Anger

Within the first two punches on the heavy bag, I feel something well up within me.

“Oh, I’m apparently angry,” I say, with all the detached objectivity of a biologist studying their animals.

“Don’t lose your form over it,” my husband warns, the man who not only tells his Icarus when she’s flown too close to the sun, but also when she is the sun herself and her fire is burning explosively.

“I won’t,” I say, and I attempt to channel this feeling into the bag. Left hook, right hook, jab, straight. I get a twinge in my wrist when I hit the bag improperly.

Sometimes it feels like the harder emotions exist in the room over from me. I can hear their voices when they talk loudly but yet they’re still separate. All my work towards being more self-aware has simply made it so the walls are made of paper and it only takes a little effort to break down the barrier. But the effort still has to be there, and the wall still exists otherwise.

And sometimes it’s the emotion itself bursting through, and the only thing I can do is be grateful that I don’t have plaster debris all over my floor. Because I’ve been there before, and I know just how much of a mess it can create when the feelings break through thick walls like the Kool Aid Man.

Somewhere along the line, I learned to bury my rage. My conditioned responses became any of the other nervous system reactions — flight, freeze, fawn — but never, ever, fight.

I would then look back on those interactions and seethe with how I reacted — fury at myself for not unleashing fury at them; sometimes for not even realizing what was happening when it was happening. So caught up in the anxiety of the moment that I had fawned when I should’ve fought.

Sometimes, in just the span of an hour, I would throw my head back and wince at how softly I had treated someone who had just been callous to me.

The douchiest thing that has ever been said to me, was said to me, and THAT’S how I responded?

Sometimes I retcon my anger. I return to something that I had initially responded with people-pleasing or tears, and course correct — no, that was the douchiest thing someone has ever said to me, and now I will let you know how I should’ve responded. Let’s cross out the words from the first draft of this script, because here is the rewrite.

But sometimes I don’t. Sometimes that unborn rehashing lives under the surface, a mini rage at a wrong I didn’t get a chance to get right — or, at least, shine a light on. An anger that goes unheard is an anger that is amplified, and it doesn’t take much for it to bubble up, to break through those paper walls, and remind me of its presence.

I’ve been doing a thing, lately, in therapy — words that I’ve calmly said a million times over to other people become a catalyst for big, pendulous tears.

It makes sense. I pay against my deductible to have this safe space, that will be enough to click off at least one of the safety locks. But it still surprises me, to tap into this wellspring of emotion so easily.

“Anger is usually covering up another emotion,” my therapist has said — ironically, usually when I am crying.

I know what she means, but I can’t help but chuckle. Sorrow and anger seem to be comfortable bedfellows in my life. How deep can this sadness go, how much further is the depth of things, if I still have anger eventually covering for it?

Lyssa is the Greek Goddess of fury and madness. If I ever add on to my pantheon of animals, one of them will be named Lyssa.

Of course there is a goddess dedicated to anger. Of course. But how curious that the ancient Greeks lump it in with madness. Just like “to be mad” and “to be mad” are two separate statements. Because anger can make you feel like you’ve gone crazy, especially in a culture that tries to invalidate it at every turn. Then it makes you wonder what came first — the madness, or the madness.

And sometimes I have to remind myself that I have not gone crazy. I’m just furious.

I always come back to a quote from The Queen’s Gambit — “You’ll have your time in the sun, but for how long? You’ve got so much anger in you.”

And I think about another quote, one that says the part of you that’s angry is the part that loves you so much that it is incensed that something like that would ever happen to you, that someone would ever treat you that way. That part of you loves you so much that it wants to protect you from any more hurt or pain.

I can’t think on that for too long without tapping in that wellspring of emotions. There’s a part of me that’s willing to go to war for me, to defend the parts that are delicate and easily bruised — like a big sister shouting to the bullies, “Give my baby sister her doll back or I’ll punch you!” It’s beautiful, in a way.

The anger is a hard thing to reckon with. I know so much of it is anger over the anger that couldn’t be expressed and validated — like a fire somehow burning hotter because it didn’t have enough air and kindling.

But I know there has to be a balance — that it can’t become like a firefighter kicking down the door and the rush of fresh air amplifying the blaze. Perhaps that’s the million dollar question — what part of the fire should be contained, what part should be maintained, and what part should be stoked to burn up what needs to be burned.

“Anger is usually covering up another emotion.”

Yes, it is. Almost always. And I find great insight when I dive into what that big sister is trying to protect. But I’ve also learned that the psychology world is quick to dismiss that anger, dismiss why it’s there in the first place. It forgets the bullies and focuses only on the baby sister.

And I think a balance has to be struck here, too. Yes, to recognize where the anger is coming from, what pain or fear it’s potentially masking — to understand the side of you that loves you so much that it just wants to keep you safe. But to also let the fire do its nature, the same way forest fires in the right amount are key for the forest’s ability to flourish and even survive.

Because sometimes, you just need to be fucking angry.

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