Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Anger Part 3: The One Where Anger is the Actual Topic. Also Fear.

Part 1
Part 2

So, yeah. The Big Scary Anger Monster.

It's weird the connections you make as you grow older. It wasn't until I was vacillating between obsessing over these posts and avoiding them that I realized what that whole childhood nightmare meant.

"As you no doubt know, the concept of the suction pump is centuries old – well, basically, that’s all this is, except instead of water, I’m sucking life; I’ve just sucked away one year of your life."

Sorry, had to go Princess Bride there for a minute... But the idea is similar. To my 3 year old mind, anger was that Thing chasing me in my nightmares, seeking to suck the life from me. Anger was absolutely terrifying.

Until approaching this subject and why anger and fear go so completely hand in hand for me, The nightmare had been more of a reminder I was one really weird kid. The more the topic was considered, the more the memory of the dream kept knocking on my brain saying "hey, dumbass... take a look at this. it means something."


What happens every time I think about anger

Growing up in the 70's was being part of the last generation where kids could run the streets, neighbors all knew each other, watched out for each others kids and acted like small communities. It was also a time of "no matter what is going on in your life, your job is to put on a public smile and only lose your shit in the privacy of home."

My home was unique only in the number of kids... Parents yelled, they spanked, they didn't take any shit from their kids. They also worked hard in and out of the home, bore a  shit ton of stress and sometimes that stress showed itself in less than attractive ways. It was a part of the times. So, no pointed fingers or horrible stories of family moments we all prefer to forget.

Rather than give a detailed account of times when anger was frightening, it would make more sense to discuss the effect it had.

***
I just had a conversation with Elena where she said she didn't want to come to our house because she had cried and we laughed at her. I don't remember the incident. It may have happened, it may have been a misunderstanding... but I apologized to her and asked her forgiveness. I would never intentionally hurt her feelings. She needs to know we can say we're sorry if we make mistakes.

My kids were equally as sensitive at 3 and guess (hope?) that's the case for most kids of that age.

What I remember understanding at 3 was that being laughed at was humiliating, being yelled at was terrifying and being teased felt like my value was diminished.
***

Anger, in my 3 year old brain, was the same as hate. If you loved someone, you were happy "at" them. If you hated them, you were "mad" at them. No in between, no shades of grey, no sense of emotions as fleeting. If I felt it, it was. Simple as that.

Without the words to express it and without anyone knowing how things translated in my brain, no one had an idea I was learning anything more than cause and effect. "Do bad thing, get punished. Repeat until you get the idea not to do bad thing again." was the intended message. What was learned was "YOU are bad and my anger at the bad takes away my love for you".

What ended up happening were frequent attempts to please that came across as attention seeking. "Look at this good thing I can do and love me" translated to "LOOK AT ME ALL THE TIME" and in effort to help me not need to be the center of attention, attention (and with it affection) was denied.

Somewhere around the same time I understood that displaying or feeling anger didn't give me any particular power over anyone. As a matter of fact, being angry was the same as doing bad. So not only was trying to please backfiring, trying to retaliate with anger of my own backfired as well.

Didn't take long to figure out that Anger was something to fear. Both the anger of others and my own anger. Either one could end in punishment instead of reassurance.

What is a natural and, at times, appropriate emotion everyone feels became Big Scary Anger Monster. Anger was something that hurt, whether I felt or is was displayed in my direction. I didn't even have to be the target of anger. Anger was an entity... a Thing that would hurt me if were anywhere near it.

No one wants to look at their reflection and admit, gee, I may be chronologically an adult but I'm an emotional toddler. For a time, living with DID, I could say, I don't feel that, she does. There was a 3 year old in my head who saw the world as I did when my body matched the age and reacted to anger exactly as my long-ago, 3 year old self reacted. I didn't have to own up to anger being mine.

