It’s easy to know what I’m feeling at nearly any given moment, because most of the time what I’m feeling is anger. The intensity of that anger varies, sure, but it’s always there–with few exceptions. Post traumatic stress disorder is often associated with anger; talk to anyone with PTSD who’s willing to be honest about her experiences, and she’ll tell you about her anger. But looking back, the anger inside of me dates back farther than the domestic violence. I wonder if continuing in that relationship was a subconscious way to justify all that rage within.
It took me years to finally realize how much sibling abuse and parental neglect affected me. It took me years to realize I’d experienced those things. Yes, I grew up hearing my brother tell me I was a mistake who should never have been born, and I watched my father spend more time at his typewriter failing to publish than with me. Yes, my teenage years were marred by a mother who refused to hear me, but when I was younger, I thought all of that was normal. You hear that line a lot too, when you talk to people who came from abusive or neglectful households. We all thought that was just the way life was.
A Life Marked By Anger
Truth is, it took heroin for me to finally realize how fucked up my upbringing was. Sometimes, as with everyone who experiences addiction, I rode that deep, numbing high–the one that plunges a person straight into a refreshingly forgettable absence of time. But more often, my world just got softened. It no longer felt like a knife in my heart to think about my past. I could process my abuse–whether that was the physical and sexual trauma inflicted by my ex-boyfriend, or the emotional trauma gifted to me by my family–without being attacked by pain and anxiety in the process. In more ways than one, heroin saved my life, even when it also almost killed me.
Anger On Heroin
It was during these reflections-lite that I began to understand how angry I really was. How that anger had been with me for years; even decades. I could look back and see the way my childhood melancholy was an expression of anger toward my siblings that I had perverted against myself. I could understand the rage I felt toward my father for his complete apathy about anything that happened beneath his roof. The anger I held toward my mother for her 360 degree betrayal of the loving relationship we’d once had poured out in the light of day. All of it palpable because the intensity was dialed down by dope.
To people on the outside, the anger I experienced on heroin must have looked far more intense than the anger I feel now. When I was using, I lashed out verbally in response to slights. On a few occasions I even reacted physically. I cut myself regularly. Profanity ruled my vocabulary (even more than it does now). I was raw and unregulated. Back then, my anger exploded–but it also ebbed. I would get the relief of the rush. A reprieve while I experienced that dopaminergic joy that heroin delivers. Now, I am always angry, without break.
Anger On A Spectrum
When people who don’t have trauma backgrounds think of anger, I imagine you think of it as a strong, passing emotion. For me, anger is my baseline. I am, for example, angry right now–but not in a notable way. There is just a general “pissed off” feeling in my brain. I am grinding my teeth a little, which makes my jaw ache–but just barely. I don’t have any particular person or event to latch that anger onto, so it’s just there. Resting anger. Not debilitating, but definitely annoying. Like a splinter that I’ve had forever and just can’t manage to remove.
This means that when someone offends me, however, my anger is waiting for them. Ready. Other people might fumble at an insult or a perceived offense. They might have to think on it for a while, maybe process it with a partner, before getting angry. Not me. I have to actively practice not getting angry at every single thing. When I become overloaded with stress, that practice gets tested–and often fails. Every slight becomes the worst thing in the world, and when someone does or says something truly deserving of anger, I blow up. Often, that will later lead me to turn the anger onto myself, and spiral into a suicidal or pseudo-suicidal depression.
Violent rage is not something I experience often now that I’m sober. That doesn’t equal never though. On a few occasions, when someone else has physically attacked me, I have actually blacked out with rage. In those moments, I go apeshit (that’s the technical term), and have no control over it. There’s a part of me that thinks it’s kind of badass…and another that thinks it’s pretty scary. Luckily, this response has only ever been triggered when another person has physically attacked me in a direct and painful way. So whatever I do back counts as self-defense.
I Don’t Know How To Get Rid Of My Anger
People describe forgiveness as an experience of divine relief, but I can’t bring myself to forgive the people who have hurt me, because I am still so angry at them. My anger is fueled by desire–the desire to be seen, and supported, and valued. I don’t know how to forgive, or let go of this anger, when these basic desires continue to go unfilled. Too many people rely on me for support and not enough people provide it. I need to be taken care of. I need a rest. More than anything, I need someone to understand how badly I need these things, and to also feel that I deserve them–and to subsequently grant them to me. I know that’s a tall order. I know it probably won’t ever happen. That knowledge doesn’t change how badly I need it.
Life with this much pain and anger is a constant toil. The mere act of waking and continuing to live is an overwhelming burden. Doing anything else at all feels like a heroic feat. And right now, I am performing a lot of those heroic feats. Wanting to just sit and do the things that I enjoy is not a desire born from laziness. It comes from a place of exhaustion, and years-long pain, and consuming anger at living in a body forced to endure so much pain.
Trauma is bad, but PTSD is worse. PTSD means living with the most painful thing that’s ever happened to you, on repeat, forever.