On Anger

I mentioned in my first post that I have struggled a lot with anger since leaving my husband. This is a natural response to escaping from domestic violence. Domestic violence is like living in a Petri dish for anger. When I would wake up in the morning, I could tell whether it was going to be a good or bad day just by the way my husband was moving in the house. If he was slamming doors or throwing things around, my heart raced, even before I knew what was wrong. By the end of our relationship, I woke up in the mornings with my heart racing when he was still asleep, or even when he was gone. If he was there, when he rolled over and put his arm around me, I would recoil from his touch, which hurt his feelings. He would tell me that he was ashamed because I was scared of him, then I would feel guilty, and I would comfort him. It was a very complicated dynamic.

I lived in a permanent state of fight or flight, and I could never relax, but I could see that he was miserable also. Since I’m someone who wants to take care of others, I thought that, if he was happier, he would stop abusing me. I spent most of my energy trying to make him happy rather than taking care of myself. I wasn’t allowed to express any anger or hurt without dangerous consequences, so I started bottling things in, then having outbursts later. He once told me “I will never be happy unless I have a wife who is happy with me all of the time.” That was the moment that I knew our relationship was going to end. By then, I was unhappy with him most of the time. I tried to force myself to feel happy because I was scared of the violence that manifested in the wake of my unhappiness, but it is difficult to feel happy with someone who batters, manipulates, and lies to you.

After he made that statement, I went to see a counselor, and I showed her the bruises on my arms. She hugged me while I wept, and together, for the next couple of months, we made a plan for me to move on with my life, with or without him. She told me that, when she started seeing me, she didn’t think a “tidal wave” would have gotten me away from him, yet two months later, I had moved out. She was so proud of me, and in the face of her support, I realized that I was a lot stronger than I thought I was, and I am still very proud of myself for making that change.

In the beginning, the anger had a purpose, and it was powerful. It got me out of the relationship. As I was packing my son and my bags the day I moved out for good, my husband followed me around screaming “You are provoking me to abuse you! You are provoking me!” I was scared, but the anger kept me going. I knew I needed to just pack the bags quickly and get out of there. He had a no abusive contact order, so he was going to be thrown in jail if he touched me, but I knew I had to be quick. When I got to the car, I was dizzy and lightheaded.  I couldn’t breathe. I still remember parts of that day so clearly. It was cloudy, and windy. I remember the wind because I went to a gas station and filled my car with gas. I didn’t know what else to do. While I was filling my car, I called my friend Rebecca and asked her if Reed and I could stay with her. The wind rushed between my ear and the phone. It was difficult to hear her, and for her to hear me. I thought that I was going to pass out, but I didn’t. I let that wind swirl around me, and I stood my ground.

In the months after I left, the anger served another purpose. It kept me out of the relationship. I still loved him, which sounds crazy, I know. I will post about the complexity of love and DV later, but I missed him desperately, and if he spoke to me with any gentleness, I found myself seduced back into his charm. But he was angry with me too. He didn’t usually speak to me with gentleness. He yelled, and threatened, and bullied. After a while, his lawyer advised him that I might be taping him, and for the most part, that behavior stopped, but he made himself very easy not to love, and my anger, for the most part, kept me from wanting to go back to him. It also kept him from wanting to get back together with me.

But, now, I still feel a lot of anger, and that anger has no purpose. His case is over–it was mishandled in a grand fashion by the police and the prosecutor–but it is over. In The Domestic Violence Recovery Workbook, which I have linked to in the sidebar, they have a useful chapter on anger and how toxic it is when it remains after the relationship, which it does for some time. My feelings of anger are not unusual. Anyone in my situation would feel angry. Unfortunately, the book uses the old euphemism of “Being angry is like taking poison, then waiting for the other person to die.”  I need to work through my stages of grief in order to get over the anger because I don’t want to be trapped in the angry stage. I don’t want to be poisoned.

