Saturday, June 16, 2007


Every other Saturday I figure out what trains are running & I toddle off to the Upper East Side to see my therapist. I call these 45-minute sessions "throwuppy" because that is so often what I feel like doing before, during & after.

I like to talk about my feelings when they're well in the past tense & don't threaten to blow up on me in their freshness.

No, let's take a few steps back in light of today's discussion of Frances's anger about men & their Cheshire Cat behavior.

It takes me a couple of days of something balling up inside of me before I recognize I'm having an emotional reaction. It may then take more days to put a name on it. When it's anger, I'm so freaked out by it -- this volatile, counter-anger-inducing can of kerosine -- that I turn it back on myself.

It's beyond the what-did-I-say syndrome I wrote about yesterday, more along the lines of I'm so fucking mad at myself for caring/getting sucked in/not getting over it.

So now I'm mad at any number of people, always doubled because I'm angery at myself for being angry at X, Y &/or Z.

& that's where I get stuck. I don't, the Good Doctor Miller informed me, let go of my anger, which more & more turns against myself. "You're adopted. You weren't allowed to feel anger because these people took you in."

Yeah -- partly. I began to think about anger in my childhood & saw a very scared little girl whenever there was fighting going on. My parents would argue occasionally & it terrified me -- so much so that my family has a saying I started when I was very young & the discourse around me was displeasing (scolding, arguing, fighting) -- "Don't talk". My father still says it, with his brows all rumpled & each word kind of canon balled in its wholeness of intent, when my mother nags about scrubbing a pan or disagrees with a charity donation he's making or discovers he's appropriated a set of towels for cleaning the garage. It doesn't have an exclamation point. It's not sullen or pouty or pleading. It's a command, but understated, & scrunchy things must occur with the eyes.

If my father was angry all of us kids quaked in fear. As the oldest of three brothers, growing up in the Depression, he was raised by parents with third & fifth-grade educations, still speaking with Polish accents. When my grandfather got work on the railroad out-of-town, he took Grandma with him, leaving my father in charge of his brothers for weeks at a time. Part of being the oldest was that he would get the beating & then was expected to dole it out to the boys -- who could run squealing to Grandma who might then beat Dad for abusing them. Very complicated Old World stuff that came down to the fact that my father could dish out some brutal punishments. These were rare. They were never repeated because they didn't have to be. We were always given fair warning that a piece of behavior had to stop before he raised a hand. But when he did --

Another famous family story. My brother Jim got in trouble for something. Dad took Jim aside a belted him once across his bare butt with his tennis shoe. Jim went snivelling to Dick about how much it hurt only to be met by Dick's laughter. The snivelling now included being laughed at -- until Dick turned around, dropped his pants & showed off the treads of his Converse on his ass.

Or a scene no one else remembers & I will never bring it up because it was so savage, of my father beating Jim up with his American history book. I don't know why. I was seven & scared witless.

Jim once complained to Dad that because Dick was bigger & heavier, he always won when they fought. Dad's answer was to get an equalizer. A two-day car trip back from seeing cousins (the last car trip the five of us ever made). I had the chicken pox & was placed in between my brothers who were bickering and badgering each other mercilessly for two days. By the time we pulled into the driveway, Dick's taunts had turned so pointed that they jumped out of the car & Jim began chasing Dick, picking up an equalizer -- the garage broom -- on their way into the house. Dick laughed all the way, his laughter another part of how he taunted us, all the way through the den, the hall, the kitchen, the dinette, two halls & into the bathroom where he slammed & locked the door.

Only to have the broom stick come slamming through the door right up to the broom.

That's what anger was like in our house. Either painful & terrifying (we all worshipped our father), or sadistic (Jim & I tried not to piss Dick off). I became so sensitive to anger, in fact, that in first grade Sister M. Marcillia would send me to the bathroom whenever there was a punishment coming. I'd go & sit on the pot. Nothing. I'd go back to class, the scolding would be going on & I'd pee all over the floor.

The last time Dick hit me, I was, I think, in high school or college. We were arguing over something as we set the table together. He got mad & slammed a dinner plate down on my head. For once, with great coolness, I picked up a fork & stabbed him in the arm so hard it stood up.

So yeah, I have a problem with anger: I have a problem feeling it, admitting it, expressing it, letting it go. "When do you let go?" I asked the GDM. "When it starts to hurt you," she said.

I guess part of that means before I get angry at myself for being angry.

She did not, however, tell me how to let it go.

I've only ever discovered one option & it doesn't work for more than a few hours. No, that's not true. Sleep, drinking, drugs & reading can also push anger aside. For a while.

I think I will make an Anger Box. I'm not sure how I'll work it, but I think I have an Art Project in my future.


Cindy said...

I had an angry week. Angry and sick. I am not sure how but it lifted yesterday and I was able to have some compassion instead. I gave it up. It wasn't worth how bad it felt. One thing that used to make me angry in a certain twelve step program was when people said I could not afford to be angry. I could not help being angry and then I felt guilty on top of being angry. I felt like they were scolding me for a natural emotion. I don't get angry over that saying anymore. I understand how dangerous anger is but before I can let go of it, I have to feel it, and acknowledge it. This "letting go" deal everyone talks about is hard to describe. It works differently for me depending on the situation. I like the anger box idea. I like tangible things, actions to take. Sometimes letting go for me is giving up the idea of having to be right, if it is a conflict I am having with kids or in other relationships. Or giving up an expectation. For the past, it often has to do with forgiveness (another tricky one for me) or being willing to forgive. The action I take for that is often praying for people. There were times when I could not pray for people because I was too angry at them. At those times I sent donations to a certain shrine, gave them the person's name and they prayed for them for thirty days. I have not done that in a very long time. Maybe it is getting a little easier. I think I could benefit from an anger management class.

