Anger and Stories

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This image lives on my desktop. It’s not my background, but it lives as an icon, a thumbnail reminder to myself.

And yet, I rarely obey it.

I’m afraid. I am afraid.

I am afraid of my anger. I’m afraid of all the anger inside me that will come pouring out when I open up about all the ugly, unbeautiful parts of my life. I’ve opened up about some of them, but there are more.

I am afraid of others’ reactions–not necessarily those of strangers, though there’s a certain fear of not being believed. I’m more afraid of those I love–what would they say?

And I know, I know: if they wanted me to say nice things about them, they should have treated me better.

But what about forgiveness?

But forgiveness shouldn’t be compulsory, either. And some things cannot be forgiven at all, and some things cannot be forgiven without being worked through. And some things just aren’t forgiveable things, even if I am angry about them, or hurt about/by them. It’s complicated.

I want to be compassionate. I want to be loving. I want to be a good person.

I know that good, loving, compassionate people also get angry.

And yet, there’s so much messaging that says the opposite–that love and anger don’t go together, that compassion and anger don’t mix, that being a good person and being an angry person aren’t the same thing.

I don’t want to be an angry person. I am an angry person. I hate being so angry all the time. I am so sad that I am so angry. I am so angry that I am so sad. And I am so so tired.

I wish I could just let go of the anger. I tried. I tried to just…put it aside. I tried. But that ended up just building walls inside me, walls I didn’t even realize I was erecting until almost too late, until I almost took my life because I cut myself off so far from everyone and everything around me.

I have to deal with all of these things, but dealing with them means being angry, and I really, really don’t want to be angry.

TW/CN: Rape, Sexual Assault, Cis White Men Getting Away With It

There have been three or four high-profile cases in the news lately of young, cishet, white men getting away with raping women. Some of the victims have been vocal, speaking against the judge and system and man and family. Some have been ‘compassionate’ (I’ll get to that), talking about how a ‘mistake’ shouldn’t define a person’s life. Some haven’t really been able to defend themselves or speak for themselves. Some have been quiet.

I was quiet. For a long, long time, I was quiet. I still am, in most ways. Most of the people who knew me then don’t know. Most of the people who knew us then–me and him–still don’t know. And I don’t use his name when I do talk about it. I use veiled references. I hint. I don’t give exact dates, I don’t give details. I know that people on my friends list are also on his friends list, and they don’t know, and I don’t want to go through he-said/she-said drama and bullshit. He’s a my-age cishet white male. I never turned him in. There’s no evidence. And at the time, I don’t even know if there would’ve been bruising or tearing. I know a hymen is no indicator of anything (they’re so varied naturally), but mine had torn at a young age to a bouncy horse incident. Whether it grew back..? I don’t know. Anyway.

We were dating. Boyfriend and girlfriend. In love, or so we said. I thought so. I found out later that he mostly wanted sex with virgins. He grew tired of me when I was no longer virginal enough for his tastes. Of course…that was his fault. And of course, virginity is a ridiculous societal construct meant to hold women down…but that was the point, right?

Anyway.

I didn’t speak, for years. I didn’t even call it rape, for years. I lied to myself. I lied to everyone, because who would believe me? I knew my parents wouldn’t. They always assumed I was having sex, doing drugs, drinking underage, smoking, partying. What a laugh. I got straight A’s, never did find out where to buy drugs or alcohol. I still awkwardly call it alcohol. I still have only had champagne at weddings and wine at the Table, and a little mead at my own wedding. Two swallows, enough to know the fire of it and that I wanted no more. I never even snuck out. I was too terrified to try.

And, because of my Purity Promise, I thought I had to marry him. I thought that the first person to stick their penis in me–with or without my consent–claimed me.

Even if I felt my soul die the instant it happened.

Even if I liked women, too.

I lied. To myself, to my parents, to my grandparents, to my friends, to him. And when he kept using my body, over and over, and telling me I was too stiff, too unemotional, too uninterested, I tried to force my body to respond.

Because that’s how it had to be, right?

Years later, when I finally began to hesitantly call it rape, I realized he probably didn’t. And, at the time, I thought, “Okay, there are two sides to this story. To me, this was rape. To him, it was sex.”

But that’s not how this works.

It has taken me almost half my life since then to realize that.

Rape is rape is rape is rape.

And I say that even though I know consensual non-consent is a Thing. Because that is different. See how ‘consensual’ is included there? Trust is a Thing there. Conversation, knowledge, consent. It can still go too far, it is a dangerous Thing, but consent is built in.

