Bitter musings.

I have spent a lifetime suppressing anger.
I had a lot of training.
When I was a child, I learned very quickly that any expression of anger tended to provoke immediate retaliation from someone more powerful than myself… a playmate who would tattle, a teacher who’d call home, a parent who’d whip a belt across my shins.
Nonetheless, I remember the vibrant, vivid anger of childhood; the all-consuming rage that could not be contained regardless of the consequences. I remember crying, hitting, and screaming… and I wish I could remember that these led to catharsis, but I don’t think they did. They led to corporal punishment, verbal derision, enforced isolation, a keen sense of mistrust, a black sense of humor, and a desperate sense of futility. They led to pain. My pain.
But almost inevitably, the person who had provoked my anger would insist that I was the one who was causing his or her pain. The child who stole my toy would cry because I had called him a thief, thereby getting him in trouble. The teacher who punished me for another child’s wrongdoing would rail against the calumny with which I accused her of injustice, tarnishing her flawless reputation. The parent who broke a promise would wail like Lear, and bemoan the ingratitude of a child who could ignore all the sacrifices made on her behalf, focusing instead on the insignificant event which had prompted the current outburst.
I learned that everyone around me felt justified in causing me pain… physical and psychological… but they would not tolerate it if I caused them the least discomfort in return.
“You want to be angry? I’ll give you a reason to be angry,” they’d say to me.
And they did.
Well, I wasn’t stupid. If I didn’t like being angry, and people were going give me additional reasons to be angry every time I got angry, I’d better stop getting angry!
I don’t know how I did it, but I learned to swallow my wrath. I became sullen, morose, non-verbal and weird, but by golly, I was a docile creature. I think I might have exploded had I not discovered writing as an outlet; I recently threw out a notebook of angst-ridden poems written in my teens featuring cheerful couplets like “Cut the vein/ watch the blood rain.” Nobody read these verses except other drang-driven teenagers; had any responsible adult seen my dreary quatrains, I would have been locked up faster than a Tennessee Williams heroine. Perhaps I should have been.
As time went on, I found other outlets: Valium. Wine. Sex. Work. I even discovered illness. When I was in my thirties, during a particularly bad stretch in my life, I started experiencing abdominal pains… then chest pains… then a nasty petechial rash. After many medical tests, my doctor pulled me into his office, sat me down, and asked, “Are you under a lot of stress?” At the time, my husband and I were working our asses off and getting deeper and deeper into debt; my children’s wants and needs were growing faster than they were (and so was their impatience with our limited means); my house was in real danger of foreclosure; the neighbors’ kids were breaking into our car and stealing from us, much to the disinterest of the local police. Yes, I was under a lot of stress… but was I angry? At this point, I no longer knew how. I knew how to be sick, I knew how to be depressed, but I no longer knew how to be angry. The doctor prescribed a nightly glass of wine. A subsequent doctor prescribed Citalopram. I took them both, and became very amenable indeed.
For a very long time.
Why bring it up now?
Maybe it’s because I’ve noticed that we live in a very angry age, in which people are saying very hurtful things to each other.
Maybe it’s because people are saying very hurtful things to me, as they accuse me of hurting them.
If I am indeed hurting anyone, I am sorry. I really am. But you know what? It finally occurs to me that I should not put up with people hurting me. I am a person. I have intrinsic value.
I should be angry at the way I’m being treated.
But damn it, I don’t remember how.

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