January 25, 2022

Anxiety, Anger & Grief: this is our Way into Wholeness.

*Editor’s Note: well-deserved strong language ahead!
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The tight band around my chest makes it hard to breathe.

Logically, I know that nothing is wrong. Quite the contrary. I’m developing a loving relationship and had just come from a wonderfully warm vacation.

Sitting alone in my house, my furry beasts for companions, surrounded by plants and earthy jewel-toned textures, I know I am safe. My home is my sanctuary.

So, what the fuck is wrong?

It’s been a while since I’ve had an anxious episode. When they do happen, it’s as if my life force is caught outside of my body. I feel alienated from the wildly sensual intelligence that guides my life. I ruminate. I spin out.

I feel afraid, or more accurately, frozen. This feeling isn’t exactly anxiety; it’s as if something lay in wait for me, leaving me deeply unsettled.

It feels as if I’m being stalked.

Over the holidays I took a chance at reconnecting with a person who I’ve felt hurt, rejected, and intimidated by throughout my life. I did so because I was feeling loved and secure. My thought process was, “What harm can this person cause me now?”

The answer was none—aside from not meeting me, which hurt more than I had anticipated.

I’m tired of shedding tears over my relationship with this specific human. I have wailed out my grief too many times, knowing it was never safe to be angry with them. And because I have always felt intimidated by them, it’s no wonder that this time my anger sought out a safer outlet.

Over the course of a few days, I felt my anger rise in furious fantasies directed at someone who in no way deserved it. But I watched. I did not act out my anger.

I was aware of how every conversation that I wanted to start tasted like complaining, manipulation, or an outright attack. So, I buried my phone instead of calling or texting. I screamed in my car. I journaled. I talked out loud to myself to release pressure and take the pulse of my tone. The feedback from my bestie confirmed what I knew: I was hurtling full force down Brat Lane, projection bats swarming my silver Subaru.

I was deep in the shit. Furious. But aware enough to know that the current target for my anger was not the source. That is what a projection is, after all.

Anger is usually a reaction to either a real or perceived threat. It can also be a reactive response to current stimuli that reminds us of a past occurrence, often one associated with childhood trauma.

I’ve had a difficult relationship with anger my whole life. In my youth I can remember gritting my teeth, my body aware of a feeling that I could not consciously process. Bullying was a family language, and I was good at it. As I grew older, I had volatile relationships and surrounded myself with dangerous people. And boy, did I have a temper.

However unsettling my relationship with anger was, it also kept me safe. There was one night—out in the middle of nowhere with a guy I barely knew where I was yelling in his face at the top of my lungs, “There is no way I am going to fucking fuck you!” while clenching a pocketknife in my fist—that my anger almost certainly saved me from being raped and maybe saved my life.

My anger is my friend and longtime protector. But surrendering it, giving it a new job, and befriending are going to be vital for my own well-being and for the healthy progression of my relationship with my business, my family, my friends, and my significant other because it is no better to direct anger inward than it is to unleash it on our loved ones.

Anger can liberate but it can also incarcerate. I used to turn my anger on myself, and it immobilized me. Seeing it, feeling it, and owning it is progress for me.

I now recognize my anxiety as a manifestation of my tendency to freeze when I feel afraid or angry. I recognize the violent and abusive tone that my inner critic used to take with me as the misdirection of my anger. I also see my own stagnancy and complacency as ways of holding my anger—my vitality—at bay so as not to blow up anything in my life or to hurt anyone. I have, too often, been hurt by others’ lack of control of their own anger.

Intimidation is a feeling I internalized for many years, from cowering with caregivers to shrinking to accommodate (passive) aggressive tendencies of former partners. But intimidation is not actual anger. It is a mechanism of control.

When we live in a state of intimidation, we may find ourselves hesitating to speak or act, or editing what we want to say. For me, that contributes to my anxiety. That long-internalized intimidation is now seeping from my cells, and I know part of my process is releasing my anger.

Anger can be a catalyst, clarifying what we want and need, and who and what belongs in our lives.

I want to hone my own relationship with creation. I want to write, to teach, to hold people’s hearts as they discover their innate worth and power. That is what I do for a living, and I am damn good at it. I am good at it because I have sat in my shit—I have sat with my anxiety, addiction, and anger.

Anger can be a gateway for vulnerability when it is expressed skillfully and with compassion. But anger can also lead to intolerance, resentment, and isolation.

I am weary of my anger. Yet I am also tired of being stepped on, invalidated, intimidated, violated, and ignored.

It’s okay to feel angry. It’s okay to express it or communicate it. But it’s not okay to hurt people with it. It’s not okay to burn down the village because we are pissed. Granted, some things are not meant to be repaired—some things need to be incinerated so they can become the dust upon which we dance.

The gift of anger is that it burns through impurities in our minds and hearts. It burns through the bonds of conformity. It burns through complacency. It lets us know when we are being violated.

The trouble with anger is also that it burns—and those burns leave scars.

Amidst a storm of feelings, I contained the fire of my fury without draping the wet blanket of depression over it. This is progress for me. I allowed myself to feel without blowing up anything that matters to me. I stayed present and did not go numb. I continued to work. I rested. I cried.

Many of us will, for years to come, be tending wounds left by unchecked anger. As we continue to heal, it is with patience and compassion in our hearts that we must move.

To release the wails of grief, to writhe in the fires of anger without being consumed—this is my way into wholeness.

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author: Justice Bartlett

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Editor: Nicole Cameron