Wrapping Up Month #10 of Extreme Self-Care

I have what is often referred to as a short fuse–easily irritated, quick to anger–so, at first glance, I thought I’d have lots of opportunities to practice this month’s Extreme Self-Care homework.

Extreme Self-Care

And then I thought, Maybe not.

Anger has been a lifelong companion,

but lately we’ve come to an agreement, of sorts.

For years, it was directed inward at myself and never allowed outward expression. So it donned another mask and presented itself as depression. Once I made that connection, and started giving voice to my anger, the pendulum swung as far in the opposite direction as it could go. I became a walking volcano with no tools to deal with its eruption. Any little thing could, and did, set me off.

It was a struggle to learn how to appropriately express my anger without decapitating the people around me and, of course, the people most in danger of losing their heads were the ones closest to me. Because I had so many years of practice internalizing it, it was easy for me to just swallow it when dealing with the world at large (and that, I think was the purpose of Cheryl’s homework this month). Not so, for my husband and sons.

It’s no secret in our household that Mama has a hard time with anger. My sons–who ultimately provided me with the biggest incentive to change–have followed me on this particular strand of my journey since birth. I used to wallow in guilt every time I messed up, but I’ve come to trust that there’s a reason they chose me for their mother.

Maybe they’ve learned more by watching me struggle–walk, fall in the hole, climb back out, apologize, start walking again–and continually strive to do things differently than if I had always been a peaceful, serene Madonna.

It reminds me of my favourite childhood book, Little Women. The mother in that story, Marmee, is the epitome of grace and patience and forebearance. Both Jo (my favourite character, who struggled to control her own impestuous nature) and I were surprised to learn that Marmee was not always so loving and compassionate. It had taken a lifetime of consciously curbing her own sharp tongue to get to that place of consistent gentleness.

I think Jo (look at me, talking about these characters as if they are real people!) benefited more from learning that tidbit about her mother than she did by feeling guilty about never measuring up to her mother’s shining example. Likewise, maybe my sons have learned more by watching my struggle than by being presented with flawless perfection every day of their life.

That’s what I tell myself anyway.

Anyway . . . as I said . . . I’ve been working on this anger thing for some time. And, lately, I’ve been thinking maybe I’d reached a tipping point. Maybe, all those years of work had paid off and I’d become more Marmee-like in my day to day life. Maybe I wouldn’t have many occasions this month to put Cheryl Richardson’s homework to the test.

And I was right.

I was moving peacefully through the month.

Until the day everything fell apart.

Everything made me mad.

Every little thing.

All day long.

And forget about handling it gracefully. I was all snark and snarl.

It finally came to a head at dinner where I sat stewing under my own personal thundercloud. I opened my mouth to reprimand my younger son and my older son’s face flashed before my eyes.

I managed to snap my mouth shut before the darts left my tongue.

And burst into tears.

Stephen and Jacob looked at me and then at each other, eyebrows raised in that familiar ‘what’s-going-on-with-Mom?’ look and, between sobs, I managed to blurt out,

I miss Gabriel.

And as I allowed myself to feel and express the pain of all that missing, the anger melted away.

So my take-away from this month’s Extreme Self-Care homework is this:

Yes, it’s good to stand up for yourself when someone hurts you in some way or cuts into line ahead of you or says something hurtful

AND

sometimes that flash of anger is hiding something else entirely.

In fact, anger often masquerades as something else. For years, it presented itself as depression for me which, for a woman, was more socially acceptable than spewing venom at anyone within spitting distance.

It seems that anger is a more acceptable emotion for men to express so it’s easy for it to become their go-to emotion. Sadness feels icky and weak. And let’s not forget that ‘big boys don’t cry.’  It’s much more comfortable to lash out in anger than truly feel the emotional pain of grief, for example.

Yet, sometimes, being with the anger

maybe even asking a question or two

Anger, what are you hiding?

or

Anger, what are you trying to show me?

will lead to new revelations about what’s really going on beneath the surface flash.

Maybe.

Maybe not.

But it’s worth a look.

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