“Be careful. When the old map makers got to the edge of the world, they used to write, ‘Beyond this place, there be dragons’…”
-Out of Africa, Kurt Luedtke (Screenplay), 1985
CW: This post deals with childhood sexual abuse, anger, and healing. It’s raw and rough and it’s okay if you’re not in a space to read it. Protect yourself, I’ll be back with lighter fare later in the week.
Hello, My Beauties.
The past 24-hours have been tough. “Cry when you need to and don’t eat anything you don’t mind revisiting later,” tough. I want to share my thoughts about how anger gets a bad rap because it’s a taboo emotion. We’re supposed to fear it and bury it. Well, screw that.
I’m pissed off. Angry and sad, mostly angry, and because every fucking emotion I have comes out in tears, I’m sitting here typing, crying, and listening to Joni Mitchell trying to figure out where to start.
My hope is that somewhere, out there, this post will find someone who needs to read it, whose in a similar space and needs the comfort of knowing they’re not alone.
Let’s start with the basics.
The folks I grew up with, my family, ranged from cracked to shattered beyond repair. My great uncle was a damaged mother-fucker who wielded Jersey swagger, lawlessness and womanizing like Lancelot with a sword and shield. Among my clan of vipers, his damage was minor. The cracks in his soul showed in the long list of jobs and women he’d loved and lost. Still, he was a kind man, to me at least. I worshipped him because he never once talked to me like I was broken.
My dad, on the other hand, was the wrecked one. A genius for all intents and purposes, he invented the weirdest shit (an automatic duck plucker). He played guitar like a virtuoso. He also devised elaborate rituals to bleed the evil from his body, complete with razor blades and snow-white silk. Super fun dude to be around if your idea of a good time is watching someone deteriorate to a screaming mess on the front lawn every time they can’t get the static on the TV to go away.
Yeah. There’s that.
That was the spectrum of the people around me. So, when a babysitter decided to make himself familiar with my body in a way I didn’t understand or want, I had nowhere to turn. Everyone around me was so fucked up they didn’t notice that I was drowning. Eight years old and unable to breathe for the shame and hurt.
I learned to swallow my pain and wear my experiences like armor. It laid the foundation for the next 26 years of my life.
I kept silent
When that babysitter raped me with a coathanger in my aunt’s backyard.
When my father began to use my body, mind, and emotions as a repository for his passions, his bitter disappointments, and his madness.
When a 30-year-old AV teacher in my middle school convinced me he loved me, petting and cooing to me behind his locked office door.
When the first man I lived with raped me, all the while crooning that it would feel better if I “stopped crying and got in the mood.”
While I lived in a crucible of fury and sadness through my adolescence and twenties.
The silence ended when I was 34. I couldn’t keep it in any longer. It burst out of me like poison from a lanced wound. The cutting. The booze and the drugs. The persona of carelessness so carefully cultivated.
It all fell apart.
But in the wreckage, I found an amazing woman who could talk, cry, and rage about the past without dying. Thanks to an incredible therapist who walked me through learning to feel and sat patiently while I broke the silences I’d held for most of my life.
I began to understand the brokenness of the people I grew up with and around. I saw their humanity and understood that seeing another’s pain while you’re suffering requires a herculean effort. For 40 years I believed that I had suffered because no one saw what was happening to me.
Then yesterday happened.
My honey and I had just bought a new mattress and boxspring. We’d stopped at the store on the way home. I stayed in the car while he ran inside. He’s a delightful human being, but he’s also slower than a 100-year-old tortoise, so I called mom to pass the time.
Through some strange alchemy, we managed to land on the subject of my dad’s sister. The aunt who had hired the babysitter to watch me and my cousins while my mom and she worked. That guy.
My mom said, “I always wondered if, you know, after she became a psychiatrist, she ever thought of apologizing to you.”
“Apologize to me for what?” I asked, feeling a curl of nausea in my belly.
Mom launched into a story that I’d never heard. One that started “You remember that summer that you stayed at her house and that kid from the block kept an eye on you and your cousins.” What followed was a description of the events of that summer from my mom’s perspective.
