“Hot wrath, hot love. Such anger is the fluid that love bleeds when you cut it.” C.S Lewis
I have wanted to write a piece on anger for some time, but it has turned out to be far more challenging than I imagined. I’m beginning to realize the reason: anger is ubiquitous. It refuses to stay on topic. There are specific, personal injustices that have caused my anger, yet still it refuses to stay in those emotional boxes. It insists on jumping in and out of all the other emotional, psychological and spiritual areas of my heart and mind. That is why, I believe, anger is terribly difficult to get handle on and eradicate. The little stinker!
I am still angry, although if you had known me five years ago, you’d think that I’m practically sedate in comparison. There was a time, when my hurt and anger was nothing short of an open, bleeding wound. Every movement, thought or emotion deepened the pain. I resorted to a Janus-like existence. I chose the right course of action, but always in opposition to my emotions. It was a perpetual fight club between my heart and mind with my will as the prize…and you know what the first rule of fight club is…”You do not talk about fight club.”
I could laugh, joke, socialize and appear to be moving along, but all the while there was an under-current of darkness, sadness and burning anger that colored my senses – an unrelenting pit in my stomach that always made me feel a bit nauseated. Although there appeared no physical obstruction, I could never catch my breath: I was suffocating. Over time apathy moved into my heart and the idea of ever again experiencing any real joy seemed unlikely. I pushed the anger, down and went to the next soccer game, cooked the next meal and folded more laundry. Finally, after hearing a priest say that God’s love cannot live in a heart full of hate, I knew I had to articulate this bi-polar existence to a priest, and even he was taken aback. He timidly said, “Wow. Yes. We need to work on that.” Now it was official…I was scaring priests. This couldn’t go on.
As I began the process of wrangling this wild passion, I found very little online that helped me to navigate this. I was in a salty, cynical place, so the niceties of Catholic writing only deepened my loneliness. I then turned my heart over to my gaggle of girlfriends. A strong, devout group of women, raising an average of seven children each. It was in this safe place that I found the validation I needed to process through my anger. These ladies were not shocked or judgmental. Their response was a universal. “HELL YEAH, YOU’RE ANGRY!” With further congratulations that I had not done anything illegal. They are the best friends.
Now, from a place of honesty, I was safely able to start addressing my fiery moments of hatred, the steady anger of each breath and the relentless frustration of my self-imposed defeatism. The first step was to accept that what I was feeling was a natural response to this injustice. I was not a bad person for feeling this way. In fact, it would be unhealthy not to experience anger at such injustice. Keep that in mind – your anger, rage, etc…is a natural response. It’s not necessarily a supernatural response, but as with salvific history, God allows us to start with the natural and guides us to the supernatural.
After acceptance, I moved to articulation. I needed to vent, to get this disease out of me in a safe constructive way. Sometimes that involved ranting sessions with my girlfriends, other times punching pillows, crying (in privacy) and so forth, but all through this I was frequenting confession. Usually once per week, sometimes every two weeks. I always went to the same confessor and filled him in on the details of my situation. This way he was able to keep track of my progress (or lack thereof). [On a side note; do try to confess more than once per month. Acknowledge that you are in a crisis situation and you need to be vigilant in your spiritual disciplines.]
In light of the havoc generated by the destruction of my family this process took a few years. With the legal battles, the impact to the community, the unfolding of the gritty details that took far too long to discover and so forth, there were new injuries at every turn. During this time I was also simply trying to keep my home functioning. Obviously I tried not to over-burden my friends and the pillow punching occurred less often, but I continued with frequent confession. Eventually, my intuitive confessor realized that I had hit a ‘road block,’ and delivered the terrifying news that it was time for me to forgive my ex-husband. He knew that without this step, I was stuck. He clarified that forgiveness is not about feelings, but was an act of the will and now I needed to be brave enough to make that choice. Truly, I still don’t know why I was so terrified. Was I afraid of failure or had this anger and righteousness become a new, cozy home for me? Either way, Father was not letting me weasel out of this. He insisted that I repeat after him: “I forgive you, (name). I forgive you for the humiliation, the lies, the betrayal, the abandonment, the loneliness, the emotional abuse, the intimidation, the poverty and all that I have suffered through your choice, most especially the anguish I have watched our children suffer.” I wept. I still cry when I think of that, in fact I’m crying writing this.
This was a crucial step, but it was not a one-time action. Every morning I need to recommit. Daily, with my morning prayers, I must again choose forgiveness. I forgive for that day. Tomorrow is in God’s hands.
Another effective spiritual exercise I used was a process called “Unbound.” Now much of the press around Unbound is related to the conferences they offer all around the world. The research I have done and the good, obedient priests that I have spoken with, agree that the Church encourages laity to pray for and with each other, but not over each other. The hands of a priest are blessed and ours are not. So, that being said, I am not advocating for the conferences, unless there are priests present, but I do encourage everyone to buy the book. I bought the book after a priest emphatically advised it as a tool for my anger, and I spent approximately four months slowly going through it in Adoration. I brought a notebook and pen to record my answers and thoughts. When I finished my preparation I called the priest and scheduled the appointment. He spent two hours completing the remaining step with me. It was profoundly cleansing and lifted a great deal of anger away. God is Great!
As I stated above, I still get angry, but it is no longer the debilitating and chronic anger that I once suffered. My children and I are now ten years into this catastrophe and still endure weekly insults to the injury. Each time I see their pain, my anger flares but now I have the tools to deal with it. This reaction has been identified and in this tangible state has finally lost its power. It is no longer pervasive. It has been a big and important work – it is also a continuous work. Remember that many of the trials we endure are spiritual. By saying that I do not mean that we are struggling because we are not holy enough (after all, the saints suffered tremendous spiritual trials), what I mean is that though we need rest, therapy, friends, truth, solid legal protection and sometimes anti-depressants; none of that will heal us without God’s grace.
So you’re angry; be angry. It’s a healthy and valid reaction to what you are going through. Understand that all mourning involves anger – it is part of the process. Do not add guilt to your already full plate. The key is self-awareness. Self-awareness is pivotal to doing the work of converting the natural emotions of anger, into freedom and peace. Your life may feel like it’s over, but it’s not. Keep Christ’s love in your heart through prayer and grace and in time, you WILL see the light.
God bless you!