When Anger Becomes Poison

 

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It’s no secret that the world is angry right now. I see it on the news programs and demonstrations. The articles and relentless debates on social media over right and wrong.  Conversations, laments, and calls to action. People are angry, and rightfully so.

I find it challenging to express my thoughts and opinions when I don’t always understand what’s going on. I want to get involved, to take a stand and use my voice, but I don’t know how to do that without getting trapped in the emotions and feelings that will come with it. I’ve gotten involved with various movements previously, but eventually had to take a step back because it took a toll on my mental health. Anger and outrage can be powerful forces that lead us to take action, but there’s a fine line between taking action and allowing it to take over our lives.

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I know what it’s like to be an angry person, because arguably I’ve lived a good portion of my life being pissed off at the world: barely a teenager, I blamed having a handicap for most of the rejection that I experienced from some of my peers and classmates, not able to understand why they didn’t at least try to get to know me. Upon freshman year of high school I switched from public to private education, yet couldn’t look past the previous pain in order to start over. Then in college, I turned that anger on myself, hating how I didn’t seem to have the courage or strength to ask for what I wanted, or needed, and rise above the ignorance that didn’t seem to go away.

And then there was my parents’ divorce; I’ve written in the past regarding why I had such a hard time with it, but have only now become comfortable with admitting that it boiled down to the fact that I had no control over what was happening. It took me to some pretty dark places, where I either envisioned hurting myself or someone else out of desire for revenge. I had to put friends on speed-dial in case I was ever seriously tempted to do anything that I couldn’t take back; and while thankfully that never happened, the rage still festered. It was an awful way to function, but back then it was either hold on for dear life in order to keep myself safe, or let go and risk being taken advantage of.

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There was no single moment of surrender, although I could sense the fatigue that went deeper than just a lack of sleep. As it usually goes, most of us aren’t motivated to get better until we bottom out, reaching a point where the only option is to face our demons or be destroyed by them. I’d occasionally look in the mirror and think, “if I don’t properly deal with this somehow, I’m going to lose my mind.” Part of me already felt like I was dying on the inside, which perhaps was necessary in order to begin the work of moving forward. A family sit-down was a good starting point in finally making peace, acknowledging the pain as well as the shortcomings in how everything was handled. When you name and acknowledge something, regardless of what it is, you give it less power.

Accepting reality, and allowing my heart to soften along with it has been no straight shot, and the rising has often come with pauses and standstills. Initially I was wasn’t sure what to do, likening what was actually freedom to standing in the middle of a clearing in the woods and waiting for a monster to jump out and grab me. I still have dreams that come out of nowhere and still deal with emotional triggers every so often: on Valentine’s Day I came across a picture that set me off in a fit, where I cried and dropped F-bombs and couldn’t stop thinking about it all day. But rather than seek out satisfaction in confrontation, I declared that whatever was going out was not in my hands, and that I was not responsible for ensuring that good decisions were made. This is not the first time that I’ve had a butt-kick in order to lighten up, and it probably won’t be the last.

I do have regrets, wondering where I would be right now if I had put more energy into actively building a career, (and overcoming the fears that came along with it) rather than kicking and screaming over a lack of  support from those who couldn’t provide it. I took people for granted, and I think I could have had better relationships if I was willing to look beyond my own grief and take control of my life, rather than allowing outside circumstances to dictate how I lived it.

I’m an incredibly deep feeler, so whether I’m excited or upset about something, there’s no hiding it from anyone. If I denied that part of myself, I wouldn’t be able to write, or connect, or love in the ways that I do.  Anger in itself is not the enemy, but rather when we choose to use it as a weapon or an unnecessary barrier in order to avoid dealing with our own pain or struggle. To be angry is one thing, but to stay angry is another battle all together.

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Though a lot of what I’ve mentioned above is personal, knowing how I handled it does play a role in how I approach discussing and taking part in what is currently going on in our country. I don’t want to be passive and just leave matters of change to those whom I feel can do a better job than I can, but I don’t want to throw myself into an ocean when I just end up swimming around in circles. Since November, I’ve spent a lot of time examining how I interact with people, especially those whom I suspect or know don’t share my point of view. I believe in listening to both sides, choosing to ask questions more than making arguments or assumptions. I believe in seeking to understand as much as I want to be understood, even if it takes a while for me to completely “get it.” And rather than take offense to someone’s anger or passionate advocacy, I want to honor where they’re coming from in the best way I know how.

I wonder how the world would be if we could admit that deep down, a lot of the outrage is the result of failure to be seen, heard, and loved exactly as we are. Are we angry solely because of what’s happening, or does it also have to do with the fact that we can’t force the people around us to think the way that we do?

I know that there are more complicated layers involving injustice, identity, and matters of life and death. I know that I have privilege, and as a result I wonder if I even have a right to contribute my own thoughts and ideas. But the conversation has to start somewhere, and the best place I can think of right now is within the context of our shared humanity. Different backgrounds, different beliefs, yet whether we want to admit it or not, we are all human here. It’s okay to be afraid of change, afraid of pain, and afraid of being alone. Damn it all, I’m scared too.

And yet, I refuse to let the darkness overtake me. If I want to lighten up, I need to be a light, both for myself and for others. The release, the laying down of defenses on a daily basis feels like one of the hardest things that I’ve had to do, since I lived that way for so long. Only this I know for sure:

Be soft, for softness is not weakness.

Be sweet, for a kind and compassionate heart will take you further than apathy ever will.

Acknowledge feelings and emotions, but don’t let those be the reason that you overlook what is good in the world, including those around you.

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