And 3. And 4. And 5…..
I previously wrote about anger here.
I talked to my therapist today. I haven’t talked to her in a while (I really haven’t needed to), but I needed her today, and she was there for me. She is due to have a baby on Saturday. She talks to me via Skype because she is in Colorado, and I am in Ohio. She talks to me for free. At the end of our session, she offered to set up a weekly meetings (remember, she is due to have a baby on Saturday!) I think that we both realized I have let things go for too long without talking to her. There was too much for us to consolidate into an hour.
My mentor here has told me that I have lots of “fairy godmothers,” and he is right. Liz, my therapist, is one of them (although, she, like many of the others, is younger than me). At some point, I will write a post on “fairy godmothers.” Still, this is not that post.
Liz, was the first person who knew where my bruises had come from. She saw them in our very first session together. I had been accompanying Caleb to therapy sessions with his own psychologist who was an accomplished and talented therapist. I liked that guy. I trusted him, and with his help, I had felt that Caleb could get better. Still, the problem with abusers is that therapy is no good for them. Therapy is so often used to make people feel better about themselves, and abusers do not need that. They need to be told that what they are doing is wrong.
But here is the thing: an abuser will not admit to his therapist what he has been doing, and the victim isn’t in a position to disclose that information either. Caleb did not admit to his therapist what he had done to me. And so, when we would go to these sessions, much of the content was focused on my behavior, on what I could have done differently, and I was very earnestly invested in doing things differently because, like all victims, I thought that I could cure his behavior by changing my own, but the abuse increased, both in intensity and frequency, and that is a pretty common result of couples counseling when abuse is involved.
Finally, at our last session, only minutes before we were set to finish, Caleb’s therapist asked, “Is there anything else?” And out of desperation, I cried out, “He’s just so mean to me!” And then I started crying–face distorting tears. The therapist sat there, stricken, and he said to Caleb, “Is this true?” And with a steely face, Caleb nodded that it was true.
Then, the therapist said that he was so disappointed in Caleb, but we would have to get to that the next time (which is why this was the last time). And on our way out of the therapist’s office, I asked him if he knew of someone I could see, and he seemed hurt. He said, “You are seeing me.”
I said, “Yes, but I would like to see someone on my own.” So, he agreed to think of someone. And soon, he referred me to Liz. Still, even in his referral, he wrote that she could help me with my issues with my mother. He was clueless about what was really going on.
And so, I made an appointment with Liz, but before I actually met with her, Caleb beat me. He beat me badly, and then, he went to bed, and while he was in bed, I emailed Liz from my work email account (which he couldn’t see), and I said that my husband had beaten me, and I was scared, and she wrote me back that she wanted to see me as soon as possible. The next day, I sat on a couch across from her, and I pulled up my sleeves and showed her–this stranger–the bruises. It was a complete leap of faith, but she came over, sat next to me, and she hugged me, and she said, “It is okay to cry,” and I wept the ugliest tears in this stranger’s arms.
A month later, I left him.
Today, when I talked to Liz, there was a lot for us to catch up on, and I didn’t even really know what I needed help with, only that I needed something. So, we talked about the Title IX meeting that triggered me. We talked about my unresolved grief over how WVU had treated me. We talked about my relationship with my parents. We talked about how people keep asking me if I’m doing enough self-care, and I explained to her that I don’t even really know what self-care is.
She sent me a graphic that illustrates the different elements of self-care, and we worked on identifying where I’m still struggling. I am okay with the intellectual elements (I am intellectually stimulated all of the time). I am okay with the physical elements (I get enough sleep, eat healthy, and have been to the gym 117 times in the past nine months). I am okay with the financial elements (I have built a life that is financially secure). What I struggle with is the emotional and spiritual elements.
Soon, I realized that my hang-up, my true hang-up, is my anger. I am still so overwhelmed by anger. Not all of the time, not even most of the time, but when the anger comes, I feel terrible.
I told her that I need help with “impulse control,” and she explained to me that impulse control is not my problem, that everyone struggles with control when they are overwhelmed by anger.
I told her that I know that anger is useless, and she said that she doesn’t believe that. She believes that anger is very useful.
She validated my anger. She told me that my anger is warranted. It was a relief to learn that the anger is warranted (and completely natural), but that doesn’t mean that it is good for me (and she does not think so either).
And then, at the end of our session, I remembered something that I had forgotten to tell her, and I told her that Caleb is getting married.
I hadn’t even thought to mention that before. Which is evidence of how little I care, right?
Except that, once the words were out there–with a person I trust–I realized that I didn’t need to fake anything, even to myself. And then, I realized how angry I am about his engagement.
I told her that I would like to go Beyonce crazy on his car with a baseball bat. I would like to get out of my car at one of our child hand-offs and flip my lid. I would like to completely lose it.
