[this is going to be looong…]
Some Roman (ah, okay, it was Horace) wrote Ira Furor Brevis Est: anger is a brief madness. My version up there says: anger is a relentless madness. Yes, writing about anger is a worthwhile pursuit, especially for a Buddhist who was strongly conditioned (both as a Buddhist and by life before that) not to acknowledge anger, not to inhabit it.
I think that I partly chose to be a Buddhist as a way to carry on (and to justify carrying on) denying my anger. This is hilarious in retrospect – because while on the one hand, I was repressing an incredible volcano of anger at the way I’d been treated as a child (abuse, bullying, homophobia, transphobia, abandonment, etc. etc.), I was also a pretty bloody angry person. But the way I did anger was to sulk, and to be (as someone helpfully called it – and I say that with no sarcasm) really touchy.
A few years ago, I realised I could no longer keep trying to “transform” anger, as we Buddhists like to say; for me, at least, this was just a shorthand for “to self-delusively try to go around something I’ve got to go through.” I think I’ve mentioned here before, a friend saying “you can’t walk away from something while you’re busy running away from it” and I’ve done a lot of running, especially from anger.
Why? Because I was indoctrinated at a very young age to believe that I had no right to anger; and that everyone else’s feelings were more important than mine anyway; and that everyone else’s feelings were my responsibility, and probably my fault too. This is a deeply stupid and harmful truckle o’crap to be lugging around all my life, and I’m taking a long, soft look at it right now.
Why am I writing this tonight? My therapist gave me some more homework.
Last week’s was to let my kid self (we’ve negotiated, and she’s a she from now on – I’ll refer to her as kidgirl, in homage to Samuel Delany) write a letter to me using my wrong hand. She wrote me a short and fascinating letter, asking for help. She quoted the Narnian river god, who said “Hail lord – loose my chains!” She also reminded me of the first book I ever bought myself (when I was about 9, Citizen of the Galaxy by Robert Heinlein – I still don’t know why I chose that one, perhaps it was the running figure made out of stars on the cover) – she reminded me of “all the nameless Thorbys”, all the enslaved children spread across a galaxy that the main character Thorby wants to free, having been one himself at the start of the story.
I’ve had several days. Why is it so hard to write back to her? Because I feel like the whole cosmos expects me to rescue her. And I’ve just, over the last couple of weeks, faced up to having spent a lifetime feeling like I have to rescue people, make everything all right, all the bloody time. Well, everyone except myself. Hah, even as I write this, I can hear a curt voice from within telling me it’s self-indulgent to want to look after myself, it’s self-indulgent (and terribly, terribly un-Buddhist) to feel angry at being expected to help others, at having (apparently) no choice. Well, the “apparently” is redundant once you have a habit like this, there ceases to be any choice until you see the habit for what it is.
But no, it’s not self-endulgent. The true thing is, you can help other people become happy, but you can’t make people happy. I’m finding it hard to write to my kidgirl because I need to tell her I’m not going to set her free, I’m not going to rescue her. I can keep her company, and more than anything else in the world, I wish her well. I wish her so well. But it’s not my job.
I wonder how to tell her this, and I wonder how she’ll take it.
The mad/sane thing is, I’m angry, and she’s angry. And we’re angry about some of the same things, for some of the same reasons, but we’re also angry about very different things, and in very different ways. This is at the root of my PTSD – this young fear that isn’t subject to reason. It embarrasses me to write this next phrase: I’m trying to learn how to keep my anger company. Oh, actually that wasn’t what I thought I was going to write (I was expecting something like “I need to be with my fear”, which sounds very encounter-groupy), and it wasn’t embarrassing after all. Just like I had to learn a few months ago to keep my fear company, I’m still trying to fend off, to “transform” my anger – basically to do away with it. And it just festers.
As Roberson Davies wrote, “Things we bury grow fat while we grow thin.” Time to do something different. Being angry with being angry is like using pesticides.
[…and now ’tis written…]