[general content warning: child sexual abuse, talk about abusive relationships, domestic violence, school shootings]
I know I have a lot of reasons— too many. I know that it’s justified and I have the right to feel that way if I want to.
I just don’t want it.
My anger is something I carry. It’s there and it isn’t. It only comes out when I really need it, when the only alternative is sadness. It’s easier to put up a wall and push people away than it is to admit that I’m hurt. And it’s not that I get angry at whatever, or just because I can. Like many other survivors, I’ve learned to keep it all dammed up and hidden. The problem is that when the dam breaks, it’s a flood.
Everyone who knows me would say that I am the opposite of an angry person, that to even imagine someone like me angry is kind of frightening. People have said that when I’m angry, it’s “out of character” or surprising.
But it’s there, and it’s a part of me. A really important part. Like that stashed away segment of myself that I call Sad Elle, there’s an Angry Elle also. It’s the furious little girl who is unable to trust her big brother, her mom, or her friends. It’s the person who can’t believe in non-violence anymore, because so much of the rhetoric feels like surrender. It’s the child who, as a teenager, empathized with the stereotype of the bullied school shooter, and maybe even entertained the idea of revenge a few times. I was that angry. I’m not anymore, but for awhile, I really was. It’s not an accident— it takes a whole lot for a person to get to that point.
The other day, I read about how Barack Obama’s father beat his mother, and how he left when he was very young. Barack lived through poverty and being constantly shuffled between extended relatives across entire oceans. That same day, I learned about a serial killer whose family and upbringing was equally messed up. One person became the president, and the other died on death row. That is how narrow the path is— any one of us could fall one way or the other.
Every day, I move a little closer towards being something. I’d like to hope that it’s something good. Some people have described abusive situations as a “bait-and-switch”; the abuser projects all of this evil onto their victim, fooling the subordinate into believing that they are terrible and the abuser is infallible. I don’t know if I “deserved it”, but I often feel like I did.
Every day, I wonder if I’ve been the bad all along, and the problem isn’t everyone else, but me. There are times when someone makes the wrong joke, or I see something on the news, and suddenly I am that angry person again, that destructive animal that has carried a splinter in its paw for years and years. My skin grew over the wound, but the splinter stayed there, digging in, migrating under each layer of muscle and tendon.
But it doesn’t end there. That splinter took on a life of its own, growing and twisting and splitting apart inside of me, complicating itself. Abuse is an exponential function; a series of incidents at a young age becomes amplified, its effects multiplied as one grows older. An eating disorder. Self-harm and neglect. Chronic sickness and anxiety. Suicide and depression.
What boils inside of me is not something that can be surgically extracted— it’s something that will stay my entire life. I might find ways to shrink it down and take out parts and pieces, but it’s not going away. When I get angry, it’s not the single moment in itself; the moment is only a catalyst for a cascading series of memories and feelings that have stewed since I was eight.
After fourteen years of complication and mutation, that anger has become a part of me. So it’s difficult to give it up. I can’t just say, “Hey anger! I’m done with you. Now go away”. There are times when it feels like the power core attached to Tony Stark’s heart— I don’t want it, I don’t like it, and I wish I didn’t need it, but if I let go, what do I have left? How do I protect myself? What if that’s the only thing keeping me alive, the only passion I hold in a world full of things to be angry at or be hurt by? How am I supposed to live without this inside?
I’m still angry, but I don’t want to be.
I don’t want to hurt people, I just want to stop hurting.