*Editors Pick of the Week - Elephant Journal June 2021
“Anger always comes from frustrated expectation” ~ Elliott Larson
I held onto my anger like an impenetrable shield.
It motivated me. Held me. Protected me. It became my coping mechanism. My fire, my way to hide. It made me friends. And enemies.
The more my anger grew, the more it became ingrained into my inner fabric. Sometimes it would show up as blinding anxiety. Other times it would mask itself with overtly crass remarks or through my beloved “sick sense of humor.” But beneath my Teflon Don facade, I was dying inside. I just didn’t realize it yet.
You see, anger can become so comforting. It’s the cool side of the pillow on a hot day, and I would totally get off on the feeling of that fire in my belly. Now, don’t get me wrong, having inner fire is a totally good thing because without it we, as a species, would have probably slipped back into the primordial soup we came from a long time ago. What I’m talking about is imbalance in the body. Just too damn much of a (not so) good thing.
Now, before you get the wrong impression, I have never been the cut you off in traffic giving the middle finger type, or the scream at you for getting my Starbucks order wrong type. That’s an entirely different beast we’ll talk about another time. This anger was always directed inward. Silently stewing and brewing beneath the surface waiting to erupt in a giant ball of frustration and tears.
You see, I come from a family where no one talks about anything. We suck down that hurt, anger, frustration until someone just looks at us the wrong way, and WWIII ensues. So for me, this came naturally. As a child, any time I had a feeling it was always met with “suck it up” or “stop crying,” or my personal favorite, “If you’re gonna cry, I’ll give you something to cry about,” and more often than not, getting my ass beat. And so, I followed suit like everyone else around me. I stopped showing my emotions. It was more painful to try to express my feelings and be met with rejection than to just swallow that sh*t and pretend like everything is fine.
And yes, fine. Not good, fine. If you don’t know the acronym of F.I.N.E, here it is: F*cked-up, Insecure, Neurotic, and Emotional. It’s kind of like a family motto.
But, this really started to shift my inner narrative. This inward suppression and frustration started to morph into this vicious addictive cycle of perfectionism and self-loathing. I was never good enough, pretty enough, smart enough. My goals were never big enough, and no matter what I achieved, it never felt like it was enough. And not for anyone else, but for myself! I would then subconsciously seek out people to validate these feelings for me to further instill these beliefs. Every relationship, job, friend, and everyday encounter became a mirror for these lies I told myself.
No matter what I did, at the end of the day, one thing was certain — I was not good enough.
The worst part is, I not only fully believed this, but I also was the one who created and continually fed this beast. I felt trapped everywhere I went, which only fueled the frustration and the anger. The flood of stress hormones was like a subconscious drug I couldn’t get enough of, and I was hooked. And so stuck.
I would walk around perpetually exhausted. Burnt out. Fueling myself with coffee and more self-fake news. Until I eventually did burn out and got chronically sick for over four years. It was at this time that my anger started to take on a new form. This time, it would express its frustration in the form of comparison. Look what they have, and I don’t. I’m sick, and they aren’t. Why me? My fire had backfired. This new cycle took over. It was jealous of everyone and everything, which only further fueled the self-loathing — because if only my body just worked, I would have that right now. And on some level, there was some truth to that.
If you’ve ever had a chronic ailment you know, it presses pause on your life. It’s like being in suspended animation, and it totally sucks! But, what I didn’t realize was that I was the one continually poisoning my body with this anger expecting other people to hurt as bad as I did.
I finally got to a point when I actually started to feel uncomfortable living in my anger. It was like a sweater that was two sizes too tight. It started to smother and suffocate me. I knew that I needed to shed this skin, but I was so afraid to. After all, it had been my operating mode for most of my life. Not having it felt like being naked in Times Square in the middle of January. Vulnerable AF!
So, after a month of moping, crying, and feeling sorry for myself — and feeling angry for always feeling so angry — I started to pray.
I would frustratingly tell the spirits how this is such a heavy burden, and I simply cannot carry it anymore. I knew how much it poisoned me. Exhausted me. Stole my life from me. And I was done. It was time for me to take my power back. I didn’t know how, but I just knew this was not how I could physically continue to live.
I started to give myself the permission to really feel my feelings. Which, I realized underneath all the anger and frustration was actually a lot of sadness and grief. I started to let that out. It needed to be felt and honored. The little girl inside me who went through so much trauma needed to be held and seen.
I started to take care of her and give her the love and attention she never received. I let her have her moment to really feel the sadness of feeling unloved and unwanted. To give her space to feel angry that she was essentially an indentured servant to her mother. To let her feel every damn thing she never had the opportunity to in the moment. Some deep-ass somatic work.
I started to really tend my own garden for the first time, but I knew I still needed to dig deeper.
While I was in the midst of an emotional PMS meltdown, my partner suggested that I make an inventory. I would write down all of the people who I held resentment or anger toward, what their behaviors were, and how it affected me. The column in the inventory that struck me most was when I reflected back on times I behaved similarly or ways in which I might have hurt that person.
Things started to shift. I had held onto so much anger that I felt so validated for having when, in fact, I wasn’t perfect either. I held onto this notion that they needed to apologize and repent for their behavior (which I’m not excusing or even saying was right because a lot of it was f*cked-up) but realizing that the apology wasn’t going to make things right or change my feelings. In fact, I’m sure if I got the apology, I would have probably felt that it wasn’t good enough or done in the right way so that I could continue to hang onto this badge of anger and stay justified in it.
The inventory let me release this. It shifted things for me in a way that I couldn’t have done otherwise. It forced me to really look at myself.
Since doing the inventory, I sat down and started to talk things out with myself. I started to do my own personal inventory and go through all of the healthy things I do to be healthy. Like eat super clean and drink lots of water; stay away from chemical cleaners and use organic makeup; don’t drink alcohol, and the list goes on and on.
The one area that I had yet to truly detox was my anger. This was not only going to be difficult, but this would need to be a constant practice of operating from a completely different mindset. Every choice, every interaction would need a completely different reaction. I started to come from a place of love rather than fear. To check in with my body and to start to create a dialogue with those emotions. To let them have a moment to be seen, felt, and let go of.
Sometimes, what gives us the most comfort becomes our biggest burden, and that burden becomes the weight we use to drown ourselves.
Do you put the burden down, or do you drown?