Anyway.

We had talked. He knew I wanted to wait for marriage. He decided–apparently–that he didn’t. And just like that, suddenly, I had no choice. I was trapped, and there was no escape.

I put it off, thinking about it, dealing with it emotionally, for years. I couldn’t make a scene, you see. Every tiny emotion I showed was so -dramatic- in my family.

And so I live with the knowledge that every time I show emotion about this, or about any rape, I might be seen as ‘dramatic.’ I hear it in that Emily Gilmore voice, “Everything’s so *dramatic* with you, Lorelai.” I am keenly aware of how my family takes this any time I talk about it.

I have told my mom and my dad now. It was…it was traumatic and relieving, telling them. Terrifying. I had panic attacks and nightmares, but they both accepted me and my story. I don’t know that they would have all those years ago, but they did now. Half a lifetime later. I’m glad.

But I’m also still aware of how my mom is still with my step-dad, and how my step-dad said, multiple times, that women were to wear skirts so men could have “easier access” to them.

I wore pants. Not even shorts. Jeans, always.

I finally bought a pair of shorts I like this year. For the first time in…I think since I was a little girl, I wore a dress without pantyhose and shorts underneath, too.

I am very aware that whenever a rapist gets away with it–and they are always cishet white men, almost invariably young–that all of this is going on in the back of my mind. My stomach is tightening. This all comes to the forefront, washing over me.

I want to tell my story, but how can I? How can I, when I lied for so long? How can I, when I know that my family is watching? How can I, when I know that so many people are mutual friends even now? How can I, when I am battered with the idea that women are supposed to be compassionate, even to their perpetrators? How can I, when talking about it in the company of mutual friends–like on my Facebook feed–feels like I am somehow hurting him?

 

These are some of the things that keep me up at night, that make me think I am a terrible person. Reason #3383 Why I Am A Terrible Person, on repeat as a litany through my mind: I lied. I lied in a big way, and I lied to myself, and I can’t trust myself, and so how could anyone else trust me? I lied to cope, to deal with my circumstances, but it hardly seems to matter when honesty is such a big part of my foundation.

And that’s part of why I want to tell, too: confessionally. I want to cleanse myself of the lie, to let it go. But who deserves such a burden? And how many times must I unburden myself? How long before I will be able to get out of bed with ease, and for more than a day or two at a time?

 

Will this ever get easier, seeing these stories? Will we ever learn to treat victims/survivors of rape better? Will we ever stop telling victims/survivors that they must be ‘compassionate’ to their perpetrators? Will we ever start treating cishet white male perpetrators of rape the same way we treat cishet black male perpetrators of rape? Will the day ever come that we teach consent to everyone, candidly, from birth on up?

 

I don’t know, but now, I am exhausted.

 

Wrestling With Anger

I haven’t written in a little over a month because I’ve been dealing with anger, with being angry.

It’s a scary place for me.

So I’ve been running away, hiding. Mentally abusing myself for feeling anger. Verbally abusing myself, when there’s no one around to hear it. It’s a thing I can’t stop. I’ll think of all the things I should be doing, and all those shoulds that I’m not doing (no matter the reasons), and then “I hate myself” will pop out of my mouth, or “I’m not a good person” or “I’m a terrible person.”

Being alone has been hard.

Being with people has been hard.

I keep assuming that all the people I care about who aren’t around me every day, who don’t see my physical and mental struggles every day, must hate me. I keep assuming they think I’m terrible and a fake.

I keep wanting to take time away from what little activism I do, because my first response to it is anger.


 

I do some of my best writing in anger.

It’s a white-hot flash, an energy buzzing over me. I hum with it, almost sing in the clarity as words flow from brain to keyboard.

Whether I write or not, though–whether I publish or not–once the flow stops, something else happens.

If I write, usually I feel good. Usually, I write well, and I write something that I think furthers the cause, or helps my audience understand better.

But then there’s a crash.

If I don’t write…if I just press it down, ignore it, try to move on…I’m sad. I usually wind up more depressed.

The solution seems to be to write–but I don’t want to be angry all the time. I have these flashes of things to write about all the time, and I’d love to write more. I just don’t want to be angry all the time.


 

I have a complicated history with anger.

Anger–rage, really–prefaced many of my step-dad’s worst abusive bouts.

Anger had center stage at my grandparents’ dinner table when my dad was home, as he and my grandpa shouted at each other, red-faced over politics and mashed potatoes.

Anger fueled the retorts that protected me from more physical abuse, but also shamed my family.

