Me & Anger & Me

I am losing touch with my anger and our separation has been bittersweet. The disconnect is healthy, but our relationship was not all bad. Self-righteous anger is so delicious and in short bursts, it makes me come alive like nothing else can or will. When I’m exploding in a fit of rage, I feel like Hades in Disney’s Hercules. Blue fire is bursting out of every orifice, laying me open to myself. I love it, but it’s that sustained anger (I have really bad separation anxiety, so I can’t just let anger visit me; he must always stay for awhile) that drains the life out of me.

I don’t have the energy that I once had for those seasons of rage. But oh, there was a time when I lived in venom. And I came by that behavior honestly. My dad had an inimitable temper. The slightest provocation could set him off for days. Our family had to make an abrupt exit from Thanksgiving with the relatives one year because he was asked to be quiet during the movie. “You can see that movie any time! You don’t always have me, but fine! You don’t appreciate me? We out!” He stopped visiting his sister’s house for almost a year because she served him on a paper plate and he said that was “disrespectful.”

With his children, the standards were even higher. I could not figure out how to please him. Everything I did caused him pain. I was always trying to navigate his moods. Briefly, I even considered choosing a college closer to home to make him happy. But the day that I filled out the card saying I was accepting Vanderbilt’s offer, he lost it on me about something else and I realized that he would never be satisfied, so what would be the point in not doing what made me happy?

Still, I wanted him to realize that the choices I was making were not about him. It was about me and couldn’t he try to look past my choices and see all this love I had for him? No haps. His love language was ultimatums. “Now Andre, you need to decide. Are you going to be my daughter or not (every time we had this conversation, I would daydream about popping back with a, “Seems like that’s not my call. God made that decision, no?). If you’re going to be my daughter, then you need to….and then the list of prerequisites would unfold.

It was craziness, but while I was jumping through/trying to avoid his hurdles and resenting him for it, I was putting the same kind of pressure on my friends, especially in college. I was such a tyrant of emotion. I had very specific ways that I wanted love to be communicated to me and if people did not meet my standards, I was ready to cut ties and unleash an unholy wrath upon them.

Freshman year of college, my best friend tried to reason with me. “Andrea, you have distinct ideas about what you think a friend is and you try to force people to wear those ideas. And when they don’t fit them, you’re ready to cut them out. But just because they don’t wear them well, doesn’t mean they aren’t good friends.

I wasn’t trying to hear all that wisdom, so I soldiered on, set in my ways. The end of my sophomore year, I ran for president of my choir and a friend decided to run against me. I thought I was fine… until she won. I was incensed and I spent the next year being the worst myself. I was a horror to behold. I was so angry with her and I felt like it was my duty to let her know every single day. Once, I saw her laughing about something and I watched her thinking, you don’t have things to smile about. Clearly, I’m not doing my job of wreaking havoc in your life if you are finding joy.” Just absolutely disgusting. And what’s worse, I wasted time that could have been spent enjoying the company of someone I absolutely adore.

During that year though, a few people tried to have interventions with me and they had zero to moderate success. One girl sat in our choir’s office with me one morning and listened to me vent about why I was so angry. Then she laid some real talk on me.

“Andrea, what could she do to make this right with you?

I had no response. I didn’t know. Did I even care or was I just luxuriating in the juices of my wounded pride?

She continued on in the wake of my silence.

“You know, she didn’t do this to hurt you. She did this for her. It’s not about you at all.”

For the life of me, I could not understand what point she was trying to make. My friend had made a choice. Her choice resulted in me being hurt. And now, she must pay. What difference does it make that she “wasn’t trying to hurt” me? All that matters is that I got hurt! She wasn’t not not trying to hurt me, so it all works out to the same result.

I was reminded of this episode of Saved by the Bell when Kelly realizes that she likes another guy, so she breaks up with Zack to go and be with him. Zack said he understood, but then brought a girl to a party just to make her jealous. When Kelly first broke up with Zack, their mutual friends were angry with her, but when he pulled that stunt with the other girl and Kelly got hurt, they switched their allegiance. I was so confused. She started this mess; he simply replied in kind!

It really bothers me when I can’t figure out the lesson from one of those morals-based shows from the 90’s. I worry that I’m one of those people Oprah talked about when she said that love is a language and some people never learn the words. If I can’t figure out the morality of one of these after-school specials targeted at children half my age, I’m in deep trouble.

A similar situation arose during an episode of Boy Meets World when Corey got stood up by his flighty Grandma. His dad gave him a speech about loving her as she is and I was so beside myself with anger. No! She needs to do better! When she popped up at the end of the episode, her son, Corey’s dad, said, “You’ll never change, will you?” And she replied, “Would you want me to?” He hugged her and said no. What in the world? She needs to do better! Way too old to be that unreliable!

But I get it now (I get the moral of both episodes, but I would need an entirely new post to explain the Boy Meets World episode). Zack’s actions are problematic because it was intentional. Kelly was not trying to hurt him, but she did. Unfortunately, when we give our heart to people, there is a definite possibility that they will hurt us. It’s the price we pay. It’s not healthy or productive to lash out in response because it just drives people away and makes us tell lies to ourselves about our self-worth and the value other people see in us.

When my friends or family hurt my feelings, I never had enough perspective to give them the benefit of the doubt. I always took it personally because I felt like they were either trying to hurt me or were being reckless with my heart. Either way, it meant that they didn’t love me or value me beyond the superficial.