But I can’t.
And Liz told me that she knows I won’t (which I won’t).
So this anger just sits in my stomach. This anger becomes the ugliest part of me.
And I realized that, because I can’t express my anger to him, I express it in other ways. I express it to other people. To people who aren’t him. And I make my life harder (as though my life isn’t already hard enough).
I am not angry because he is with someone else. I do not care about that at all. I have no love left for him. This is not about jealousy. But again, Liz validated my anger. She pointed out how hard it must be for me to see him moving on with his life while I am still wrestling with the trauma that he inflicted upon me, how it doesn’t make me feel better when people tell me that it will be better for Reed for Caleb to have a new woman in his life, how powerless I feel because I am unable to cut Caleb out of my life entirely, so I have to sit back passively and watch him, and how as the person who was not traumatized, he has all of the agency in the world. He still has all of the power.
But again, and again, and again, I am powerless.
At its core, anger is almost always about feeling powerless.
And I don’t know what to do about this anger. I don’t think she does either. That’s why we are going to talk more frequently for a while. I am writing a book. My life is moving forward, and for myself, I need find a way to deal with the anger–not to make it disappear (I am not sure that is possible), but to resolve it.
Still, although I struggle with anger, I want to reiterate that am not always angry. Not at all.
A cousin messaged me the other night on Facebook. He basically told me that I’m choosing to be unhappy.
I know this is untrue because I am not unhappy.
I may struggle with occasional anger, with residual trauma, and with grief, but I also live a beautiful, rich, and fulfilling life. I am doing what I have always wanted in my career. I am making a life as a writer. I have a lovely and meaningful relationship with my child. I have the best friends that anyone could ever want. My brother is the sweetest. My parents are always there for me, even when they don’t know how best to be.
My cousin has been reading my blogs, and my Facebook posts, and he thought that he knew me (we haven’t seen each other since we were children). But these blog posts are not the entirety of who I am, nor is my social media presence. None of that could account for what happens in my daily life–that I ran into my new friend at the gym tonight, and we talked on the machines next to each other for 45 minutes, and then, even more in the parking lot because there was so much to say, that it felt so good to have a new friend who gets me. That there is a checker at my grocery store who flirts with me heavily, and he is probably half my age, and I love it. That Reed and I went to Columbus, ate dinner at my favorite restaurant (which, he, too, loved), stayed in a hotel, went swimming, and then picked up my best friend at the airport, and Reed was the best companion I could have asked for because 10 has been such a wonderful age for his personality.
That the woman who has been my friend since I was four came to visit me, only for twenty-four hours, but we had such a delightful time. That she knows my darkness intimately, and she still loves me. That we laughed so hard at the restaurant that I had to wipe away tears, and an acquaintance was staring at me curiously, had certainly never seen me like that before. That we later drank wine on my couch, and I told her that people think I am extroverted, but I am not, and she said, “You are more introverted. You get your energy from interactions like this. You have always been that way.” And it was so nice to be with someone who really knows me, who also, wants to sit on the couch and talk for hours, rather than, say, go out dancing–and yes, that is how I get my energy. If you want to be a close friend to me, then come over to my house, sit on my couch with me, and let’s have a meaningful discussion.
That, on the way back to the airport, I confessed to my friend that there is a woman in my department who doesn’t like me, and because of that woman, I have been somewhat ostracized, and she said to me, “There is a woman in my life who doesn’t like me either.” And that was the most freeing thing I could have heard because I can’t really imagine anyone more lovable than this friend, and I had been personalizing this other woman’s dislike of me, which has been hurtful, but my friend said to me, “You can’t know what it is about you that is triggering to this other woman in that way.”
And my friend was right. I can’t. And I don’t have to try and figure that out either. I don’t have to sit and filter through all of the ways that I might be potentially “unlikable” in my head. Instead, I can simply realize that I am not for everyone and move on. Still, although I may not be for everyone, I am valued by the people who matter to me. This is something that I have faith in.
All of this ties into my anger. Anger is so complex. Sometimes, we don’t even know the source. It took me years to realize how angry I am at WVU, and that pent up anger led to my tears in the Title IX meeting, but the tears didn’t stem directly from the anger, they stemmed from grief. I couldn’t grieve, you see, until I let myself feel the anger, and maybe now, I can move on from that experience.
It took me a year to realize that I am angry about this woman in my department, and until I allowed myself to have that realization, I couldn’t resolve the anger. It took me just as long to realize that I am angry about Caleb’s upcoming nuptials, and I am still working on that one.
As a woman, I am not supposed to be angry.
Still, I am angry.
So, what can I do?
I can speak.
My anger is not useless. My anger gives me a voice, and my voice may be all that I have, but my voice is not small. My voice is not powerless.