How half-way through July she’d asked my aunt how I was behaving at her house because I was inconsolable every morning and begged to not go there. How when my aunt responded, she’d told my mother her suspicions about the babysitter and what he was doing to me. How she’d seen us “playing” but figured it was nothing because I’d kept my mouth shut.
Cue the sound of a record screeching.
Here’s me, sitting in the car, my hands shaking because I’m putting things together. Instead of freaking out and hanging up, I said “What did you do when she told you?” in my best imitation of Spock (Yes. I’m a Trekkie. Don’t judge), the very picture of a dispassionate, logical Vulcan.
My mother had wanted to call the police and my grandparents and aunt had forbidden it because it would ruin my aunt’s reputation with the neighbors.
Yup. I told you, I grew up around a bunch of broken assholes.
My aunt knew I was suffering, had seen it happen. She allowed it because it wasn’t her kids who were being hurt and the neighbors might be mad if she called the cops on a pedophile. My family swallowed their tongues and ignored the pain I was in because they were too engrossed in their own misery to do anything else.
I’ve spent the past 24-hours bouncing between sad and furious.
Fortunately, I don’t hide from my emotions anymore. And if you follow me on Instagram, you know the whole purpose of this post is to explain why anger is a legitimate emotion.
I’m fucking pissed off and I deserve to be.
Let me unload some stuff I’ve learned in therapy (and as a therapist – yeah, I’ve got some letters behind my name, I’m a fierce warrior goddess with a big brain). Anger is rational and legit when someone has hurt you. It’s also an emotion, like sadness or grief, that requires some energy to understand, but it’s never something to be afraid of.
It’s how you live through anger that makes all the difference.
I’ve learned anger is a persistent and insistent asshole when ignored. When I was younger, pre-therapy and grad school, I pushed my anger away, sucked it down, and locked it in a box. Of course, it got out and grew so powerful that holding it back took every ounce of strength I possessed.
Rage became the mask that every other emotion wore.
It was like anger got all my emotions to make it their leader. If it had a voice it would have said: “Hey, you! If you’re not going to look at me, I’m going to contaminate everything else. I’ll make sure that I’m all you see.”
That’s what anger does when it’s not processed and when it’s most damaging. It sucks your power away and takes over your life.
But when everything came spilling out, I learned (thanks to a brilliant therapist) to walk through it, as painful as it can be. I let myself experience the anger, and in doing so, was able to form constructive, healthy coping tools. Talking about my anger gave the other emotions (sadness, grief, betrayal, fear) the room to breathe. They were there and I had the opportunity to feel them as well.
It sucked and was painful, but, if you don’t allow yourself to feel emotions like anger, sadness, grief, and fear, you lose the ability to experience anything else.
Freedom is the ability to experience the harder emotions with mindfulness and revel in the pleasurable ones.
It’s been 40 years since I was a scared little kid and fifteen years since I opened my mouth and let all the ugliness out. Life is messy. Learning to trust my emotions, my gut, and my feelings were hard. Sometimes it felt positively Sisyphean, but I am more than just my past.
I am a ferocious and powerful Goddess. I embrace and claim my now and am living an incredible life, chronic illness and all. Experiencing anger no longer brings fear. I don’t smile through it or shove it down or push it away. I say “I’m angry and here’s why…” and it feels amazing.
If you are reading this, and any of this resonates with you, please, don’t let the past steal your present and your future. You’re stronger than you know and you’re not alone.
If you need help. Reach out. You don’t have to suffer in silence.
The Lifeline, Suicide Prevention Hotline
Help Line: (800) 273-TALK(8244)
The Trevor Project (for LGBTQIA+ folks 25 & Under)
Help Line (866) 488-7386
Translifeline (for Trans folks)
Help Line: USA: (877) 565-8860 / Canada: (877) 330-6366
Image Credit: “Diana the Huntress,” Giampietrino (Giovanni Pietro Rizzoli) (Italian, Milanese, active by ca. 1495–died 1553), Purchase, Mr. and Mrs. Frank E. Richardson Gift, 1989, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, http://www.metmuseum.org,