Anger. It’s an ugly monster. It creeps in and steals the peace from your mind. If left to fester, anger turns into bitterness. For some, anger is easily shed like dirty socks. For others, anger hangs on like a like-sucking leech. I am among the later group that struggles with anger.
My anger flares when I feel powerless and out of control in a situation. I recognize the trigger, but have yet to be able to stave off the anger when I know it’s coming. My anger issues have their roots in my childhood.
My former stepfather was an abusive alcoholic, and he frequently used the phrase, “I’ll give you something to cry about.” Because of him I had to learn to repress my feelings, because I didn’t dare talk back to him, or express any kind of anger towards him. I had to swallow it.
My father’s temper is the stuff legends are made of. Screaming. Threats. Demanding control. The coping behavior I had to learn to exist with my stepfather had to be employed with my father also. When he went on a tirade everybody around him did best to keep their mouth shut and not exhibit even the slightest hint of wanting to argue back. He would get up in your face and, with his fiery temper as his weapon, beat you down into submission.
My father’s father (my biological grandfather . . . I never met him. I was 10 before I learned that the man I knew as my paternal grandfather was actually my dad’s stepfather who adopted my father and his brother when they were children.) was an abusive alcoholic. My father is a recovering drug addict. Thus far in life I have not perpetuated the cycle of chemical addiction that seems to dominate the paternal figures in my life. Instead the cycle that I continue is the cycle of anger.
Generally behaviors learned in childhood carry over into adulthood. Similarly, as adults we seek out those kinds of relationships that we knew as children. Abused children end up as adults in abusive relationships. I did. Romantic relationships. Even one friendship. That kind of relationship was what knew, so unconsciously it was what I sought out.
For the most part I am generally a pretty happy person. The joke is that I poop glitter and vomit rainbows. People would (and have) described me as perky. The problem is that not everyone is in a good mood all the time. When my good mood turns sour it’s as if someone flipped the switch between noon and midnight. I swallow my feelings and turn everything inside myself, because that’s what I learned to do as a child. A person can only swallow so much negativity though, before it starts oozing back out.
When I get like that what I desire, what I need is for someone to recognize that I can’t reach out for help or comfort. I don’t know how to reach out. I was always taught not to reach out for help, that reaching out is a sign of weakness. So I need someone to come to me and do what I can’t do own my own . . . give me permission to get the feelings out before they turn toxic. But rarely does anyone do that.
I asked a friend recently why I am so unapproachable when my mood turns bad. It turns out that there are a few reasons.
1. People are so used to the “glitter-and-rainbows Heather” that they don’t know how to react when that changes.
2. I apparently poof up like a threatened animal and become very intimidating. I scare people away.
3. My anger voices itself in sarcasm and negativity. Nobody wants to hear that.
People just feel it is best to leave me alone until I calm down.
I am determined to break the cycle that keeps repeating itself through my family. I don’t want Nathan to grow up to repeat the behavior I learned as a child and live with as an adult. I don’t want Nathan to grow up and not be able to reach out for help when he needs it. I don’t want Nathan to feel shame when he reaches out for help if he falls victim to negative thinking.
Last December I finally admitted that my anger was beyond my control, and that it was holding me back in life. I went to Celebrate Recovery, picked up my blue chip, and drew my line in the sand. The cycle of anger will end with me.
But it doesn’t happen overnight. It took years for my issues with anger to form. It will take time to work past those issues. But I have a wonderful support system that holds me accountable, doesn’t shame me for reaching out, and cheers for each baby step that I take away from that cycle.
But recovery is not always a constant forward motion. There are setbacks. When those setbacks come, you just have to pray your way through them, and employ the tools you have learned to handle the situation differently that you used to.
I hit a setback a week ago. I have not handled it differently that I used to. I have fallen back into old habits.
I am in the process of getting enrolled in classes for this fall at my local community college. The first thing I did was fill out my FAFSA. I contacted the school to find out what my next steps needed to be. I followed those steps, but each department I had to deal with at the school had no idea of what the other departments were doing in regards to my enrollment. It was a complete lack of communication that sent my anxiety through the roof. I felt completely out of control. Then I found out that my FAFSA had gotten flagged for verification. I sent in the extra paperwork, but the school was delayed in getting it. I needed answers, but nobody could give them to me. I was completely out of control in a situation that I feared anyway, because I am a 39-year-old returning student. My anxiety translated itself to anger, and I let it happen.
The anger was fueled by the fact that I found myself in the middle of a fight between two friends. Accusations were made. Hurtful words were said. Threats were made. Things were shared with me that should not have been shared. Emotionally I felt like I had gone back in time, that I was again that little girl under fire from my stepfather’s or father’s anger. I couldn’t do or say anything. I had to swallow everything I wanted to do or say for fear or making the situation worse. I felt hurt by one friend, and betrayed by the other. I still feel that way. I need to confront the betraying friend, but I know that at this point I will just spew accusations of my own, and that will make it all worse.
I need to take this to the accountability team I have at Celebrate Recovery. I need to pour it all out, empty myself of the toxic negativity that my anger is turning into. I need to admit to God that I have hurt people in the past week because of my anger. I need to ask forgiveness from those people. I need to open myself to the growth that God is working to establish in me.
I don’t feel that Satan has gotten a foothold in my head. I feel that God is using these situations to grow me. But I am resisting the growth, because changing old habits is sometimes scary and uncomfortable.
I may have grown up with anger as my security blanket, but things of childhood can be left behind. God has greater plans for me than holding onto the hurts of my past.
Until next time . . .