It was in the early spring, I think, when I first became aware I was awakening each morning with a heart full of anger. As the day wore on, my mood grew darker and my words sharper. By the time my head hit the pillow each night, I had the sense my brain was boiling and, rather than blood, rocket fuel raced through my veins.
The details of my anger don’t matter as much as the messages that lay waiting for me in my black and stormy emotions. But because I like details, I offer you these few: At the source of my anger was my husband’s ex-wife’s high-conflict ways, the circumstances surrounding my aching and troubled bonus son, and the fact that I was just plain pissed off at the affects addiction was having on my family members and me. Oh yeah, and #metoo played in the background. All of that had me feeling helpless, frustrated, and full of fury.
When I realized I was nit-picking the people I love and regularly losing it with undeserving customer service reps, it was apparent I had to do something. I worked with my life coach, my husband and I sought the advice of two separate therapists on how to cope with the rising tide of concern over my stepson as well as the growing animosity with his mother, and I got myself back to yoga class.
The heat of my emotions soared along with Michigan’s summer temperatures, and this felt right to me. I figured it may as well be as hot outside as it was on the inside of my body and brain. And so I headed to the beach, sometimes making the 40-minute drive three or four times a week. With a low-slung chair and a beach bag full of provisions, I’d stay for a couple of hours at a time. Between submerging my blazing body and psyche into the mostly frigid lake waters and eating fresh popcorn from a local gas station, I wrote. The beach and my journal were my salvation.
These two things, water and words, save me every time - the water cooling me and my fiery emotions as I reached for change through my writing. I rage-journaled for hours, beating myself and others up with language. I wrote letters filled with meanness and toxicity to my husband’s ex-wife. I asked hard-to-answer questions and then answered them all in the same paragraph. Sometimes I sketched little fires in the margins of my journal. I looked for the messages in my anger, searching out seeds of wisdom in each of the situations that had my heart and head ablaze. A couple times I wrote poetry, and I even began working on an essay I hope to submit for publication in the coming year.
Eventually, I’d put my journal down to close my eyes against the burning sun only to pick it up again a few minutes later. By this time, the smoke would have cleared and my anger turned to embers – still hot to the touch, but not quite as dangerous. At this second session, I’d write a gratitude list of five items, maybe ten. Then, because I’m a life coach and take my training to heart, I’d close my eyes for a moment or two, breathe deep, and ask myself what was one action I could take to create positive change. I’d finish my session with writing the answer to the most potent question I could think of: What would be possible for me and those I love if I worked through and let go of my anger?
As it turns out, what was possible, at least for me, was that when I acknowledged my anger and let it light the pages of my journal on fire, I could see more clearly what I needed. Or more accurately what my family needed. Some days what I needed was to cut some fresh flowers from the garden so I could have a little joy. Or I needed to take a nap under the whirling ceiling fan so I could have clarity and rest for the week ahead. More profoundly, it became clear I needed - and my husband in the midst of his own anger agreed - was for us to stand up for our son and to put some strong boundaries in place with my husband's ex-wife.
To date, we've been to court a couple of times, and it seems more court dates await us. It's a time-consuming and maddening process, but a necessary one. However, this was our next right action in the name of keeping our son as healthy and happy as possible. It remains to be seen how it will all play out, but it feels right and true to take this on. And while I still have moments of agitation and doubt over the entire situation, my husband and I now see hope and options. My anger, as well as my husband's, led us to use our power of choice and our good sense to attempt to create change for us and a teenage son we both love. The message in the anger was that we needed better boundaries. The gift of the anger is that it led us to take action.
For me, the writing works. Having a soulful conversation with myself can transform the very thing that threatens to torch my world. We tend to want to keep the negativity inside, ignore its existence. Often, we don’t know how to express the ferocity of our emotions or have a safe space to do so. I’ve always known that a pen, a piece of paper, and little bit of willingness to sit down and write can change how we see and approach people and situations. Rather than denying our anger, as that old poet Rumi says, we can indeed use it as a ladder to climb higher.
Consider joining me Thursday, October 18, 2018, for Writing Through Anger, a transformational writing workshop. Registration and information here.