I've come a long way in 14 the years since diagnosis, learning to identify and own my emotions. I've learned it's okay to feel and it's okay to express. I've learned that emotions don't have any true control over me if I allow them to pass through instead of sticking around. But that message never fully translated to anger... In part because of events that occurred during the last year of treatment and in part because of the fear so tangled up in the anger.

That's not to say I made no progress. Progress was had... progress was had and it was celebrated. And then I fell down and slid far enough back that progress when poof.

I can remember telling Lyn and Crane that on the rare occasions I actually cry, I'll cry for hours. I've cried uncontrollably for weeks on end. When something is shut up for a long time, letting it go is like watching the levees break.

So it is with anger.

All these years of living as one... all these years of being kind of a grown up... all these years of trying to teach my kids the same healthy emotional stuff I've learned... and the Big Scary Anger Monster is still alive and well.

Only now, instead of taking the form of a vintage household appliance, it's more a Rage Monster

Credit for this drawing goes to Mingrune over at Deviant Art
This is how I see anger in my head and of course it's frightening. What happens if I Hulk out and can't rein it back in?

*Here's where I hope anyone reading can finally say, "THAT I can relate to"*

So, like the Eric Bana Hulk (Sorry man, it was truly awful), I imagine letting anger show will cause it to only get bigger and bigger until even CGI can't suspend disbelief and an otherwise reasonable feeling becomes an absolute train wreck of a film... I mean, emotion.

What if I say things I'll regret? That's happened. *mentally lists the hundreds of times* What if I hurt myself or someone else? *looks at arms* That's certainly happened. What if I make everyone I love hate me and go away? Okay, that hasn't actually happened but it has felt that way. What if, what if, what if? What if I let myself feel angry and instead of being angry about a specific, reasonable thing, all the anger I've been afraid to express comes out and I END UP A RAGE MONSTER FOR THE REST OF MY NATURAL LIFE?

It's not as unrealistic a fear as you might think. It happens. I've experienced times when anger was the only emotion I could really connect with... because there were times when even the Big Scary Anger Monster was the less frightening thing going on in my head. I've known people who cloak themselves in anger as a shield against all the things life can dish out. I don't want to be a bitter old woman looking for every opportunity to be pissed about something. I've seen such elderly people, and let me tell you, it's the ugliest ugly there is in a human. It's also horribly sad.

Crane used to tell me it was possible for pain to subside from flash flood to trickle. It's the same with anger... I've just always been too afraid to let it go enough to find out.

John and Dan have a similar problem with anger. It's like we go from cool to the verge of grotesque emotion explosion in 2 seconds flat...and once you're there, it's really hard to express yourself in a way that doesn't feed the *metaphor of your choice here* of anger in yourself or someone else, creating an endless loop of Fuck Yous and fist shaped wall holes.

Bottom line, anger scares me. I've admitted it. I've used great detail to explain its origins.

Now it is out in the open, maybe I can begin to address it. Like, walk into the kitchen and see a chore hasn't been done and instead of instantly becoming enraged about ALL THE TIMES CHORES HAVE HISTORICALLY BEEN IGNORED, I can acknowledge the past unexpressed anger without letting it make what I feel in that moment bigger than it should be.

Instead of holding a grudge, I can deal with the present. Instead of saying "Why do you IGNORE me all the time and REFUSE to do your chores?" I can say, "Hey, you didn't take care of this and I'm offended when chores are dismissed."

Maybe I can practice that while I gently peel back some layers of recent years and acknowledge the anger held over from a time in my adult life when anger made me "bad".

Maybe when I'm angry without really knowing why, I can pound some clay (NOT a metaphor) or break some old (but not valuable) bottles or clear away a tree or two or take an ax to an old television and release some of the physical energy so my brain can work its way around to the why.

I love the line in The Avengers when Dr. Banner (Mark Ruffalo, FTW!) says "That's my secret. I'm always angry."

For me, that's kind of the goal. To reach a place where I can recognize anger is a part of me, as it is a part of everyone, and that I can choose how and when to let it go... not the other way around.

Because, no matter how it seems now, there are only so many things around here I can justify smashing.