And then, I went off the grid for a couple of years. When I was in Guatemala, I was the worst at staying in touch. I disappeared for days, weeks, and months at a time. It was as if any life I had before Guatemala no longer existed. Even when friends came to visit, I could not pull myself out of my own head long enough to fully engage them. And it’s not because I don’t value them. I was just going through some things that I needed to work out. And still, there are days when I know that I am not living up to the standards of friendship that I set for other people. I would grieve me to know they read/are reading my actions as dislike or apathy.

In short, I have been in need of grace. And my gratitude towards my loved ones for showing me grace has enabled me to do the same. The writer, Henri Nouwen, says that being able to forgive people for only being able to offer you a little love and being able to forgive yourself for only being able offer a little love is the basis of community.

I have been working on implementing the lessons that people tried to teach me back in college. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Acknowledge that I’m hurt, but don’t dwell in that place. Accept that other people are not machines who operate at my will. The hardest part has been acknowledging the hurt because then I am left in the place of trying to figure out who or what should carry that hurt. I was raised on the Old Testament God. I’m all in to vengeance and an eye for an eye. I love Jesus, but I have a hard time wrapping my head around his methods.

If a grievance arises, my first thought is, who now must suffer to right the wrong that has been done? And if no punishment is meted out, I feel the injustice in my chest and decide that someone has been played for a fool.

I love this one episode of Gilmore Girls where Lorelai graduates from business school and Rory doesn’t attend because her bus from NY got delayed. She was in NY, playing hooky from school with a boy she liked. When her mother gets home after the ceremony, Rory is sitting on the steps waiting for her. She launches into this lengthy apology while Lorelai tries to get to the facts. After the story is all out in the open and more apologies have been uttered, Rory heads off to her room as a self-inflicted punishment and Lorelai stops her and says that she wants to go to dinner. Rory groans and says that she doesn’t deserve it and her mom says, yes that’s true, but I do, and I want to go have dinner with my daughter.

Now that Gilmore Girls is on Netflix, I have watched this clip many times over. On one hand, I think, dang, Lorelai, you just giving all of your power away. Couldn’t be me. But on the other hand, I see Lorelai’s strength. She is secure enough in herself and her worth to not take the slight personally. She sees that her daughter has punished herself and is gracious enough to say hey, I love you and still want to spend time with you, so let’s just do that. As time goes on, I’ve been putting more and more weight on the other hand.

I had a difficult transition back to living in Boston. Loneliness has been the one constant. Even when I’m around other people, I still feel lonely. Every so often, I think, who is responsible for this? Who should carry the weight of my loneliness? Who is to blame? And I start lining up suspects in my head and thinking about the ways that I am going to enact some grand passive-aggressive scheme to teach them lesson. And then, Reason kicks in and points out all of the holes in the cases I have built up in my head. I see that people are just living their lives, carrying their own burdens and they don’t have the bandwidth to hold mine as well. This is just a path I have to walk alone and it’s no one’s fault.

Letting go of this anger has lifted a load off of my being. I feel more centered. That anger was pulling me in a thousand different directions and tearing my soul to shreds. From this rooted place, I can see that my anger was causing to me behave in ways that were contrary to my heart’s desires. When I got angry, I cut people out of my life and put up walls. The irony is that the fact that I was hurt means that the person was important to me and I wanted to spend my life with them, but maybe because they didn’t show up this one time, I decided to deny myself the pleasure of their company forever. And it’s because I was too petty to admit that they had the power to hurt me. Just like my dad.

By the end of his life, he was alone. It broke my heart to see my charismatic and extroverted father holed up in his house day in and day out. When we children visited, words gushed out of his mouth at the speed of light with millisecond pauses for breaths. It was annoying because he would have one-sided conversations with you and it was impossible to get a word in edgewise. Plus, he was telling stories we had heard a million times. But, it was hard to get too angry. In the car ride home, we would think about how starved he must have been for company.

One day in law school, I called my dad to talk about a boy. Lucky for me, he was having an emotionally lucid day.

“Daddy, he just wants to be my friend! But we would work so well together. I can just see it. I can’t get him to see it though! *commenced whining*”

“Andre. Just be this boy’s friend. The rest of that stuff, it’ll come. You got your whole life for that, but friends, good friends? They are hard to come by. Do you know what I would do for a friend right now?”

I can still hear his wistful longing for a companion. My dad didn’t have friends and his interactions with his family were few and far between. He burned bridges left and right, just one match right after another. He was hurting and didn’t know how to productively express his pain. He dangled his affections in front of people and tied a multitude of conditions to them. If you stepped so much as a pinky toe over his deal-breaker lines, he was snatched it all back and that was the end of that.

But that’s not love. Love asks for nothing; its acceptance is how we pay. The Good Book says, he who wants friends, must show himself friendly. Similarly, he who wants love (and to be able to recognize and accept the love when it is given) must show love. To love, you have to give your heart, with no attachments, and accept that from time to time, your heart is going to get battered. I get so anxious sometimes observing my loved ones walking around with my heart. It’s almost as if I can see my heart being juggled around their hands with all of their other obligations and priorities or I see it peeking out of a back pocket and I want to be like, give me that back! You cannot be trusted.

But I’m working on it. I try to take deep breaths and remember that I too fall short. I try to be a good daughter, sister, and friend and sometimes, many times, I fail miserably. I’m doing the best I can and I am consciously choosing to believe that others are doing the same.

Grace. Patience. Forgiveness. And more grace.

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