I am mad. Not pissy. Not grouchy. Not even crabby. Mad. Not mad as in mad about kittens. Or mad as in crazy (although I do dabble in that from time to time). No. I am raising my voice, shaking “fists of rage” (as my awesome sister would say) mad.
I had a bit of a temper as a child. My sister, the same awesome one I quoted above, had the ability to make me incredibly angry. So angry I would throw things at her. Push piles of magazines on top of her. Bite her.
I carried around a ton of anger as a teenager too. It would come out at terribly inappropriate times. Like my freshman year, when I was on the orientation camping trip (which, incidentally, I hated). There was a girl in my group who annoyed the shit out of me. Funny, I can’t tell you why that is now. I managed to keep my temper in check around her until a week in, when I exploded. A litany of cuss words flew from my mouth and I wouldn’t be surprised if smoke blew out of my ears. I yelled at this poor girl for several minutes. I also don’t remember exactly what I said to her, I just know it was AWFUL. She cried. I got in trouble with the principal. I had to issue an apology, which I did without making eye contact (that I do vividly recall, oddly).
In college, I would get angry nearly every time I got wasted. Which was about once a week. So, it’s safe to say I had some kind of altercation with another human being on any given Friday or Saturday night from September 1995 to June 1999. One memorable night, I picked a fight with a senior hockey player about three times my size. He cut the bathroom line and I got up in his face, literally, and told him what I thought about that. He laughed at me and called me “angry woman girl.” He proceeded to go around the party, pointing at me and asking people, “have you met angry woman girl?” Mortifying. Like most things in life, however, something really great came of that embarrassing squabble. I made a dear friend, a fellow party-goer who came to my defense and made sure I was okay. Thanks, Jamarr.
Another college moment– Puerta Vallarta, Mexico. Spring break with my girl friends. I drunkenly screamed at one of my best friends (yes, we are still friends– we laugh about this now but it really wasn’t funny) and tried to tackle her in a cab. Ugh. My apologies, Emma.
The rest of my twenties are a little fuzzy, although I have a particularly keen and painful recollection of flipping out on my mother when she and a family friend took my sister and me to buy black dresses for my father’s funeral. If I was four or younger, it would have been okay behavior. A typical toddler temper tantrum. Only I was 21. And I screamed at my poor mother because she wanted me to pick out some shoes to match my funeral dress. I thought it impossibly trite and stupid, this concern about footwear, and let her know. With lots of four-letter words. In the middle of Macy’s.
I had other bursts while drunk. Like the night I apparently bitched out a guy I was on a date with and awoke to texts to the tune of “you’re crazy, never call me again.”
The list goes on.
The thing is, although I was a super angry person, and remained so well into my first year of recovery, I don’t think “mad” is my true nature. I find myself feeling those feelings much less frequently (and when I do, for shorter durations). I attribute this to cognitive behavioral therapy, recovery, and time. My thinking, my attitude, and my outlook have all changed. Things that used to break me now roll of my back. I aim to civilly and calmly address whatever has me in a snit as quickly as possible, lest it eats my lunch.
The truth is, I don’t like being mad. Anymore. I think I used to really enjoy it, get off on it. It no longer feels good though. I don’t get a rush from it. It’s merely exhausting. No one wants to listen to the rantings of an angry person. It damages the psyche and eats away at the soul. So I do my very best to avoid it.
But this is a fairly new way of being in the world. Keeping the temper in check requires me to take action. I pause, repeat the Serenity Prayer (God, Grant me serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference) over and over until my breathing and pulse have steadied, and most of all, I remind myself that it is not worth it. When that doesn’t do the trick, I write. Nastygrams (to quote my old boss) that don’t leave my draft box. Letters to myself. Blog posts. I’ve also found a new trick–or really, I am revisiting an old one–I get moving. I’ve gone for a few spontaneous runs over the past month because I felt inappropriate anger I really didn’t care to spew all over my family.
Most of the time, these tools–breathing, prayer, writing, or running–are enough to chill me out. In fact, I am so much less angry now than when I began to write this. HOORAY! But I will tell you what had my undies in a bundle anyway.
I have had two annoying experiences at work this past week. First, a customer referred to me as a “dumb blonde” because, when he questioned the validity of the trivia question I’d posted on the board (customers get a whopping ten cents off their order if they guess the correct answer), I assured him it was accurate. He then snidely inquired, “What, did you google it?” I, in fact, had gotten the information from a highly intelligent, trustworthy friend. I responded by asking, “Well, I don’t know sir… do you consider google to be a reliable source?” He and his cronies laughed and snickered and I turned red.
I also turned irate. (The fact that I am more redhead than blonde is entirely beside the point.) I called my man friend and vented. Then I clued in my coworker (who had seen me get uncharacteristically ticked off), as he hadn’t heard the entire conversation. Oh, I told lots of people. Anyone who’d listen. I also fantasized about “low-talking” (to borrow one of my man friend’s favorite expressions) the guy. Going up to him, in front of his cronies, and letting him know just how smart I really am. What degrees I hold. My professional know-how. And then walk away, leaving him feeling embarrassed and ashamed for being such a dickhead.
The second thing… I work with a man who is, and I say this with all the love and compassion I can muster, quite limited. Some might say obnoxious. Rude. I will stick with limited. Anyway, he and I have wrangled a bit the past month because I find his approach to many things… inappropriate.
Now, typically I have no poker face. When I am upset or unsettled by someone or something, I wear it on my entire body. Usually I appreciate this quality in myself, my utter inability to bullshit and hide my feelings, but there are other times, like in a work setting, that it is a weakness. It comes across as unprofessional and unkind. So I do my damnedest to keep it to myself… only my stiff posture, stoney facial expression, and monosyllabic responses always give me away.
Today I had a snarky encounter with this coworker. I won’t get into the details, but it ended with him shouting across the room,”You are such a thoughtful person.” Luckily I was on my way out the door and I didn’t miss a beat. I kept on walking. To my car. Where I then sat, fuming, music blasting, for about ten minutes. I thought deliciously evil thoughts and drummed up fantastic low-talking fantasies. I mean, how dare he! He doesn’t know me! I am the MOST thoughtful person! F**k him!
Ugh. I know better. I have had enough experience on the merry-go-round to know that I can’t change people. Not with the best of intentions and certainly not by joining them down in the trenches. All I can do is live in accordance with my spiritual ideals–kindness, love, compassion, service.
This morning I missed my spiritual mark. This morning, I was, well, a bit of an asshole. So, what’s the reward for using my elbows? I get the booby prize: I have to now make an amend to this individual. Because I allowed his way of showing up in the world– which is none of my business– to interfere with my serenity.
I laugh now. I have an image of myself eating this giant slice of humble pie. The Universe is unpredictably predictable, ever sending me signals that I’ve become too sure-footed and overly confident. I still have a temper. It may not flare up nearly as often or vehemently as it used to… but it’s there and it has the power to take me down a peg or two. Which is good. It reminds me of something vital– just like my coworker (and everyone else in this world), I am quite limited.