I feel the rage losing its hold on me.
Three and a half decades on this planet, the rage has been with me the whole time. It’s strange to see it slowly slipping away. I’m sure it will always be with me to a certain extent, but my rage episodes are spacing themselves out, with weeks of tranquility between them. I get righteously angry, like any thinking American should, but it doesn’t often flip over into that dangerous white-hot place.
This feels good, but because the rage has historically been where I’ve felt most at home—most like my true self for better and for worse (definitely: for worse)—it also feels foreign.
I think a lot about who I am without my rage.
Intellectually I know the answer: the same person.
But it doesn’t feel that way, sometimes. I have to keep reminding myself.
I think that’s a lot of what shedding old habits is about: just reminding yourself. Over and over.
This particular rage was perfectly justified, which is probably why I’m willing to share it with you. It’s linear. Sometimes the rage bubbles up out of nowhere, for no reason. Those feel scarier. At least with this one I can point to a reason. “Justified” isn’t quite the right word, though. The rage is never exactly justified. “Understandable” is maybe a better one.
So let’s get into the awful story.
Last Friday, my friend Q. and I had what I’m realizing can only be described as a traumatic experience, and we’re still feeling our way along the edges of it. We were asked to participate in an intervention for a friend of ours. I’ve never been in an intervention, or watched some show called Intervention, and didn’t really understand what interventions are all about. Here’s what I know now: interventions are actually structured events, with internal logic and rules. I had no idea. An “interventionist” was there and everything. Obviously, it was intense.
Equally obviously, “intense” doesn’t even begin to edge into the blood-black endless sinkhole of feelings that being at an intervention will engender in a person. Afterward, we felt like wrung-out rags, barely able to walk, wracked from tears and hugs and fear and the most miniscule pinpricks of hope poking their way into our consciousnesses.
Then we went to work.
After work I was supposed to go see a show. Between work and the show, Jacob returned from a show he was working in NYC. We sat on the couch at work to talk out the morning trauma.
Here I need to be vague, because it would quickly get boring to drag the whole internet into the details of this specific morass, and it would be insensitive. So I’ll do my best.
I had made a small misstep earlier in the day. Unsurprisingly, it came about from my indiscreet mouth.
To explain a little about why I am such a fucking big mouth:
- Grew up with many secrets. (Guns, drugs, violence, parental rage, fear, shame, poverty, squalor, etc.)
- Secrets give bad stomachaches.
- In adulthood, vowed not to have secrets.
- Vow has come true = not so many stomachaches = yay.
- Sometimes have trouble differentiating between “the truth will set you free!!!” and “TMI” and “It’s fine to tell all your secrets, but you can’t tell other people’s.”
Today I learned that (as I felt all along) my indiscretion actually opened up, as one involved party put it, “a wonderful can of worms” that has made life better for my friend in rehab, but on Friday I was convinced that it had actually ruined her life and was in a black place because of it.
I was sitting on the couch with my wrung-out rag body, telling Jacob my story. I was tiptoeing around my words, secretly terrified he would say something that would make me feel even more terrible than I already did about my indiscretion. I was on the edge already.
A quick explanation of the difference between Jacob and I:
- Jacob: physically has a very large mouth. Metaphorically never ever has a big mouth. Partly his nature, and partly because his job involves Famous People, and Famous People Require Discretion.
- Lagusta: physically has a mouth actually too small for her head. Metaphorically a huge big mouth (see above.).
We often have spirited discussions about the benefits of me blabbing about this or that. The tug-of-war is good for us both. I open him up, he helps me see the merits of shutting up now and then. (hashtag wellmatched).
I knew it wouldn’t be Jacob’s intention to say something to make me feel awful all over again about the slip. It’s just his nature to wince when he hears of such things happening. Looking back, the situation was perfectly primed for a patented LagustaRageTM explosion.
Awful day + worry that my own behavior was less than perfect = huge rage.
But a rage addict can’t just spontaneously get angry. I mean, we can, but we need the tiniest, usually nonsensical tinder.
This tinder came in the form of a tiny noise.
When I started telling the part about my slip of the tongue, Jacob let out the smallest groan.
And that was it. We’re off. I leapt off the couch, already yelling nonsensical shit. The growing rage in my stomach was demanding fuel, and there is no better fuel than (supposed) validation that I was an awful person. The groan had given it to me.
Of course, he was completely confused and tried to do what a normal person would do: calm me down, tell me I wasn’t a useless human being, all that.
I was screaming, he was calming, and it was at this point that our friend Z. came by to carpool with us to the show.
She immediately saw the situation and said she would take her own car to the show, and to have a good night.
But I know myself, and my rages. One weird thing is that I am basically a two-year-old having a tantrum, and need to operate under tantrum logic. For some reason, the rage seems to be elevated when I alter my plans because of it. “Getting off track” is a huge problem for me, because in my mind there is only one track—you could call it “perfection,” if you wanted to torture yourself. I do, so I do.—and to be “off track” is pretty much the worst thing ever.
So I started screaming at Z. and Jacob about how “THERE IS NO FUCKING WAY WE ARE NOT GOING TO GO TO THIS FUCKING SHOW. GET IN THE MOTHERFUCKING CAR RIGHT FUCKING NOW.” They got the scared look in their eyes of sane people who are in the presence of an insane person, and got in the car. We have a station wagon, and usually the back seats are put down because I’m always hauling cases of sorrel and asparagus or something around. I got into the back without the seats up and said “WE ARE GOING RIGHT FUCKING NOW. DRIVE.” They convinced me that I couldn’t sit in the back curled up into a little ball of fire with no seat and no seat belt.
The rage is so strange.
They tried to make small talk on the drive. I said nothing, except once I muttered in a horrendously angry voice to Jacob, “YOU THINK YOU’RE SO FUCKING PERFECT?”
