“I’m sorry,” I whispered at 1:00 this morning. We sat slumped against our bed’s headboard. Miles between us and sleep even farther away. “I’m sorry.”
Rob’s face relaxed when he heard me. His breathing softened. I had actually heard what he was saying and perhaps, with that, there was hope that our incessant arguing of late would stop.
Anger takes up so much room. It does.
I have about 35 years of anger brewing so I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge that this is a hell of a lot of anger. Anger topped with a lot of fear about asking for help. If I’m too afraid to ask for help, I get more angry because my needs aren’t met. The irony being — if I’m angry all of the time, I’m pushing the person I love the most away from me and I lose out even more. Why would he want to help when I’m angry all of the time? Which of course makes me more angry. You see how this goes, don’t you?
Rob’s health issues are a huge trigger for me. I’m angry that he’s sick. Mind you I’m not angry with him. I’m angry about his health. There is a difference. His health crisis elicits so much fear in me. My mother was unwell and she couldn’t (or wouldn’t) take care of me. My mother’s unwell-ness is not the same as Rob’s Psoriatic and Rheumatoid arthritis. But frightened-me can’t distinguish between the two and I feel like an abandoned child trying to make sense of a world that doesn’t make sense. So while I’m not angry at him, I’m behaving like I am.
But I don’t get to justify my behavior because of my past. I don’t get to be angry at the wrong person. I have to be accountable. I have to own my shit. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t contribute to the dynamic between the two of us. He does. But only I am responsible for my behavior. And lately I’ve been acting like a jerk. I didn’t want to own this. I wanted to blame him. That’s so much easier.
Yesterday I was talking about my anger in therapy. Rob had been away on another business trip and I was worried about him coming home. I’m tired of our fighting. I reflected how, if he’s not home, I don’t have to experience myself as being an angry person. Instead, I can shove anger down and walk around in denial with anxiety settled in my chest and anger safely buried. Let me tell you, this is an exhausting way of being in the world. Squashing down anger is like trying to walk around with the world resting on your chest. You can’t breathe. It’s suffocating. Plus you’re a ticking time bomb. When Rob walks in the door, weary from his own life-challenges, I launch on him — exploding anger onto him and unburdening myself from it.
Not fair. Not good. So not okay.
A few nights ago I read a book I’ve had since I was about seven to my seven-year-old, Elias. The pages have been taped and re-taped into the cover. My name is scribbled in kid-writing on the inside flap where it reads: “This book belongs to … Jessica.” I’ve always loved this book for reasons I couldn’t articulate. It’s interesting how things make sense when we’re ready to see them.
There’s No Such Thing As A Dragon by Jack Kent
It opens with this:
“Billy Bixbie was rather surprised when he woke up one morning and found a dragon in his room. It was a small dragon, about the size of a kitten. The dragon wagged its tail happily when Billy patted it on the head.”
The story goes on to describe how Billy goes downstairs to tell his mother that there is a dragon in his room. His mother promptly responds by firmly stating, “There’s no such thing as a dragon!” Billy is obviously bewildered by his mothers denial about what he had just seen and experienced. However, he listened to his mother and for the rest of the day Billy and his mother go about their day ignoring the dragon and his attention seeking antics while he grows bigger and bigger by the minute.
Finally the dragon is so big, he fills up the entire house. Mother has to jump in and out of windows to vacuum around him. But she never admits that he’s there.
The dragon later wakes up from his nap and smells a bread truck passing by. Hungry, he gets up and chases down the bread truck. The house sits on his back like a shell on a snail while Mother and Billy look out the windows. Soon, Father comes home and notices that the house is missing. He tracks the house down. Walks along the dragon’s neck, climbs through the upstairs window and asks, “How did this happened?” “Billy responds, “It was the dragon.” His mother begins to reply, “There’s no such thi…” And Billy interrupts her. He insists! “THERE IS A DRAGON! A VERY BIG DRAGON!” And he once again pats the dragon on the head.
As soon as Billy does this, even more quickly than he had grown, the dragon shrinks down to kitten size again. The final page shows the dragon sitting on Mother’s lap. She’s patting it and saying, “I don’t mind dragons this size. But why did he have to grow so big?” “I’m not sure,” said Billy, “But I think it just wanted to be noticed.”
We have to notice our stuff. We have to own it. All of it. It’s not easy. It’s never easy. But when we do … when we shift and own the wounded, not-so-great pieces of ourselves, we actually open up an soften. There’s more room to move, to breathe, to grow and to take care of our whole-selves because we’re actually willing to see our whole-selves. More often than not, when we do this — when we are truly honest about the painful pieces of ourselves — the people who love us soften too. There’s relief in being real and naming what we see. Apologizing. And forgiving ourselves for our human-ness. We can grow from that. This is taking care of ourselves. It is the essence of self-care. It is being real. It’s whole-hearted, brave living.
I have a lot of work to do. I know this. But if I’m afraid of the work, or angry about it, I’ll be stuck forever with anger growing bigger and bigger, like the dragon — big and huge and trapped under a house. That’s not triumphant living. That’s not even really living.
Real living looks like this: “This anger belongs to … Jessica”
Be brave. See yourself. Your whole-self. It’s hard and scary and it sucks sometimes, but we’re worth it.
Categories: Tri-Umphant Living