Saturday, February 7, 2009

"Do not teach your children never to be angry;
teach them how to be angry."
Lyman Abbott


I was having a conversation with my son recently. Actually, he was wound up tight as a drum so he was talking and I was mainly listening. I marvel at his grown-up take on life. There was a time I wasn't sure he'd survive adolescence, let alone be able to talk about it with intelligence and candor. I marvel at the things he says and wonder when he got so smart!


In this conversation he said, "Our anger doesn't go away. I've just learned to tame it."


Huh? This wild ass, quick-triggered, you-don't-know-who-you're-messin'-with madman has learned to tame his anger? That made me chuckle. But I realized the very fact that he's still alive and not doing time in prison is because he has tamed, if not all, at least some of his demons.


Later on I started thinking about what he said. I wanted to disagree. If anger doesn't go away why have I spent so much time and money in a therapist's office I wanted to ask. I'm a true believer in the power of talk therapy. Even the parts where you have to go deep down inside and touch the burning anger of your soul. I have been working from the belief that when you do this, the anger will go away. Could it be that I was wrong?


Then I started thinking about what made John so angry when he was a kid. Did it come from my side of the gene pool. I remember that my ex had a slow fuse but a quick burn. His ears and face would turn a deep red, his teeth would clench and the set of his jaw was enough to make most people back off. His anger never lasted long and could be curbed with a cold brew. I saw his mother once throw a chair at a sliding glass door. I'm not sure if she was angry or downright crazed. Mostly I think of my in-laws as being more bark than bite.

The mild mannered women from my family of origin, on the other hand, can cut you down with a black-eyed stare or a tongue honed to steel-edged sharpness. Could it be that the unresolved anger of my foremothers who traveled across the Atlantic Ocean on the Mayflower still resides in the DNA of every generation since?

Could having English/Irish ancestors forced to leave hearth and home to make a new life on virgin New England soil explain why I can get so angry, so fast. I've been trying to tame my inner demons for as long as I can remember. At the same time, some of my earliest memories are of my mother looking like a woman possessed going after someone with a well-worn and perfectly aimed flip flop. I grew up swearing I would not duplicate my mother's penchant for anger. And I grew up falling far short of that goal.

There is a button that sits somewhere between my gall bladder and my spleen that gets pushed when I least expect it. I don't know what I hate more, the anger itself or what it does to me. My sisters and I have all developed our own anger style. Some scream, some use words dripping in hurtful venom, some hit, some retreat in silence. At least one of us stomps off in a huff, and does all of the above before deflecting the anger back to the gall bladder area from where it came.

Depression, say the experts, is anger turned inward.

"I don't do anger" I said to a trusted therapist.

"Mary," she responded, "don't ever say that again." "You do anger, and that's why you're here."

Who me? And whether I'm 5 or 50 anger still scares me. Whether I'm the rebuked or the rebuker, I hate what anger does to my soul. So why can't I stop it?

Maybe John is right. Perhaps anger doesn't go away. Perhaps the lesson I need to learn today, tomorrow and the day after that is that my anger monster, like the lion in the circus, must be tamed. Before I let the lion circle around me thinking he is king of the cage, I must let it roar. I must look at his big teeth and sharp claws, then, with skill and mastery, I can put my head in his mouth. I don't have to be afraid, because I am the one in charge. Anger must be felt and dealt before it threatens to eat everything in it's path.

Out of the mouths of 35-year old babes or wise sages like Lemony Snicket, "Temper tantrums, however fun they may be to throw, rarely solve whatever problem is causing them."

How is it that my child got so smart, and the mother is still learning?
Merry ME

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