This post was originally published on December 22, 2014.
There’s a chemical so potent that it’s not even available on the street. It’s stronger than meth, a bigger rush than ice and more euphoric than MDMA. For anyone that has ever allowed themselves to unleash a fiery tirade at a stranger, thrown something breakable across a room or self-righteously stewed in being done wrong, you know what I’m talking about. It’s anger, and it’s the best shit on the market, right inside your body. I am my own manufacturer, distributor and dealer, and if I’m not careful, one of these days I’m going to OD.
While I have been sober from drugs and alcohol for six years (and dry for most of the preceding 20), it is challenging to know I have at my disposal another “process addiction” that can give me a great buzz. Sober alcoholics have been known to be prone to fits of rage; that’s why the people who love us have AlAnon. While I have not indulged in the fun of fits of fury for a while, recently a big change in circumstances has made raging much more potent and therefore harder to resist.
People always make jokes about redheads having a temper. (They shouldn’t because bitch will cut you.) I’ve known I had a short fuse since I was a child, but being shamed by my family of origin, classmates and society in general meant that I made a decision early on to have that anger go underground. There it colonized for decades, made a fetid place to live like the homeless in New York’s subway system, until it started cannibalizing me. I don’t know if you know this, you guys, but “Depression is just anger turned inwards.” I’m thinking of embroidering that slogan into a nice decorative pillow! When you have no place to put your anger, both about the trivial and the justifiable, where else can it go?
I recently detoxed off an SSRI, an SNRI and a mood stabilizer, thus finally exiting the revolving door I have been stuck in on and off since the drugs came on the market decades ago. My first SSRI detox happened a couple of years before I met my future husband at 23, and at the time I hoped it would be my last. I resolved not to go on meds again, but when my Romantic Protector appeared, I didn’t want to take my wrath out on him, particularly because he was actually nice to me. Not just nice in bed, but let-me-hold-your-chair-out-for-you, give-you-my-jacket-when-it-rains and not-afraid-to-move-in-with-you nice. My now ex-husband was the least angry person I had ever met, but after more than a decade I came to see that he wasn’t “not angry,” he was just massively passive aggressive. The only way you could tell he was furious was when he smiled harder.
Nevertheless, he didn’t deserve my random outbursts of petulance, so I came to feel guilt about my untoward feelings, even if I didn’t act on them. Then once we had the kids (well technically I had them, but that’s another thing I’m not allowed to feel angry about), I knew with certainty those babies didn’t earn the right to have me take out my frustration on them. So I went back on meds, mostly to make my family’s life calmer. And for a long time, they worked to make me a more productive, socially pleasant and conforming member of society. Gone were the days of glaring at passersby because I perceived they were scowling at me, giving the finger to motorists and blowing off steam on my friends if they had offended me. I thought the anger was gone, but suspect it was just festering, doing pull-ups in the jail yard until it was ready to be bailed out.
I can remember the last time I yelled at a stranger, and it was seven years ago. Someone was tooting their horn in my neighborhood repeatedly when I was out walking the sleeping babies in their double stroller. I had stopped to talk to a friend in a passing car and this bitch started honking her horn behind us about 30 seconds in because she wanted to pass. My kids were asleep, my needle went to red, and before I could stop myself, I came up to her car and kicked it.
“Don’t. Wake. My. Kids,” I snarled, as the hapless Volvo bitch drove away. My friends thought it was hilarious; I never dented the Volvo, so no charges were filed, but it scared me that I was out of control with my kids in such close proximity. It was soon after this that I went back on medication.
Many things make me angry, but here are my favorites:
- People moving my shit after I put it down somewhere.
- Not being able to find my shit.
- People getting into my personal space that I did not request to be there.
- My kids (boys now aged eight and nine, apparently ungrateful for my defending their sleep years before) acting like whiny ass punks.
- Other kids bullying my kids.
- Most of the stuff my ex-husband says, thinks or does (though I still love him as a person and don’t regret having kids with him).
- Spurious right wing bullshit.
- Phony people who pretend to like you until their actions reflect another reality.
- Loud sudden noises, lights, or obnoxious conversations in public places.
- Not getting laid.
A month ago I could not have compiled this list so easily, but having made the highly personal and difficult decision to detox of all forms of prescription medicines, suddenly all of these “reasons” to be angry are always right near the surface. In fact these are not reasons to be angry at all, but “triggers” that need to be observed, accepted and detached from. As someone who is way into Buddhism, Hinduism, Kabbalah, non-violence and meditation, this is really testing my mettle. In fact the other day I may actually have said, when talking to a friend, the words “Ugh Thich Nhat Hanh, that cunt.”
I haven’t raged at my kids since I went off the meds, but I have certainly raged next to them. I haven’t yelled at strangers nor struck anyone, but a few days ago some lady felt compelled to observe that my kid was crying and had run out of the restaurant where we were having dinner, and I gave her a look fully intended to make her blood run cold. My kid was throwing a tantrum, and frankly I did not need her input, but what concerns me more is what generating that much adrenaline over a busybody stranger was doing to my physiology.
Also I have sent some very angry texts to my ex-husband, whom I still live in different parts of the same house with, so we can better co-parent. The thing that angers me most is when he admonishes me about my anger in front of the kids. (How meta is that?) Apparently, anger is not an emotion I’m entitled to experience in his presence. Then I text him horrible things which he doesn’t deserve, then I apologize, then I feel kind of justified, then I can’t find my dark blue towel which everyone knows is my fucking towel so that my kids are not wiping themselves with the same towel that has been on my vagina—I mean, just don’t move my shit, how hard can it be? Well. You get the idea.
I have long ago observed that it is more fun to be angry than sad. I understand that anger creates dopamine, adrenaline and a bunch of other fun in-body drugs, while sadness just creates lying in bed crying along to Alanis Morissette. Also, I’m committed to being happy in life, and I will not wallow in misery anymore. So if being angry with myself is the other option, then for now this will have to be the best I can do. I will not harm anyone physically because I’ve done way too much Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for that, but I spent too long feeling guilty about being the moody/obnoxious/goofy/over-sensitive/needy bitch I am, and cannot waste a moment more beating myself up over anything, not even something as unattractive as my rage.
Yet I don’t know what to do with these feelings of fury right now. Good AA people have told me to give them to God. Sure, done that. Surrender? Yep. Breathe? Every day. Drink chamomile tea? Yeah…But until all my neurological pathways rewire into some kind of normalcy, until I start sleeping more than four hours in a row, until I can tolerate over half an hour of exercise without keeling over and until my soul gets in touch with whatever was being squashed down by all those psychotropic drugs, I’m afraid that even those good AA people are going to have to go fuck themselves.
Though to my credit, I hope they do so in the nicest possible way.