That’s my disgusted look. Not that I’m disgusted. That’s just the look I felt like practicing.
Great session with my shrink. I’ve been seeing her for … god, maybe 12 years. Since before my son got into drugs. She knows me well, knows what I do and what I need help with.
I told her I was afraid the only thing I could do, to force the situation, was to resort to a screaming, crying, hysterical fit. Which not only makes me physically sick, but leads to depression, which could lead to a clinical depression. I don’t want that if I can help it.
But I digress.
Let me talk about anger. I don’t like it and I’m not comfortable with it. I don’t remember if I tended to get mad as a kid. I think I was verbally, quietly nasty rather than raging, which in a way is worse. I’m good at words (my mother used to say I had a cat o’ nine-tails tongue – for those of you who aren’t as pretentious as my family a cat o’ nine-tails was a medieval whip) and the right words can rip someone. I was so good at cruel words that my BFF would go a year or more without speaking with me during elementary school (and then went 20 years without talking to me as adults).
The other things we all did in our family was leave nasty notes for each other. We all could write, and take cheap shots because in a note no one can answer back, and you can phrase things beautifully so that you’re the hero or heroine and they’re the villain.
But when I was about nineteen I went through a transformation. I had gone into a depression, and my awful doctor was trying all sorts of meds on me. Horrible meds, that I didn’t want to take, which made me worse. And when I came through it (just as Sergeant Pepper came out and “Here Comes the Sun” and “I have to admit it’s getting better” were my songs) I decided not to lie (I was brought up by my parents to lie — they had me lying to the other parent and I watched them lie all the time). From age 20 on I didn’t lie. And I didn’t feel as strong a need to cut and slash with my tongue. I refused to write notes. (I also went through a period, as I was coming out of it, when I couldn’t fantasize, which was horrible, and I couldn’t pray, when I’d prayed to a benevolent god all my life).
But I digress. As I moved into my 20s I started to see what my words did. And what my need to pass judgment on people did. And I stopped that too. I kept the honesty, but tried to couch it in kinder terms (not always succeeding).
But without the cutting words and nasty notes I’ve had no way to deal with anger. Actually, I’m remembering that even before the year when I was twenty (or 19, actually) I was afraid to lose my temper. I was afraid that if I lost it, let it rip, that I would never come back from it. That I would go into a catatonic state and stay there.
Weird thing to believe when you’re 16 or 17, but as I’ve said my upbringing was chaos. Think of being raised by George and Martha in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” My family was a cross between that and “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.” Addiction and grief and rage.
The thing is, I saw what rage could do to my mother. She was basically a rage-aholic. She prided herself on her rages, called it her “berserker” temperament, referring to her Danish background. At that point I didn’t know she’d had tremendous tantrums as a child. She would scream at us, daily. She wasn’t good with young children, and to top it off she had an alcoholic husband. She felt life had cheated her, and she took it out on whoever was available, usually her children.
I don’t know if I got the brunt of it. I was the strongest, and the one she saw as most like her, so I would have been an obvious victim, but she was pretty even-handed with her fury.
She would come into the room, scream at us until veins popped out in her head and then collapse on the floor. I don’t know if the rage got so strong she passed out or she was being dramatic. Eventually she would pull herself to her feet, walk out and slam the door. Only to come in five minutes later and start screaming again. She would be driving us somewhere and start screaming and beating on the steering wheel. She tried to come after me with a fire poker and when I locked myself in the bathroom to get away from her she started to beat down the door. She chased my sister into the neighbor’s kitchen with a butcher knife.
Now in retrospect I realize she was batshit insane. Ahem. Mentally ill. She spent a month in a mental hospital when I was in third grade (which was hushed up), did another term later, and then went through hallucinations followed by a massive series of shock treatments when our family exploded.
So it’s little wonder that open anger terrified me. Believe it or not, the closest mother figure I had, my BFF’s mother, was in many ways worse than mine, and she was an alcoholic. So I had no close person to see as a mother figure (and in retrospect, no one to help me while I was trapped in such chaos. Not relatives, not schools. There are more resources nowadays, I think).
