I was standing in a hospital room in New Jersey on November 17, 2011 at 8 P.M. Earlier that day I got the call from my mother. “It’s time and you need to get home right away.” My world came to a stop and the wind was taken out of my chest when I heard those words. After a minute I got my breath back, and quickly packed up my bag. I ran out of the building to my car. The four hour drive home was silent but for the torrential downpour outside, and the emotional freefall inside my head.
My father lost a three-month battle with necrotizing pancreatitis and I said goodbye to him for the final time. The following days and weeks were a blur, but a deep sadness coupled with an anger I had never felt before consumed me.
I had a fury and bitterness in me at God, and the world, for a situation I perceived to be unfair. This was my dad. The man taught me how to be a man. The memories played through my head like a film. All of my wrestling matches he was in the stands for. Every football game we attended together. Then all the memories we would never get to make. He would never see me graduate college, get married, or have a family. I felt robbed.
I was also angry with myself. I could’ve been a better son. I could’ve been there more for him while he was sick. I regretted every call of his I forwarded to voicemail, because I was just too “busy”. All of the memories I never made with him because I had better plans, pierced me with guilt and shame.
These wounds callused into a cold edge of personality. I had no healthy way to process the hurt I went through. My ego didn’t allow me to be vulnerable and ask for help. Instead, I expressed that pain as anger. I took it out on the people who were closest to me because I had to keep them at a distance. If they got too close, I would have to open up.
At some point the weight of these feelings becomes too great to bear and we find ourselves at a crossroads. Either deal with them or let them continue to corrode our relationships and life.
I had to find ways to process these feelings. I found someone I could talk to about them. I got honest and shared what I felt. Then I found healthy ways to process pain and anger. I began writing. A lot. I wrote short stories, poetry, and political articles. Through writing I can express myself succinctly and potently, especially through the medium of poetry.
the switch that’s flipped
to a sight of pure red
something in the brain ignites
a dynamite charge on the supply line bridge.
blankets of tension
a trillion body cells
all fall into position.
dominoes, one by one,
preparing for war
like a trillion
all at once they release
through my body.
a dam holding back a lifetime
of pain, planned responses,
release once more,
and when choppy waters
finally yield a calm sea,
I again have lost.
all I have done
after rebuilding the dam
is added more water
til’ next time it breaks.
I was unable to be free or have deep meaningful connections because I was carrying the pain and anger of the past into my present. I became incredibly self-centered and egocentric. I felt justified in the hurtful manner I treated others as a result of my pain.
It was only through identification, introspection, and a conscious effort to act differently, that I was able to deal with anger in a healthy way.
The first step to solving any problem is identification. If I don’t know what the problem is, I don’t stand a chance at solving it. I had to be honest with myself and look behind the doors that I wanted to keep closed. The truth is usually found behind those doors. The path I took seeking that truth involved putting pen to paper and writing an emotional inventory. In that inventory I saw how my anger, guilt, and shame manifested itself in my relationships with others, and myself. I saw a clear picture of how I could’ve acted differently, and with clear sight of my wrongs, I made a list of people I owed an apology to.
After I cleared those cobwebs, I need to change. That change, for me, begins by adding a pause between my thoughts and actions. Instead of reacting impulsively I can respond thoughtfully. Or not respond at all. I’ve avoided more battles by keeping my mouth shut than I’ll ever be able to count. Everyone has their own ways of dealing with anger. Some people take a pause and others meditate. Transferring that anger into a constructive process like writing or exercise also works for me. The point is to find what works for you.
Like any other change, it takes practice. Some days are better than others. I feel like I make great strides in progress, then something will occur that makes me wonder if I’ve made any progress at all. But that is the nature of change itself and while I’ve come a long way, I still have a long way to go.
I can’t recall the exact moment my perspective started to change, but others recognized it in me long before I recognized it in myself. I was no longer angry with God or the world. I realized that this was not something that happened to me, but rather a stage in life’s journey I was going through. Relationships with friends and family improved dramatically as I tried to contribute more to them, than I took. Most importantly the relationship with myself was taken to a new level I didn’t even think was possible before. I became grateful for all that I have in my life. Pain is the launch pad for growth, and what I have found on the other side of pain, and anger, is peace.