Perfection being, of course, all that matters. Jacob, of course, doesn’t think he’s perfect. He doesn’t even worry about being perfect. It doesn’t even bother him that he’s not perfect. It doesn’t even bother him that it doesn’t bother him! Mind-blowing.
All other days his serenity in the face of the imperfect nature of human behavior centers me, but through his groan my rage-mind had convinced me that what he was saying was “You are a terrible human being who will never be perfect, who does awful, imperfect things like that slip of the tongue all the time. You are less than nothing, came from nothing, deserve nothing, will always be nothing.”
And now, dear blog friend, you begin to see why I lavish this boy with the tastiest dinners, any homemade ice cream flavor and sweetmeat he desires, and as many private treats as I can dream up. My best friend. My rage-witness.
On the other hand, the whole thing with Z. felt strange. It’s really rare for me to be in a rage around a friend. I think I was able to do it only because I have always felt safe around her.
We got to the venue and Z. naturally made a beeline for the bar, where we were supposed to meet other friends, leaving us to stew in the lethal air of a rage-car.
And we sat in the car and did that thing we do: we talked me down.
It takes far too long, it’s stupid, I say ludicrous nonsense to try to justify living inside the rage world. The whole rage cycle feels like kicking your bare foot into a broken piece of concrete: one sharp pain that cuts cleanly through everything, then dull aches that reverberate for hours, reminding you of your terrible soul.
(I know this because once when I was a kid I got into a rage and kicked my bare foot into a broken piece of concrete. Whenever it rains, that imperfectly-healed foot reminds me of the endless ache of anger.)
After the rage comes the talking down, and after the talking down comes the shame. The shame usually lasts a few hours, or maybe a day. Many times longer than the rage did, usually. You can’t sustain the intensity of the rage for too long.
(Writing this post has put me right back to the shame, actually. I was just texting about it with Jacob, and he said nice things:
Oh, that boy.)
So, after the talking down, we went inside, to see the show.
Jacob knew I had to be alone to sit in the shame for a while, so he didn’t come find me when I wandered off by myself.
I had this feeling that standing in a dark room with very loud music pouring over me would wash some of the stink of the terrible day off my skin. I stood against the wall by myself, dodging people I knew and trying unsuccessfully to arrange my face into something other than the rictus of despair I felt.
Here is what I learned that night:
When you own a chocolate shop in a small town and are friends with people putting on a show,
You cannot go to that show and not expect to see many people you know.
Here’s the deal: at its worst, the shop thing means I’m sort of at work all the time, but the worst aspect of work: the people-aspect. We obviously have the best customers of all time, but I am really only primed to talk to people when at work, and even then only sometimes.
Which is unfortunate, since the shop is located in a village of six thousand people. This means I always feel I have to be on my best behavior when out and about (for some people, a certain sort of friendliness comes naturally. I spend most of my time staring confusedly at those people.)
So when I go out (=almost never) I need to see friends I never get to see, and no one else. Otherwise I get all weird. Twice customers came up to talk to me, perfectly nice ones, and I put all my effort into being polite, but I just didn’t have any small talk in me. At one point I quietly said, “I’m sorry, I’ve had a hard day, I can’t really talk now.” I don’t know if they understood or not. I could have phrased it better, but I didn’t have any phrases in me right then.
There were friends I really wanted to see at that show. Old, good, beautiful friends.
I stood by myself by the wall in the dark while the openers played, and closed my eyes a lot. It wasn’t dark enough, and I wasn’t alone enough, but I closed my eyes and the day washed over me like when you feel puke rising in your throat on the school bus. An awful, backwards feeling.
Here are the things I was thinking:
- I really wish I could, and I am maybe beginning to, but I know that deep down I don’t exactly believe in addiction.
- Clearly, this makes me one of the worst people to ever live.
- Friend X., the friend the intervention was for, knows how I feel on this topic. In one of our conversations in the days leading up to the intervention she grabbed my hand and brought her rheumy, watery eyes to mine and said, “Lagusta, I know you hate this part of me.” I looked her back right in the eyes and said, deeply and slowly and strongly, “There is nothing I hate about you, X.” I said it like I meant it, but I didn’t, and she knew it.
It was a lot to think about in the not-dark-enough-dark, alone but not alone enough.
The opener ended, everyone was milling around. Friends came up to me to ask if I was OK. Friends offered drinks. I managed OK.
I saw my dear friends I wanted to talk to so much, and told them as calmly as I could that I had had a sad day, and we just stood there, and their presence made me feel better.
The headliners went on, and it was nice and loud, and nice and dark.
The loudness and the darkness felt better. By then I’d convinced myself everyone in the damn venue was staring at the weird girl with the horrible mask of awfulness on her face, but things are never like that.
Slowly, I edged over to Jacob and he squeezed my hand. Z. walked by and gave me a hug, and I could tell she wasn’t going to drop me as a friend because of the meltdown. We stood together and watched the band.
I thought about X., who by now was in rehab, shaking and sweating.
I thought about her entire life having been taken away from her. How when she woke up that morning, with her cloudy addled morning-mind, she had no idea what was coming at her. How she would go to sleep that night with no autonomy.
She couldn’t even bring novels, can you imagine that? I sometimes think that if I ever go to prison at least I could read novels. Could rehab be worse than prison? Something without novels has to be worse than something with novels, right?
She’s a gentle soul, that one.
She slipped into addiction when three extremely traumatic events happened to her in a very short span of time. Could have happened to anyone. Before it, she was so strong, you wouldn’t believe.
The world eats up the gentle ones. The trick is now to keep the gentle without getting eaten up.
I have no clue how to do this. I’m just thankful every day I wake up not in the clutches of the rage.
One day at a time.