Befriend your demons. I know the popular thing is to shove them in the basement or the closet or under the bed so nobody else sees them, but I’m not a popular thing kind of girl. At least, not usually.
Isn’t it funny how often we give advice without listening to what we are saying? I figured out a long time ago that shadows are there to show you where the trouble is. I know that every single thing that happens can turn into a learning experience and those things we call ‘bad’ can turn into huge leaps toward a happier version of me. I know this. But still.
Today – pretty much this whole week – has been a struggle to stay calm. I have anger issues. Anyone who really knows me knows this. I don’t hurt people on purpose or run around screaming for management. Nor do I abuse anyone or anything. But I get angry over the things that happen to me all the time. I start to breathe fire and, rather than letting others get caught in the flames, I swallow them down. Or, I used to. I used to think that, if I just held it in, if I just waited it out, I’d be alright. Nobody would get hurt. Except me, of course. But there we are, at the crux of this post.
See, we are brought up to be polite, brought up to say please and thank you, brought up, if our parents actually cared about the person they were releasing on the world, to try not to hurt anyone. If you were like me, your parents did not get around to telling you that you have to be just as kind to yourself as you are to others or you’ll end up burning for your whole life to the ground.
My anger has always been there. A deep, hot coal inside that has, at times, made me feel as though I am harboring some sort of monster. I used to call it my dragon and make no mistake, there were times that anger came in useful. I thought I knew where it came from. I thought I knew how to control it. I thought a lot of things that weren’t true. In the past few years, I became very aware that my anger was eating me alive. Too much had happened. Too much went wrong. Too many people took my trust and used it to stab me in the back. I refused myself the privilege of acting it out for fear of who would get caught in the crosshairs. I swallowed it down and it became the thing that drove me to the very edge of breaking.
This was the catalyst which sent me spiraling down into the dark. But, before you start to feel bad for me, let’s get back to that advice. Make friends with your demons. They have something to say to you.
We are always so quick to try and silence things like anger. We are ashamed of it, as though adults, at some point, lose the ability to feel disappointed or angry or sad. We hide these things away and pretend they aren’t there. They, in return, sit in the dark and begin to grow; we feed them our fear and unhappiness, believing that, if we just keep throwing the rug over the monster, it’ll vanish. Unfortunately, we tend to keep burying them until they are roughly the size of a house and are wearing our area rugs like a beanie. This is about the time they start cracking the walls every time they breathe. Some of us are smart enough to realize this beastie isn’t going anywhere and some of us just get a bigger rug. I would love to tell you that my first choice was to offer the thing some tea and a little girl talk, but, honestly, I have spent a whole lot of time buying rugs.
In my job, I’m often using technology that is less than stellar; mass tech for large corporations is often sourced from the lowest bidder, ditto on the software. This means I get a whole lot of opportunity to lose my temper; there is nothing quite like getting five miles down the wrong country road in the opposite direction of where you want to be and realizing you wasted ten minutes trying to get to a house that is ten miles in the wrong direction.
When I know my route, I rarely need my device to tell me anything; I have a mind for addresses. I’ll forget your name two seconds after meeting you (I’ve got a block, it isn’t personal), but I can remember the color of your house, what your driveway looks like, and how many milkbones I gave your dogs two weeks after my last delivery to you. I can usually tell you shortcuts to every street and draw a map to get you there.
But I have a new route. That means I’m a little more dependent on my tools than usual. Worse, last week, the handheld device for my new route had a sim issue. So now I’m working with one that has never been in the area where I deliver (they store information for the areas they are used in). This results in a larger than usual number of incidents where I’m stopping next to a very empty field, device cheerily telling me that my destination is on the left, and wondering if I’m looking for Howl’s moving castle or if I’m just in the wrong place. Again. Or maybe the deer have been shopping online?
Many times, this also results in my temper flaring up and a wave of anger rolling over me. Anger that grows more violent with every incident. And this is where I found today’s story – all days have a story and this is something I’ve come to see as a challenge; if you can see the lesson, you can grow from it. Stories have meaning. They show us things we didn’t know we knew. They give us a key to who we really are, underneath all the masks we wear.
I have spent the last year learning to step back from my emotions, learning to look for the underlying cause. I don’t hold them down. I ask what they are trying to tell me.
When it comes to my anger, though, I do not often embrace it.
I have always loved a good puzzle. I’m a huge fan of CSI and have a knack for figuring out who the killer is long before the show gets there. I’ve always thought that is my writer side. But to touch the live wire of my anger? No thanks. That was a riddle I thought I already had the answer to and never questioned that. My anger was dismissed as a character flaw, first by others, long before I understood that anger has a root cause, always, then by me. I accepted it was an indelible mark, something that, like hair color or a birth defect, could be covered up but never erased.
I thought my anger was an inherited thing. An uncontrollable beast chained up in the basement, constantly fighting to get free. I thought I understood it and knew it had to be contained, not befriended; it only wanted to hurt. Anyone who knows me and has read enough of my past blogs knows how many times I’ve said that our demons are really our angels. I have always believed there are good things to be found in the bad (toxic positivity is to be avoided, though). So it might seem odd that I didn’t realize there was more to my anger than genetics. I enjoy working out puzzles, yet never questioned that my reaction to my anger was to say ‘it just is,’ and answer I would never accept anywhere else (yeah, I was the kid that asked why until people broke down in tears).
