I fled the house with my pants on fire. Leaving a smoking trail of ash and soot behind me. It’s not like they’d stop me from my flight so I’m not sure why I felt like I was fleeing. But I did. I could hear them sighing with relief as I left. Or maybe I just imagined I heard them exhale and it was my own breath I was hearing. Perhaps both.
We had been working on the 1000 piece Candy Wrappers Puzzle we got for Christmas. I joined in only a handful of minutes late but I felt excluded nonetheless. Feeling like the odd man out in that weird sort of way that you do when you’ve joined a game too late. All of the rules and negotiating have already been established and you smile like you know what’s going on but there isn’t a place for you and you don’t really know what’s going on. Pieces were already being traded. Sections being claimed. I felt like I was scrambling to keep up and with every announcement of a coveted piece found, I shrank a bit more inside of myself. I don’t like being excluded. No one does. But I had been working so hard — as I do every year — to get these holidays right, I just couldn’t tolerate my own discomfort very well. Even if it was over a puzzle.
I felt myself getting short tempered and I noticed that each response or comment from my mouth had an edge to it. This is a recipe for disaster for me. When I find myself behaving like this, it becomes an open invitation for me to feel bad about myself. You see, I’d been feeling bad already but I didn’t really know why. For days I had been balancing an awareness of feeling dark while trying desperately not to. All I needed was a concrete thing — like my own bad behavior — to give me a real reason to feel crummy. That would be the final push to begin spiraling down the toilet bowl. Thankfully, I somehow knew this and I pulled myself out of the soggy mess with only half of a leg already in.
Not today. Nope. Not on New Year’s Day. The mere notion of feeling bad on the first day of the new year left me superstitious and afraid. It was my own superstition that kept me from my spinning descent.
“I think I’m going to go for my run right now,” I awkwardly announced in a voice sounding both as a declaration and a plea. My husband didn’t give me a hard time about my statement. He didn’t inquire when he’d have an opportunity to get his own run in. We didn’t launch into negotiating how we’d each run and play as we’d planned to on our family’s first day of 2015. He simply said, “Okay” and calmly placed his puzzle piece into its home. I wrestled with feeling guilty. Last night I had named today as a day we’d all be together celebrating … but I wasn’t doing a good job with all of this togetherness. I was teetering on this edginess that I wear on most holidays and it was making me uncomfortable in my own skin.
The scars of my past grow red and raw around holidays, birthdays and New Year’s Day. Somehow my husband knows this about me. Somehow I always seem to forget. Every year I find myself surprised to approach the holidays with trepidation and a sort of procrastinating reluctance. I feel so ashamed about my scars. I do. I try to ignore them but at each family milestone or celebration they beckoned to be tended to and I always cave. I give in. I scratch at them in spite of myself. With each stroke, they grow raw and I hate them even more for being there. The festering reminders.
What I have always loathed more than the scars is my inability to let them go. In turn, I hate myself for being weak and feeling sad and frightened. I get afraid of their rawness and I vehemently resent that they are there at all. I want to celebrate my life now. I want to look to my new year with hope and joy but I do it with such fear and apprehension. There’s so much pressure to get it right. What if I don’t? What if the scars swallow me up and I’m always stuck here with my open wounds?
I drive to the trail head with my faithful dog sitting in the car seat behind me. I am so grateful for her company. I listen to her whining with joy. Trembling with anticipation in that bagpipe-whimpering-way dogs do when they can barely contain themselves. We drive around the corner and to my dismay I see fifty or more cars parked along the road. I sigh. I had hoped to come to my woods alone. To clear my soul and mend my tattered heart. I’ve done such a good job of ripping myself to shreds these past two weeks. I needed the solace as my refuge from the outer world and from all of the people in it.
I needed to melt the chains of guilt and fear I had soldered to myself over these past few weeks with the pressure of Christmas and New Year’s upon me. These shackles of fear and worry have added to the discomfort of my scars. The metal aggravating my flesh. I am terrified that I’ll ruin the holidays for my children and my husband. It’s exhausting to be bound by worry, especially when it’s unfounded. I have no reason to think I will ruin anything, but I always worry that I will. It is the ache of my scars, pulling at my thoughts and exacerbating my fear that lead me to this place. This place of encompassing dread that unknowingly my scars will break open and seep the pain of my past all over the people I love. I am afraid that my lingering pain will ruin their celebrations as mine always were when I was a child.