Cindy said...

I also took an aluminum baseball bat to a big fat pillow with someone's picture on it. I think I got that idea out of Men Who Hate Women and The Women Who Love them, but she suggested the exercise using a soft, fake bat. The aluminum women's softball bat worked well. I used that for anger over the past, abusive relationships, men. I have to say it did wonders.

Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing your childhood experiences of anger. I have a long, complicated family story (I'm sure we all do) that involves an explosive father -- but he was sick, so we thought that his explosions "had" to be our "fault."

I too have problems feeling guilty about anger. I always find a way to blame myself when someone does something that makes me mad. I used to just have a little explosive fit (kind of like my dad) but that only seems to work to dissipate anger when it's over something simple. When it gets complicated by emotions and shame and people I care about, it's a lot harder to let go of.

Recently, I discovered that I can write it away. My personal writing "therapy" works on all kinds of negative emotions. This is stream of consciousness writing -- I just start out typing every illogical, angry, self-destructive thought that enters my head, and eventually it starts making sense. I explore the problem from different directions, and I just let my thoughts go wherever they want, but I keep typing everything I'm thinking. Usually, I feel calm after about 30-45 minutes of this.

I think the benefit comes from getting my thoughts down in words, instead of just letting them swirl around and around in my head. Writing them out pins them down and lets me move on. It feels like corralling a bunch of demons and then walking away, knowing that they can't follow you. This is extremely useful to me. I'm only sorry it took me 50 years to discover. I could have really used this when I was in my 20s and nothing about any human relationships made sense to me.

Unknown said...

Maybe your blog is a kind of an Anger Box, too. "I'll call" is a wimpy way to disappear, but look on the bright side, maybe he fell into an open manhole somewhere and died and THAT's why he hasn't called.

Cindy said...

When they don't call I like to think I am being spared.

Lori G. said...

Ah, Frances, in the past 72 hours let's call from the guy in my hometown, no email from the Mystery Man who is back online on his site. The only one I wanted to hear back from was Mystery Man, of course. I'm wondering, what did I do wrong and I go back and reread the last email which says he liked what I wrote so far and couldn't wait for more. know what my last 24 hours was like with my parents and having to appease them and keep them jolly so they wouldn't be so negative. Growing up, it was let's appease daddy so he wouldn't get drunk (didn't always work) or yell at us (ditto) or throw the furniture around or hit us (double ditto).

What's bad about both of our situations is that we would get hit or yelled at (not by your father but your brother) for things that were basically over nothing. We were just ourselves and maybe a bit full of ourselves but nothing deserving of being hit, yelled at or talked to in a demeaning tone.

I always sort of blame my mother for how I am; after all, I spent most of my time with her as she was a SAHM. But I wonder if I'm just not mad at her for not protecting me more against dear old Dad and siding with him. I understand now as an adult why she probably did side with him and I know her life wasn't that easy either.

I just hate that I punish myself or try to calm myself down with mountains of cheese like this weekend. Sorry for being so wordy.

Gallis said...

You know, it's like you pried open my skull, looked at my brain and then wrote it down. I think we develop problems with anger when we are on the receiving end. We correlate the pain we experienced as inflicting on ourselves again if we become angry. And in doing so, we not only don't vent the anger and move on, we continue to inflict it on ourselves with our avoidance of it. Thank you for writing this.

Maureen said...

I got together with some friends (who were pissed off at stuff as well). We went to a thrift store and bought a ton of cups and dishes. Then we met at another friends garage and threw every plate and cup at the wall till they all shattered. While throwing we each yelled whatever obsenity that came to mind to go with the anger. By the time we broke everything we all felt great. We cleaned up and had tea and sandwiches.
Every time I get angry at this particular person again I just think back to the breakage and it's a HUGE relief not to mention great fun.
I don't know what to say about the email dating. I met my current partner on and we've been together for almost 10 yrs now. What I DID do is "practiced" being single for one year. No dates, no nothing. I learned to become okay with the idea that it was healthy, fine and a great human being all by myself. After one year I had this advertising show up in my email box about I was VERY clear about what I wanted in a man and stated it. I was very clear I WANTED a man and didn't NEED one. I got 5 responses and my current sweety was the fifth one. I emailed them all and really got to know them all and then weeded out everyone but two. I tried getting together with one who lived close buy my sweety just shone out to me.... and here we are.

Bea said...

What to do with anger. Buy a big red plastic bat. Make a photo of offender. Go to forest. Thumb tack photo of offender on tree. Beat the shit out of photo with red platic bat while screaming at the top of your lungs. Warning: this will attract attention. When forest ranger arrives point to photo and say, "Ex." Forest ranger will nod sympatheticly and drive off. You will feel like a sweaty nut, but will no longer be angry.

Helen said...

Totally off topic: I just hooked in to your photos and they bring such a sweet nostalgic twinge to my heart. I lived on President St. (right by the Carroll St. F stop) for years...sigh. Brooklyn was home. :-)