So. Had an excruciating therapy session today. Big realization and breakthrough, but those come with a price. I drove my puffy red eyes to the store in search of Nutella comfort and they had the nerve to be out. Nothing above the shelf tag but empty space and a jar of peanut butter that had escaped it’s own overcrowded row. Can you believe that shit? The Nutella, I mean, not the peanut butter. I understand trying to get away from a crowd.
I want to talk about my breakthrough here, but I’m not in emotional shape to do it this week. I did find a related post that I began almost four years ago, but abandoned unfinished. It ends quite abruptly, in mid-sentence, just as I was about to divulge my two-fold reaction to my father’s angry outbursts. I wish I had finished at least the sentence because I don’t know how I planned to end it and I’d really like to hear what 41-year-old me had to say on the matter.
Alas, I can only tell you how I see it now and imagine that I had much pithier things to say a few years ago. Much too pithy for the likes of you. More likely I didn’t know what I was going to say even then, hence the abandonment of the piece.
Nonetheless, here it is, complete with mid-sentence ending.
I’m going to talk about some issues in my family of origin, the family I was raised in, so anyone who doesn’t want to hear about that should bail now. Consider yourself forewarned. ♥
For the Program, we have video tapes on several topics related to weight loss that we watch before workouts. The ones I was watching this week were about stress. Stress contributes to weight gain – not a huge revelation there for me. At the end, however, there was discussion of people who carry anger around like a powder keg, always ready to explode at the slightest provocation. The video went on to talk about how you can choose how you react to things, blah, blah, blah.Now, I’m not one of those people, carrying anger so close to the surface I feel like I’d give an electric shock to anyone who touched me, so I thought this segment would not apply to me at all. As the doctor talked, however, I realized that I grew up with one of these people. I’m not saying it was a revelation that my father was an angry man; kinda hard to miss that one living in the same house. Also not a surprise that I never knew what would set him off or when it would happen. He had an illness later in life that robbed him of his ability to communicate, leaving him babbling incoherently most of the time.
One night toward the end of his life, I was sitting at a table with his wife and her (adult) daughter discussing his latest outburst and what could have set him off. His wife’s daughter (whom I refuse to call my step sister because we were both in our twenties when our parents married) said something about this new volatility being so out of character for him. I don’t remember if I said this aloud, but what I thought was, “What the hell are you talking about? That’s the only part of him I recognize anymore.”
To be fair, he was diagnosed about two years after they were married, so they* were still in the honeymoon phase of the relationship and he was on his best behavior when he got sick. She didn’t know the man I grew up with. I don’t really mean to bad-mouth my father, either. He was essentially a good man who had a tough time showing or acknowledging emotion. And he had an unacknowledged anger management problem.
*My dad, his wife, and her daughter because they were all in the honeymoon phase. He treated her as the daughter he never had. The one he wanted who would look at him through the eyes of the daughter on Father Knows Best (you know, the one he called Kitten), but without requiring any of the emotional groundwork necessary to sustain that kind of admiration. And she didn’t have to endure the anger.
So, my surprise came not from my father’s actions and choices, but from a new light the video shone on my reactions to them. Reactions so ingrained in me that I still have them today. They’re basically two-fold. First, I try, mostly unconsciously, to control other people’s reactions to me by
My first reaction to anger, whether it’s toward me or someone else in the vicinity of my hearing, is to defuse the situation. This usually involves finding the immediate cause of the anger and removing it from the situation somehow. Once that’s done, I react by walking on proverbial eggshells in an effort to regulate the feelings of others around me and ward off any angry flareups. This stage can last a long, long time.
Speaking of a long time, it might be a while before I’m ready to talk about the breakthrough here. Then again, it might be next week. I really don’t know. What I do know it that I will talk about it here. Pinky promise.