see the sameness in all faces and I will treat you with respect and compassion. When I am conscious, I see this life as something full of magic, wonderment and love. I smile at strangers and hum Christmas carols all day long. That is the whole of me. But it is not on the whole that my anger takes me. It takes me in the unconscious minute-by-minute moments. The times when I am tired, weary, in need of something and feeling unworthy of everything. When I feel out of control.
For example, if you stand between me and one of my basic needs (like sleep) or you are the perpetrator of a perceived injustice (a recent traffic camera ticket) or annoyance (my children’s incessant whining) or even if you are a drawstring that has pulled yourself inside the seam for the hundredth time while in the dryer; my chest quickly tightens, my lips purse, my teeth clench. If you have a soul I will burn my eyes into it with the laser sharp heat of seething hatred while saying awful, awful things under my breath. That is me being sarcastic again to hide the truth.
The truth is… anger is my friend. It’s an easy emotion for me to turn on like a warm furnace for whatever makes me feel cold and disconnected and if I’m being honest again, I feel that way more than I’d like. I curl up inside the heat of anger and I feel a whoosh of release when I open the furnace gates with a verbal or non-verbal tirade because frankly, it is the only thing I have known how to do for a very long time to release any uncomfortable pressure.
Anger is one of the reasons I no longer live in my hometown. My hometown is where all the seeds of my anger are buried like landmines and when I get close to them, my already volatile tendencies bring me to the edge of annihilation. I took a trip there not long ago and per usual, I came home licking my wounds from traps I stupidly walked into although I have long known where they lay just below the surface. I have Freudianized the origins of my anger and I can say definitively when they were planted but none of that matters anymore. That was yesterday and I don’t live there anymore.
Although I moved away from the landmine seeds, I still took away the germinated and maturing vines of anger that twist inside me now. I asked my husband if he thought I was an angry person and he said no, but that I get angry a lot. He should know. He lives here and bares witness to every moment of frustration that crosses my path in this stay-at-home-part-time working-going-back-to-school-writing-mother-of-two-toddlers. He sees it more often than most and it hurts him, and us, and I am coming to understand that my anger is my half of why my marriage isn’t better than it could be.
Recently, I have witnessed my three-year-old point a rigid finger at her younger brother and yell at him when he’s just being a typical toddler. When she gets frustrated she lets out a chest growl just like I do. It kills me. I’m sowing her anger seeds as I type this.
But aren’t there certain things in life that deserve our outrage? I’ve been thinking about conflict recently. The class I’m taking on literary fiction says that conflict is necessary and central to a story. Without conflict, there is no story. This is true of fiction, and I suppose, of life. But conflict is not the same as anger. Anger is a reaction to conflict; it’s nearly always my reaction and it has proven to be a poisonous weed. I’m sure I will feel anger or rage from time to time in my life, but too much of any one literary device strangles the overall narrative and my overuse of anger is a part of my story that needs revision.
I read a book recently by Byron Katie, a leading spiritual teacher on the subject of acceptance and breaking the cycle of destructive thinking. She has a method of learning how to accept life for what it is and stop creating your own conflict with stories inside your head. A phrase from that book keeps reverberating inside my brain,
“We suffer when we argue with what is.” ~Byron Katie
My learned coping mechanism for suffering and for all that I cannot control is anger– shown either overtly, or covertly. Because of my aptitude for resisting what is–I am now suffering and I am paying the price along with those I suffocate with my anger vines.
All of these themes converged for me a couple of weeks ago when I went back to the yoga mat after an eight month hiatus. I love yoga. It is my church, where I am my most holy, divine self. I was willfully depriving myself of this and I’m not entirely sure why. I do this a lot, withhold pleasurable things as punishment for imaginary infractions; I’m the judge, jury and executioner of my own life. I don’t admit this cycle of punishment out loud. Instead, I blame other things, like time and money, but I know those aren’t the reasons I stopped going to yoga.
The reason I stopped going was because I couldn’t handle the emotions that were coming up for me while I practiced. I got confused. I had many more questions than I was prepared to answer and like so many of us do when facing difficult emotions, I simply made excuses; created distractions.
On that first day back I went up into a wheel pose. A wheel pose begins by lying on your back and raising onto your hands and feet into a back bend while your soft belly exposed to the sky. It’s difficult. It requires a flexibility and strength I do not believe I possess and it leaves me feeling weak and vulnerable. It’s a pose that sends immediate pangs of frustration and anger through my body because of my lack of strength to hold it. These moments, they happen frequently whether in yoga or emptying the dishwasher.
Prior to this yoga session I set the intention of peace. At the time, I was just becoming aware of my anger and I wanted to squelch these tendencies for a mere hour and a half to find the much-needed peace that’s missing from my minute-to-minute life. When I got up into the back bend, or wheel pose… I started to cry. I do not pretend to know the complexities of chakras and such, but my deepest self tells me it had something to do with surrender. I had fought mightily against these urges the whole class and in a most vulnerable, weak position, I surrendered. I stopped fighting for a moment, I let it be… and the tears came.
Letting things be is hard for me and in Yoga, you must let go of everything. This is why I walked away eight months ago. Eight months ago I had a six-month-old, a two-year-old, and dreams I didn’t know what to do with. I didn’t feel like I could let go of anything. How could I let any of these precious balls drop? No, letting go is not what I do. I force, I push, I strive, I worry, I attempt control. All of those adjectives carry with them a certain weight of aggression, and aggression has no place on a Yoga mat. The yoga mat is for surrender. So I walked away.
When the class was over the lady next to me turned and said, “You were such a calm and relaxed yogi to practice next to. Thank you.” I didn’t know what to make of that then, and I still don’t. I laughed at the irony. I was struggling mightily to suppress the anger so either I succeeded, or I’m really good at hiding.
Either way, I don’t want to struggle and I don’t want to hide. I don’t want to have to suppress anything, either. I don’t want to be friends with rage. I want to step out of my anger armor. I want to choose a different solution and for me, that means accepting what is, surrendering to the moment, letting it be, stop hiding and be vulnerable and yes… weak.
“Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you’d chosen it.” ~Eckhart Tolle
This is so much easier said than done for an habitual control-freak like me, but this is why I’m writing this, to be free. Now, when I feel my body responding in anger, the above statement is my mantra.
I know there will always be conflict. Stories are made of conflict and life is made of stories. But it’s time to find a better way to live mine and as the poet Robert Frost so wisely says, “The best way out is always through.”
So here I am. An angered, shameful, broken, human being trying to understand a better way to live… and to love.