So I don’t know how to get really angry at anyone. There are a very few people I dislike, people who have hurt me or hurt my family. I also forgive most people if they show the slightest bit of repentance. I don’t like being really angry — it makes me sick inside.
Our son started lying to us and using drugs when he was 12 or 13. We’d spend a fortune sending him to therapeutic schools, giving him a million chances. He got busted when he was thirteen, he got busted the year he was in college, he’s screwed up and been really awful to me in the past.
And I never got mad at him. Ever. At one point, in the midst of the chaos, I even asked him for permission to be angry, and he said no. How ridiculous is that? I had every reason to be angry — being angry doesn’t mean you don’t love a person.
But I guess it must feel like that to me. Anger=abandonment=betrayal.
The thing is, I’ve never had cause to be angry at Richie, at least, not very often. We have one of the truly great marriages. We’ve always been able to talk about anything, to face whatever’s been wrong and not to sulk in our individual corners. Part of that is having 9 years of marriage (and 11 years together) before we could have children. Sometimes infertility drives people apart. In our case it just kept us close.
The kids put strain on the relationship, of course. But he and I have never gone through tough periods where we doubted our commitment to each other and were angry or disappointed. Most long marriages have to go through those times, I gather. We never did. We’ve never yelled at each other. Never had angry words going back and forth.
Partly because I withdraw and wait if Richie’s gotten mad. He doesn’t do it very often, but he’s capable of getting angry. He got angry enough at our son over his constant screw-ups.
But for me, I walk away until we’re able to talk about it calmly. And in the past that always works.
We’ve just hit a stumbling block now where all the talking is just repeating ourselves and we’re getting nowhere.
Richie doesn’t want to lose his family. I don’t blame him. Richie doesn’t want to face the ugliness that forcing the situation would bring. I don’t blame him for that, either. But we’re stalled out, and I’m afraid the only way to break the logjam is to give him worse ugliness at home, or walk away for a while.
I have no doubt at all that our relationship is super-strong and will survive this hurdle. And I hope the relationship with his family can be saved. It can’t be with me, but I can certainly be social and polite if it can be mended.
But I digress. Things that should make me angry make me sad or depressed instead. My son’s continual screw-ups until he was about 21 (and they were gradually more and more minor) made me sorrowful. I never said “cut it out.”
I’m trying to work on the “cut it out” stuff, preferably without anger. I don’t know if there’s really any advantage in giving in to anger. To yelling at someone, to just letting go. Swallowing stuff isn’t healthy either, but being able to wait and talk things out seems to me a better way to go if you can. All the talk in the world isn’t going to help my son get his shit together, but then, rages wouldn’t either. He’s getting it together on his own, and the best I can do is set limits, which I am nowadays.
So that’s a long answer to Kieran’s question about do I have a problem with anger. Yes, I have a problem with anger. If I get angry with someone I just tend to withdraw. Is there a better way?
As for Richie, he spent yesterday digging ditches for pay (which isn’t exactly what I had in mind for him but he did it, god bless him) and he called his niece last night without my prompting. It’s still at an impasse — she doesn’t know if she wants to make the commitment of buying into the big house, and I don’t blame her. She’ll call back next week. If she doesn’t, it will be another big wait until Richie calls her back. If she calls back and says no then we have another huge wait until he gives them a true ultimatum or files papers.
But I don’t need to project. It will unfold as it unfolds. Maybe my niece and her future husband, who want to start a family right away, will want the big house to bring their children to. Maybe it will figure as a major part of their over-all picture. I think they’d be nuts, but it’s their call, and they both work for Microsoft, while the nephew is a doctor, so they can afford it. It’s just a question of how they want to spend their money.
So that’s where we are. The elephant is still in the room, but he’s been watered and fed and we can ignore him for a while. And at least I don’t feel so angry and resentful right now.