Anger has made me feel both impotent and powerful, both clouded and clear.

I can’t trust it.

Anger scares me.


 

Anger is an appropriate response to social injustice, particularly when one experiences that injustice.

Often, we as a society treat anger as something totally unacceptable, particularly in women and people of color. I’m a white woman. I ‘win’ on the white front, but not the woman front. It’s never been acceptable for me to be angry, even when it was appropriate.


 

In my depression, I am deeply angry at myself for disappointing everyone (myself included). Sometimes I’m angry at my family for how they treated me growing up, but mostly I turn that rage inward.

I don’t want to always be angry. Reading social justice things has become dicier for me lately, because I feel the flash of anger, and that flash too quickly reminds me of my self-anger and how I’m not doing enough.

I don’t want to respond to things out of anger always. I want to respond out of empathy and gentleness and compassion. Those are the things I admire. I’ve spent so long trying to do that, but the walls I’ve put in place are crumbling down, and now I don’t know how to rebuild them. I don’t know if I can. I don’t want to be my dad or my step-dad, always yelling, frowning, red-faced, wild-eyed.


 

I hope I can find peace with this soon, because I don’t know what to do with all of this anger.

The Town of Angry Bees

For me, there’s a town full of angry bees.

Sometimes the bees are dormant, as if covered in snow. The buzz is there, but buried under feet of cold crystals. It can be ignored, talked over…for a while. But there will be a price to pay if I wait too long, because snow does eventually melt.

Other times, the bees are very active. Sometimes they’ve been swatted at by others, made angrier, ready to sting with no provocation. Sometimes they’re just…there…being angry bees…and it’s wise not to go near.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference, especially if I’ve been away or out of contact for a long time.

I’ve discovered that there are bigger bees and smaller bees; bees whose stings I notice immediately and those whose stings take a long time to show.

I thought some of this swelling was protective, and to a certain extent, it was–but it turns out it never needed to be there if the stinging hadn’t taken place.

I almost never want to go to this town of angry bees, but I keep getting pulled back. Responsibilities. Guilt. That one bright spot amid all the bees.

The bright spot plans to get out.

After that…I think that town will always be filled with angry bees for me.

Validation and Empathy

Somewhere along my life path–pretty early on, I think–I picked up the idea that I had to seek validation from outside sources. What I did was very important; who I was, less so. One set of ‘parents’ paid me for grades (though they didn’t have to–I would have received straight A’s just for the achievement of it, and because I found school both enjoyable and easy), while the other punished me if I received anything below an A (including high B’s). I volunteered and participated in so many different ways, from church to school to community, in a continuous balancing act of pleasing two sets of parents with conflicting ideals.

I didn’t drink, smoke, do drugs, sneak out, get in trouble in school, or have sex (until I was 18, and that’s a whole different story).

And yet, I was never good enough. From at least age 12 onward, my life was full of accusations of how I was screwing up, how I would never make it, how I was doing all the things I explicitly did not do (drugs, drinking, sex) and not doing all the things I explicitly did do (good grades, volunteering). I was constantly trying to prove myself against this backdrop of irrational disbelief.

The few times I felt recognition for what I did do felt like heaven.

At the same time, I also learned or was born with a huge dose of empathy. It wasn’t until recently that I read anything by David Foster Wallace and realized I’ve been doing that my whole life: finding compassionate reasons for the things that seem to cause others’ blood to boil.

{This empathy caused a small tiff between my grandfather and me once, when a waitress slopped his coffee onto his saucer as she sat cup-and-saucer on the diner table. Grandpa began grumbling about how horrible this was, that this was the most terrible thing, that he ought not to tip her for that. I pointed out that perhaps she’d had a long shift or a bad day, and maybe he could give her a break. He shot back that I would be a lawyer for all the criminals someday. He did tip her, though.}

Right now, my empathy and need for validation are tangling nastily with one another. I’m in the process of trying to learn how to validate myself after 30-odd years of seeking outside approval. I’m trying to undo that awful voice inside me that says if I don’t do XYZ thing, I am not worthy of love and respect. At the same time, my empathy for various people and situations makes me want to do more.

However, if I am doing in order to feed my own validation, I am doing for the wrong reason–and I will likely end up hurting more than helping. These struggles are not about me–but if I let the need for approval/validation win, I will make them be about me, and that will be wrong.

And so I am struggling with myself, and learning to have empathy with myself.

God said "Love your enemy" and I obeyed him and loved myself. - Khalil Gibran