Many years ago, an acquaintance of mine was raped by another acquaintance. You can read the story here. At the time, she was open about what happened to her. She was frustrated by the lack of justice and support she was getting through the legal system, so she felt that she could, at least, educate others about what had happened. I was surprised that she would share such a story so willingly. I thought that, if that had happened to me, I would have wanted to hide it. But now, having been the victim of gender violence myself, I’ve realized that I don’t want to hide it anymore. I hid it for years, and I was miserable. Hiding it now would mean that I’m ashamed, and shame is even more poisonous than anger. Much of my anger in recent days has been, like that of my acquaintance, at the injustice of the legal system. I am angry at him for not taking a plea, I am angry at the prosecutor for not pursuing it further, I am angry at the police for their misconduct, and I am angry at myself for remaining complicit in that dismissal because I was afraid. I was afraid to go to trial.

I have been trying to think about ways to turn my anger from something purposeless to something purposeful, and this blog is an attempt at a remedy. When I left my husband, I desperately searched the web for other women’s stories. I was alone for the first time in years, terribly lonely and afraid, huddled up on that twin mattress on the floor of a guest room, and I tried every search term I could think of to find stories from other women. Stories that could reach through the clutter of the internet and tell me that I was not alone. I want to be able to give those stories to someone else.

I am a writer, and my words are my power. My voice is my activism, so I am going to share my stories here. They are personal. They are humiliating. They are infuriating. They are sad. But maybe–just maybe–someone else will read them and know that they are not alone.

5 thoughts on “On Anger

  1. Anonymous

    It takes a while to get past the anger of feeling like your future has been taken away as well, the future that you had planned: raising your kids together, seeing them graduate from college, growing old together, having a partner to share all of life's ups and downs with, that silly American dream of the white picket fence that was never there in the first place. Gone. Hopes for tomorrow now looking like an empty room that has been cleaned out by movers.

    It takes a while for a new dream to grow. While feeling greatly relieved that you won't have the abuser in your tomorrow, there is anger that the dream you worked so hard on is gone.

    The anger that lasts the longest is feeling that he got away with it: no remorse, no apology, no restitution, no justice, no public humiliation, no getting to experience one-tenth of what he has put you through, while still politely hiding it from mutual acquaintances so you don't come across as the crazy bitter ex.

    The anger comes in many forms and flavors at all the different levels that you have been hurt. It starts to heal with forgiving yourself – for not getting out sooner, for not protecting your soul, for thinking that it was your fault, for lying to yourself, for not paying attention to the signs. You did the best you could.

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  2. Amy

    Thank you for coming out of hiding. That's what they (the abusers) want, is for you to hide, to be ashamed, and to keep their dirty little secrets. The most liberating thing for me has been to share and be open about my abuse experience. I was recently told by a co-parenting instructor that its in my child's best interest to never talk negatively about her father. Rubbish. He hasn't changed. She'll figure out what he is. Someday I'll need to be there to help her process all the mixed emotions she has about her dad. And, painting a false picture of him now won't help her in the future.

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  3. Hi Kelly,

    Thank you so much for this entire blog, and this post especially. I just got out of an abusive relationship with my partner of 2 years. I'm dealing with so much anger right now, too. My partner was the one that ended our relationship – ironically, he said I was “too angry” at him for having abused me, that I should have let it go by now, and given him the grace to have changed (he hasn't changed. not at all.); he said that my anger was unhealthy for him. I feel angry and so hurt that he broke our relationship off (I was, beneath all the fear and anger, also in very love with him.) I feel angry at myself because I wasn't the one to leave. I feel trapped and silenced in all of this. None of our mutual friends know, and I feel like he's telling everyone I was the “crazy” one. that he escaped from.

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    1. You’re not alone in this. My partner said many of the same things. It’s a common tactic of abusers to pin the blame on their victims. If you haven’t already, I’d recommend checking out the work of Lundy Bancroft. He founded the first batterer’s intervention program, and he understands the minds of angry men. His books will make you realize that you are not alone, and you are not crazy.

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