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“Don’t Deny the Rage” – Part One

When DH and I separated, I received the same advice from several kind and wise people with whom I worked at the time:  “Don’t deny the rage.”

I had no idea what they were talking about.  I was living on the epicenter of an emotional earthquake, I was wary and scared and anxious and tense and many, many unpleasant things, but angry wasn’t one of them.  In fact, anger was such an alien concept to me at that point, I didn’t even know what they were talking about. I’d been angry for years, but it had manifested as impatience, short temper, etc., quick firebursts that just as quickly, vented, died back down. I didn’t know what rage was.

It took a year, nearly an entire calendar year before it hit me, and even then it required a catalyst outside my own experience in the form of a terrible drunk driving incident that killed the wife and three children of one of my dear friends.  For my friend I became angry, and that righteous anger popped the cork and — I couldn’t get the cork back in.

It revealed itself in several ways:  Bursts of excessive energy accompanied by the strong desire to inflict deep pain on those who had wronged me. Black humor, self-deprecating humor. Sarcasm. Profanity. An inordinate desire for revenge — I adopted a motto that reflected my resentment at DH’s efforts to sabotage my independence and success: Success Is the Best Revenge; sometimes, later, I would modify it: Happiness Is the Best Revenge.

It boiled, it exploded, it simmered. It waited still and quiet beneath the surface then it would erupt at unexpected times and under, often, unreasonable provocations.

When it didn’t go away on its own, I became frightened, by its intensity and by its duration; this was not my usual outburst but a months-long, years-long storm.

We women are told not to get angry.  We are told from childhood to hold in our tempers. A grown woman who lets her anger flare is dismissed as a bitch. We are told to be nice and to do whatever it takes in order to get along with even the most difficult and unreasonable people in our lives.  This is fine to a point, but it misses the greater point that sometimes a line has to be drawn in the sand and defended with might and main:

You may not hit me.  You may not tell me I am stupid and worthless.  You may not dismiss me as insignificant. You might think it, but it is an evil, nasty, unfair and abusive attitude, and you may not inflict it upon me. You may not abuse me.

Anger is the only reasonable response to abuse.  I read somewhere that anger is a secondary emotion to fear or hurt.  That’s true to a point — we have been hurt and so we are angry. We are afraid of abandonment or of insignificance, and so we are angry.  That makes sense.  But anger is also simply the only reasonable response to situations of violence, or moral outrage.  This is, I suspect, a uniquely Christian idea (“Be angry and do not sin” — Eph. 4:26) but an important one.

Maybe what made my anger so difficult do deal with was that it was a combination, a culmination of All The Above. It was secondary to hurt – “why am I never good enough?” — and to fear — “What is going to happen now? How can I manage on my own?” but it was also a gut reaction to the fact that I was being abused.

Still trying –

In the fall I went to a retreat for women who are married to men with same-sex attraction or sex addictions.  It was a profound experience, one of the key defining points of my life.  It was strange, and wonderful, and heartbreaking, to be in a room full of women who live with the same struggles and sorrows I experience.  So  many times, as they told their own stories, I found myself thinking, “What! You, too?” There was an unexpected universality to our experiences.

One woman spoke of how her husband cringes when she touches him. I know that cringe well. Another spoke of her anger at being deceived and lied to and blamed for what had happened in their marriage; I know that situation well, too. One spoke of how unfeminine and undesirable she had come to feel, and I wanted to cry (and, later, I did cry. Buckets, I think.  A box of tissues’ worth, at least — and I don’t cry) because that is what I have lived with every day of my life for many years.  More years than she has been alive.  More years than any of them had been alive.

And this retreat was glorious! – but coming home and returning to real life is so hard.  Living alone, I had a buffer and my season of grace dragged out much longer than that of the other women, who had families to return to, and family needs to address.  For once, I have seen my solitude as something of a luxury.

The luxury couldn’t last, of course. A visit from a beloved friend sent me into a tailspin.  I became so anxious during the visit – of being boring, or annoying, or that my house (which announces my coexistence with the black dog to anyone who comes in) would appall him . . .   when I wanted him to be comfortable and at peace and to see me at something resembling my best, I certainly was not.

There are still bruises and when those bruises are bumped, I yelp.  And my friend bumped into one I hadn’t yet encountered, and I don’t think I really recovered from that  – and I didn’t yelp, I roared.

It is so hard to love someone, and at the same time to feel that these circumstances of my past have so battered and warped me that I am no longer worthy of being loved.  “Would Christ Himself see you that way?” he asked, when I confessed this to him, in fear and trembling, one evening.  Ahh, Darling, but Our Lord is not so fastidious as mortal men.  He sees beyond the superficial things that are, so often, all that we mortals can see.  There are times when spiritualizing a corporal problem doesn’t help, and this is one of them.

Nevertheless, I will go back and re-read my notes from my retreat, and I will talk with these other women some more, and I will write, and I will try to live well and to see and honor my best self — even if.

But it is hard to feel condemned, rather than called, to being alone.

Holiday challenges — Part One

The holidays are upon us – which for me runs from a couple weeks before Thanksgiving (family birthdays) until after the first of the year.  This is the time of year which brings out the best of people.  And the worst.

This is my “Black Dog” season — short days, frequent bad weather, being alone in a season that highlights families.

But for many people who have families, holidays can also be difficult because of unpleasant family dynamics.  Sometimes families bring out our inner child – not in a good way, but the uncertain, insecure, emotionally dependent . . .   Family stresses can cause us, or people we love, to turn in on themselves, to put up barriers and walls, to push away the very people who love them/us the most.

There’s not much to do.  All the hype about holiday as an idyllic season only makes things more painful when idyllic is one of the last adjectives one would reach for, in describing the holiday realities.  The movie Love, Actually, is a pretty sad but realistic portrayal of how disappointing Christmas can be.

What to do?

I haven’t decorated my house in years.  What’s the point, when no one will come by, no children will come home to celebrate? But I find myself committed, impulsively, to buying a Christmas tree from a local businessman, and so I’m going to decorate.  —-  and why shouldn’t I? Am I not capable of enjoying the festive glow of fairie lights in the tree? and Christmas dishes and wreaths and candles and the Nativity scene (I do hope the pieces are still intact!) and all of it?  And is it not perfectly realistic and reasonable to decorate the house for my own pleasure?  And so I shall.