“I am not my anger”

“I stand protected. Guarded. Always on the defense because I’m constantly under attack; I have to stay strong.”

Whenever someone suggests or asks me why I’m, “such an angry person”, I generally want to shove this quote at them. It’s the best way for me to explain how even with the world at my fingertips, I generally feel like the world’s on my shoulders.

I use anger to mask my fear.

When I was 14, my house went from a bubble of love and picture perfect security to a battlefield strewn with the broken glass of my family portrait. My mind’s eye shows a stepfather turned into someone equal parts unknown and threatening, who left behind broken furniture, twisted psyches and words that loved ones, or any ones, should never have to hear. Instead of learning who I wanted to be and how I wanted to change the world, I spent my adolescent years trying to squash down fears about the emotional and physical safety of my mother, my siblings and myself. There was no time for me to be afraid that one day he might actually succeed in throwing me down a flight of stairs or that my brother might have irreparable emotional scars; I needed to support my Mommy, protect my siblings, preserve our image of a perfect family home and try to keep us all from falling apart.

I use anger to mask my sadness.

I have not seen my stepfather since I was 17 and I alternate between being thankful and resenting it. Before he turned ugly, he was my second father and I loved him as such. How blessed I thought I was not only to have a father who loved me and was present, but to also have a stepfather who’d raised me as his own, with all the love and ability to give that that entails. There is no love like that of a child towards their parent and just because he stopped being a parent, does not mean I stopped being his child. I am sad for my mother who secretly grabbed us in the middle of the day and fled, for the family house that will never again be my home, and for the teenage me who conflated strength with taking abuse meant for others.

I use anger to deflect and reflect.

When I’m angry and I think, “How can I hurt you?”. It’s a phrase so loaded because it reminds me that my stepfather looked for the places that hurt me the most and targeted those spots. It’s a phrase so loaded because it shows that the only way I know how to cope with fears that keep me praying for everyone but myself and sadness that hits me without warning, is to make myself angry about the situation instead of dealing with my other feelings. It’s a phrase so loaded because it tells me that when most people try to reveal what’s under my anger, I lash out to keep them from finding my weak spots.

Anger means that miles away from them, I am still trying to piece together what is left of my family portrait. I know that anger is making me world-weary and tired beyond my years, and I spend more time than a little bit trying to figure what happened to my life. But nowadays I cry less, I hug more. I worry less, I pray more. I fight less, I laugh more. Anger helped carry me over, but I’m hoping it’s love for my family, my life and God’s love for me that will carry me through.