There was a comment on one of the threads recently where one of our sister warriors couldn’t understand how calm and level we all were. Where was our anger? Weren’t we furious!? Why weren’t we screaming and breaking things!? This post is for you (and for all of us).
I think we are taught young that anger is “bad.” Especially if we are girls, the inevitable silencing we experience emphasizes the erasure of any difficult emotion that makes us appear unladylike or, worse, makes others uncomfortable. We must be quiet and submit. We are fed messages that tell us we must always be positive. Don’t pout. Turn that frown upside down. Just smile. You’d be prettier if you smiled.
Then D-Day happens.
After the grief, pain, shock, horror, numbness, fear (or sometimes before those things), there is an unquenchable rage, like nothing we’ve ever felt before. And we are totally unequipped to deal with it because we have no practice. We maybe even fear our own anger. It's big. It makes us say and do crazy things. But that anger, in those first moments, is protecting us. It’s a kind of temporary armor. It is shielding us from the pain and hurt that is fueling it.
I was sitting in bed early evening on Jan.1 reading. We had returned from visiting a relative for New Year’s Eve. It was a gruelling, exhausting trip but one that we made, despite no one wanting to go, because of how hurt the host would be if we hadn’t (the address is at the intersection of dysfunction junction and codependence court). My husband had been awful. Drinking even more than usual and being just a cocky shithead. I was glad to be home, unpacked and resting in some relative quiet (cue the ominous music).
He walked in to the room and shut the door. Gave me his prepared speech. He was unhappy, thinks I’ve been unhappy too and wants a divorce. “What are you talking about? Are you crazy?” This is out of nowhere from where I’m sitting. Then…in less than a second, all the pieces click together and these words come out of my mouth before the synapses stop firing. “There’s someone at work, isn’t there?”
He admits, yes. And I am, in that moment, pure rage. I have so much adrenaline my skin hurts. I can’t see. I’m shaking. I spew something at him like “You are the only person I have ever loved, you worthless piece of shit.” I push him aside and race out of the room. Some hind part of my brain knew I would not look good in prison orange and got me out of there before I beat him to death with my bare hands.
I came to myself driving. I had no idea where I was going but realized I was in no state to drive, so I pulled over in a park. And sat there, shaking, raging, my skin on fire, ready to run 500 miles and kill a bear at the end of it. And for many months since then, anger has been a regular visitor. I did many embarrassing things in those immediate weeks, in addition to crying and generally losing my shit, sometimes barely making it from one second to the next, and eventually discovering my strength. But often, I was just fucking angry.
The thing is, anger is a feeling like any other. It’s not good or bad in and of itself. It just is. Just like love. Just like sadness. Just like contentment. Feelings just come up. Each has a job or something to tell you. And its what you do with them that matters. Anger scares people around us because it generally means that we are about to not put up with their bullshit anymore. It means they might have to face some uncomfortable things themselves. Anger tells us when our boundaries have been violated. It's part of our body’s fantastic and sensitive alarm system.
Anger is also a defense mechanism. Have you ever observed someone get angry when they are embarrassed? Or feeling hurt? Or shamed? They lash out to push the shame or embarrassment or hurt on to someone else. It’s a kind of emotional offloading. And it armors them up, makes them hard. They think maybe if they just stay angry, they won’t be hurt again. And they end up hurting others instead. Sound familiar?
Anger is essential to recovery. Your anger is legitimate. Justified. You are entitled to rage. Lean into it. Do no harm. But feel all of it. Let the revenge fantasies rise. Picture chasing her naked ass in your car and mowing her down with it. Or, if you are like me, you prefer the simple expedient of smashing their heads between concrete blocks or with a crow bar. Lean into those thoughts. Don’t fight them. Run them out. Bench press. Hit a punching bag. Expend that energy. That’s all it is in the end. Just energy. Get that shit out of your body. And what you’ll find underneath is what the armor of anger is hiding. The hurt, the grief, the pain, the sorrow. All the pieces of you to be put back together. Softened up but more beautiful than ever.
I had a neighbor who had been through an ugly divorce preceded by her husband’s infidelity. (I didn’t get it at the time. You often don’t until you join the club.) She wears her pain like a badge. She’s bitter but disguises it as longsuffering. It has been nearly a decade. I’m not saying she needs to be over it because I don’t know the other parts of her story and that’s not mine to judge. But what I do know is that I don’t want that to be me. Although I give myself permission to feel my anger, I won’t build a suit of armor from it.
Months after D-Day, I found two photos that my phone snapped as I was running from that awful moment. It captures exactly what I saw. Dark strange lines, blurred, red, hint of a window. The room familiar yet completely alien, tilted crazily. It was like nothing I had ever felt before (or thankfully since). And when I look at those pictures, I can still feel the ghost of that rage in my body, the burning of my skin. I’m hopeful that someday those pictures will not command that same power. That I will look at them and feel only sympathy for my wounded, former self, and now it was just a single chapter in a really, really long, incredible story. Because anger, like all things, like all feelings, has its time and then passes.