We exit the car and I don’t wait. I just start running with my running enthusiast at my left side. She falls right in sync with me. Not missing a beat. It doesn’t matter to her if I’m bruised and banged up. She doesn’t care if there are a million people on our path. She just runs at my side. Happy. Her mood would be contagious if I could get out of my own way. I don’t try to force anything. I know I have an hour to lighten my load and so I let her carry me along the trails. Her ribs occasionally bumping my thigh as we go. I take comfort in her solid presence. Does she know that she’s carrying me? Each step I take with her strong and able body next to me unbinds me and slowly brings me back to myself.
What I notice as the miles pass is that I am angry. I am completely overwhelmed by an all-consuming rage. Anger isn’t something I tap into very well and I’m surprised that I was able to give the feelings a name at all. I usually misinterpret my anger as self-loathing or as me not being good enough. I often turn the anger into an emotion it isn’t; deflecting it. But today as I run past zealous New Year-ers sauntering along the path, I feel myself angry with each of them. Angry at the man who growls, “Happy New Year!” to me when I don’t make eye contact as I struggle up a rocky hill. Rage at the man who is on his iPhone and neglecting to keep track of his unleashed dog. The unattended dog gets caught in my footing. Messing up my stride and almost taking me down. I holler out, “You know that’s completely annoying!” His surprised face and penitent eyes leave me feeling wretched about myself as he scrambles and apologizes.
I honestly contemplate circling back around. Feeling regretful and embarrassed by my rude delivery. I consider explaining that I’m trying to run free from my rage and that he was the unlucky recipient of it. But I don’t. I’m on to something and I don’t want to stop and interrupt my process. Even if it is to apologize. Instead I own my relief that I have finally named my honest emotion. It’s freeing to feel my anger and the gift of this epiphany that I have displaced it onto myself for far too long.
I run with my anger and rage instead of from it. I run and I wonder what in the hell I am going to do with this new emotion. In my mind, I write a letter of deep contempt to my mother. I fantasize about ways in which my abuser can be punished and held accountable. I contemplate telling my father how disappointed I am in him for not being present in my life and in my children’s lives. With each step I take, I let go of my internalized rage. The rage I’ve misdirected onto myself. The rage I had swallowed deep inside of my belly for a lifetime.
I run and I imagine the anger floating like a trail of smoke behind me. Leaving me. Finally. With each step, I am lighter and I find myself thinking — maybe I am making the memories I hope to be making. Maybe I’ve just been too frightened to have noticed. I do know that my mothering comes from a place of unconditional love. A safe haven I wasn’t raised in. When I’m solid in myself, I know that I am okay. I see that I do enjoy my life now. I just have to step out from under the smoke of my past to see clearly.
I keep running. The smoke dissipates. The shackles fall away. My heart is beating and my chest is tight with the tears I’m choking back. My beautiful dog keeping stride with my every step. In this moment, I know in my whole being that my entire life has been about trying to run from my anger. Run and run and run — with the hope of freeing my heart. Today I know, I have had it all wrong.
The truth is, I can never outrun anger and rage and disappointment. I need to name my honest feelings. It is paramount for me to own them for what they really are instead of being afraid of feeling them. With each step I take, I understand for the first time that I’m not running away from anything.
I can’t run from my past. I have tried and tried and it has never worked. I always end up back where I started. I can, however, run towards my future. I can run home to myself. To the me who has never let myself down; the me who never hurt me. To the me who took care of myself for all of these years. I can join hands with the people who love me today. Naming my anger is the first step towards my future. Placing the anger appropriately onto those who deserve it is fundamental to my freedom.
Ready or not, here I come. I can’t imagine it’s going to be smooth sailing, but it has to be better than swallowing anger and letting it burn a hole in my heart. Here’s to ringing in the New Year. One burning step at a time.