The past four years in and out of therapy have taught me how to be very in touch with my emotions. Whether its sadness, guilt, or perhaps happiness, I’ve learned the importance of being aware of how I’m feeling at any given moment, because that is what leads me to use a certain behavior, whether it be healthy or not. And if I do go ahead and engage in those negative behaviors, whether they involve food, exercise, or something completely different, I can usually look back and pinpoint the emotion that I wanted to run from, that I simply needed to escape.
This ability can be a great thing. It has been helpful in order to understand what myself and others are going through in individual and group therapy. Of course, it also sometimes makes me the “Queen of the Over-share”. A few months ago, I somehow ended up telling a Starbucks barista that I was having a terrible day, and full disclosure, there may have been some tears involved. To some it may seem pathetic, but I did get a free coffee out of it, so I’m counting it as a win.
But, there is one emotion that continues to puzzle me. I rarely experience it, but when I do it stops me in my tracks and rapidly consumes me. I have friends and family who don’t quite know how to handle it, either. We can’t run from this force, even though it can turn our days from good to bad, it can cause us to isolate from loved ones, and it can leave us feeling exhausted and confused. This feeling, this agent that has so much power over us, is anger.
Earlier this year, someone I had become very close to hurt me. It was the first time I had trusted another person with all my vulnerabilities, weaknesses, and fears, and then very quickly had all of that taken away from me. In a way, I am lucky that it took 24 years to experience this sort of pain, a testament to the amazing friends and family I have in my life. Sure, I have been hurt before; we’ve all been hurt, but for some reason this one hit me a little differently. I think we all have times in our lives when we don’t feel whole, and when someone hurts us at these points it can really tear us apart if we’re not ready.
I certainly was not ready. The feelings accompanying this event were unfamiliar to me. My body was tense and shaky, and I felt almost an uncomfortable exhilaration. This certainly was not an exhilaration born out of happiness; it seemed to arise from chaos. I couldn’t stop thinking about the person who had hurt me, from the moment I woke up to the moment I went to sleep, a sleep that was filled with tosses and turns. I was overflowing with rage and I felt like I had nowhere to place my feelings.
Unsurprisingly, my immediate reaction was to lash out at this person through a series of angry text messages. However, when it comes down to it, I’m not very good at being cutting. I just now looked at my phone screen filled with my most recent text messages, and five out of six include either a heart or a smiley face, and I’m not even in that spectacular of a mood today. So, you can see what direction I lean in when it comes to texting etiquette. And even if I had been masterfully cruel, nothing could take away what had happened, nothing was going to make that person apologize, and therefore my anger and pain remained.
For a couple of weeks, I thought I could handle the feeling. I went on with my life, trying as hard as I could to distract myself as I pushed the thoughts of that person out of my head. I stopped talking very much about the situation with friends and even in therapy, because I felt as if it had run its course. But when it came down to it, I was really pushing away an anger that kept building. Something had to be done with it, so I turned to old habits that had provided me comfort in the past.
I don’t think its necessary to describe in detail what I did to run and distract from the anger—that’s not the important thing when it comes down to it, because I believe we all have vices we turn to when we want to escape. What I will say is that when I was unable to successfully express myself to the person who had hurt me, I turned my anger towards my life’s easiest victim: me. I began to beat myself up, and suddenly it was as if I had done something wrong, as if I had done something to deserve the pain.
I remember expressing my frustration to my doctor, telling him that I felt there was no resolution to the situation, so what else was I supposed to do but hurt myself? He responded by saying that the only way to truly achieve resolution was to grow stronger myself, apart from this person, taking away the power that had been gained over me. It took some time, but with some support and encouragement I was able to do this. I started taking care of myself again, ensuring that both my mind and my body were in balance so that I could have the strength to face the situations thrown at me. I also started talking about my feelings again, being open about what had happened and how I was choosing to deal with it. I surrounded myself with the people that I trust and I care about. Sure, I’m still angry, and I’ll admit I have a pretty killer “mean Molly” speech planned out in my head for if I ever run into this person, but it’s also okay if I don’t use it. My life is okay without the revenge.
When it comes to anger, there are many different ways of dealing with it. Maybe it’s throwing rocks, punching a wall, or maybe it’s hiding in bed trying to wish the feelings away. Perhaps it’s confronting the person who hurt you, and while sometimes this is necessary and healthy, the way I chose to do it gave me nothing in return. I know that the next time anger enters my life it will probably rock me, and it will definitely feel uncomfortable, but I also know that I deserve to take care of myself while I ride out the feeling. I think that will get me through.
Peace and Love,