I won’t try to defend my willing blindness; it had a lot to do with fear. Fear that I would take a look and realize I was exactly the person I never wanted to be. Fear that my anger would ruin me. Fear that ‘being myself’ meant unleashing the beast and learning to lose people because it certainly likes to say hurtful things, eat sheep, and burn down the cottages of the local peasants.
So, delivery drivers are notorious for not getting along with dogs. I am not most drivers. Dogs, cats, even chickens tend to trust me. Today, while swinging between being angry and looking for a story in the events of the day – namely, my ongoing war with Karen, clearly a device both designed by the devil and given software intended to break delivery drivers to the point of offering up their soul in return for decent directions to their customers – I came upon a house with a pitbull as the resident guardian on the porch.
The dog was not mean. Most pitbulls are not. It is an image society has fostered and you’d be surprised how many of your favorite breeds have found themselves in the hot seat for being ‘genetically violent’. Pitbulls are goofy, warm, and often thrilled to make new friends. This guy was no different. I laughed a little because it was plain that he’d met plenty of delivery drivers with milkbones in their pocket. I couldn’t help but think about how often the breed has been villainized simply because the media always points at the breed, never the negligent owner. Almost all dogs have the ability to be kind, if they are trained properly.
And that is about the time that my own advice came back to haunt me. Because here I am, standing with my new friend who would keep most drivers in their van just because of how he looks, thinking about how stupid it is to assume genetics are to blame for violence instead of upbringing, while simultaneously telling myself I need to get control of my genetic failings. People distrust pitbulls. They put them in a box marked ‘dangerous and not to be trusted.’ The same way I keep putting myself in that box. I’m angry because it’s genetic, this was the story I told myself. The story I have always been terrified was true.
Mr. Pitbull got two milkbones. He earned them. And I went off, Karen in hand, feeling a little like I’d been gut punched by Mike Tyson. What if I am not angry because I have a genetic predisposition. What if I am angry because anger is a part of life. An acceptable part of life. What if my refusal to embrace that is exactly why it is getting out of hand?
Stories always have a hinge in the middle. The ‘because’. Things happen for a reason. Emotions have a root in what has come before. Left untended and unguided, they will get so big they swallow you whole. I’ve spent so long dismissing my anger as something that just was, without reason or cause, just this monster I got leashed to by virtue of blood, that the monster was starting to stomp around and do damage where it really matters.
I got angry at my handheld for taking me the wrong way because it was chewing up valuable minutes. Its misdirections make me look slow in a job that requires efficiency and speed. I got angry because my equipment wasn’t living up to my expectations. It was throwing me off my game. It was not a genetic anything making me consider throwing Karen in the road and running her down. It was a very real, very understandable reason.
Anger isn’t always sensible. Sometimes we get angry at one thing because we didn’t allow ourselves to be angry at something else. Sometimes it crosses lines and, yes, hurts people who don’t deserve it. But to put anything under a singular blanket and say ‘now I know all there is to know about that’ is to dismiss any chance of growth. Today showed me that my fear of my anger has limited me. By not asking what the emotion is saying, I fail to learn from it.
The lesson when dealing with the emotions we don’t like, is not to bury them and try to force them out. You cannot learn what it is saying if you don’t listen. And it can’t leave until you do. So I sat with my anger. I listened to it. Why was I so angry? Because crawling into the back of the van and crying wasn’t an option. Because the lowest bidder let me down. Because, in spite of doing my very best on this new route, I was afraid I was a disappointment.
I’m really good at helping other people see new perspectives. If your parents made you angry or your boyfriend cheated, I can step away from the situation and see the event without judging it good or bad. I have spent a good deal of my life teaching others to reframe the things that are hurting them. But I never taught myself how to reframe the things that really scare me.
You should thank every challenge that comes your way. When they show up, they are giving you an opportunity to grow into a more authentic you. Are you angry? Sad? Upset that you have to blindly accept that ‘this is just the way it is’ when someone or something hurts you? Open yourself up to your feelings every single moment. See what they have to say. They tell you what needs to change. They help you solve the unending riddle of who you are.
We live in a society that hates anyone who doesn’t foster positivity at all times – even if it means faking it. They give us pills to make us smile even when we ought to be crying. We frown at those who allow their misery to show through. We tell each other to smile, cheer up, and remember how lucky we are. All those darker emotions make you unstable, in the eyes of the masses. If you feel any of them, then you are sick and need to be fixed.
I say to hell with that. I spent most of my life trying to hold on to that fake smile, pretending that nothing could bother me. I’ve spent years getting more and more angry. I thought the only way to deal with anger was turn my back on it and wait for it to leave. This, my friends, is what we call ‘toxic positivity’. Embracing the things we see as negative gives them a chance to show us all the things about ourselves we never saw before. My anger was born of fear that I actually am the weakest link. Fear that I was letting everyone down. There is nothing about it that is inevitable. I have reasons to be angry. It isn’t a birth defect. It’s a reaction. That’s all. It’s a message from me to me. Maybe what it has to say is reasonable, maybe it isn’t. But I can’t know which it is if I don’t talk to it. Go talk to your demons. Especially the ones you are most afraid of. I promise you, there is an angel underneath that scary mask. What it is trying to tell you will help you find a better version of yourself.
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