I have spent the majority of my life in various states of anger. For the first thirty years, this anger was mainly turned inward. I didn’t have permission to express anger in my home. The retaliation might have killed me. In addition, society had taught me that it was inappropriate for girls to outwardly express anger. Instead, I just let my anger eat away at me from the inside. This anger manifested in physical diseases. I was sick most of my childhood and early adulthood. But it also caused me to hate myself. I had a deep self-hatred which triggered chronic anxiety. There was no way for me to relax and enjoy myself, or even better, create a life of joy and meaning. There was always an inner voice telling me I wasn’t good enough.
Once I started my recovery, the anger started flowing out in waves. It was so intense that it would be better described as rage. I was scared of it at first. I had seen rage in my childhood and it was usually directed at me. Plus, I had come to the conclusion that anger was bad … all the time. This is what I had been taught. But through my therapy, I learned to accept my anger, and even come to enjoy it a little too much. It seemed powerful to me at the time because I had been powerless for so long. I plotted my parents’ deaths. I visualized a killing spree of every abuser in my life. I fantasized about putting them in prison. I thought of all the statements I would say at their sentencing. I even contemplated their struggles in life after death, and I looked forward to it. I am not ashamed of this anger. It is a normal part of a recovery process.
Although I have moved beyond the need to express rage about my past, anger still shows up in my house. Sometimes, it manifests for the right reasons and sometimes it’s just there. My children have been expressing some aggression toward each other in the past few days. There are so many reasons for that. They are ready for school. They are sick of each other and want to see their friends again. They are spending too much time with electronics. The full moon is almost here. I could go on.
This morning, there was an incident. I can’t remember the specifics, but someone wasn’t doing what the other wanted. One child was mad and very tempted to use physical means of getting the other child to do what they wanted. I looked at that child and said, “Just walk away. Go to your own room and find something to do. You can’t force anyone to do what you want if they have no interest.”
As I walked back to my room, I realized, that I had just given the advice that I needed to hear the most (as is often the case with my two little mirrors). Why am I still having a tantrum? Why am I still trying to energetically force my parents to do what they will never do … apologize? Am I going to hang on to my anger forever while I wait for them to do the right thing? Or am I going to walk away? Am I going to be free?
Some might refer to this as forgiveness or letting go. I struggle with these terms because they are overused. Anytime something is overused, it starts to lose its meaning. I also have a problem with the meaning that has been placed on the term forgiveness in religious circles. Some have implied that we have to make amends with a person to forgive them. Some have implied that we have to allow them in to our lives again and attempt some form of relationship. None of this is appropriate for a sexual violence survivor.
I know this sounds cliché, but I believe everyone is allowed a fresh start. Everyone is allowed to walk away from a past that did not support their sense of self, so that they can find their ultimate purpose. The power is not in the anger about the past. The power is in leaving the past behind.
So I will walk away. I will no longer wait in anger for my abusers to do the right thing. I will no longer pin my hopes on prison time or a karmic accident as a form of revenge. I will consider this phase of my life complete. I will live my life without the chains of my anger about the past. I was a slave. But I am not anymore.