(Post-Break Up Grief) Stage 2: Anger

ANGER:
noun | an·ger | /‘aNGɡər/
1. a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure, or hostility.

What you’ll need to get through anger:

  • friends you can rave and rant to 
  • a journal for those intimate, rambling rants when you don’t even know what it is you’re mad about and you feel it would just be more irritating to try and explain them to someone else
  • a pillow, for screaming
  • a stress ball, or similar stress relieving tool
  • back up stress toy, for when you break the first one
  • old art supplies for creative ways to let out anger
  • daily reminders that while your anger is valid, it is no reason to smash his windows, and this too, will pass
  • someone or something to help you process your feelings

In psychology, we recognize that anger is a secondary emotion: it usually arises from a primary emotion such as fear or sadness, as is found at the root of anxiety, disappointment, or loss.

Fear and sadness is uncomfortable. They are primitive emotions that make us feel vulnerable and not in control; anger provides a surge of energy that protects you from all of that by providing the illusion of control.  In some cases, anger can be a way of claiming control and power in the face of vulnerability and uncertainty, as is the case with people fighting injustice or working to achieve something against all odds. But when we let anger spiral without dealing with the underlying emotion and rechanneling it into something helpful, it festers and has the ability to consume you.

One of the few things I recall from my brief encounters with physics in high school is the principle that energy cannot be created nor destroyed. I think the same applies to emotions. Emotions are waves of energy that do not just go away. They convert 

from denial 

to anger, 

and so on.

I think the same can be said for all the pain and trauma a lot of us carry from childhood. It’s energy that transforms and shifts, sometimes to depression, sometimes filtered into creative pursuits like songs and paintings and the very words on this page. But sometimes it becomes pure rage.

All of this I knew that morning I woke up with hate buzzing in my veins. But I didn’t care.

There is something undeniably freeing about anger, not just mild irritation, but full-blown anger; it’s like a shot of adrenaline for the ego, and suddenly, I feel stronger. Bigger. Less self-conscious. More capable. Autonomous. More in control. Somehow, smarter.

Like I now know something I didn’t, something others don’t know. Like if it comes to it, I can stand my fucking ground.

This belligerent self-confidence is something I rarely allow myself to feel, as growing up I was often discouraged from expressing anger by my parents, as if it were some prohibited emotional space only they were allowed to occupy. But that Monday morning I let it consume me. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have fun doing it.

Walking to work that morning, I didn’t force a smile. When I got cat called on the street I yelled

”GO FUCK YOURSELF”

instead of walking faster and hunching over to make myself smaller. I didn’t bother engaging in much small talk with coworkers, because I didn’t want to, and I didn’t care if they knew that. I felt a bad mood sink in, and instead of the usual mental gymnastics of distracting myself, positive thinking, and reframing, I let it.

I found myself obsessively revisiting old memories of all of the wrong he had done, something I had never done before, suddenly realizing that throughout our 8 months together I rarely allowed myself to be angry with him. 

And with that thought, my eyes were opened, and suddenly I found myself vibrating with uncontrollable rage. I isolated myself, telling myself that people just annoyed me, going totally against my social, extroverted nature. I didn’t want any distraction from that anger, I didn’t want to “cheer up”.

My pain suddenly felt like a source of power and strength, I was no longer a victim to it.

And so I encouraged it.

I let it fill every inch of me in the hopes that I’d feel anger and nothing else. It became a fixation, and I fed it happily. I looked him up on social media to see what he was up to. When I found nothing, the lack of information felt like evidence that he was up to no good. I indulged in our old texts. Reread passages from my diary detailing our fights just so I could get angry all over again. And it was glorious.

But anger is messy.

After days of isolation and unhealthy obsession, the anger I threw at him began to flicker residue back at me. Suddenly I found myself angry at myself. Revisiting memories of my wrong doing. Embarrassing flashes of all of those times I put up with his shitty behavior and even apologized for it. And in those moments I felt a deep sense of shame for the enabling, victim-like behavior I engaged in, the child-like innocence of hope and trust that in the end it would all be worth it, no, this was just a rough patch, that he was worth it, that we were worth it. And how wrong I was about all of that.

It was in one of those moments occupied by shame and self-loathing that I realized how naive I am in nature. I, who always considered myself to be incredibly self-aware, self-sufficient, and “wise beyond my years”,  am actually very child-like in my optimistic, trusting tendencies. It felt like I was suddenly let in on a secret everyone around me had known (and had been exploiting) for years, and suddenly I felt taken advantage of and utterly disgusted with myself.

I assume this is a realization many young people go through. If my mom had been there to witness the thought traffic in that moment, she’d say

I told you so. You kids think you know it all. You don’t. We know you don’t. And that’s why you need to be protected. Because people try to use that against you. 

And she’d be right. And that made me angry again.

Knowing that I would someday sober up from this rage, I decided to write down everything I hated about our relationship, in a letter to my future self, perhaps in preparation for the next stage of grief, that started out something like this.

Dear Future Zo,
If you are reading this, you’re probably feeling hopeful, nostalgic, and starry-eyed, and you’re seriously considering making some sort of move to be with him. I’m here to remind you which you shouldn’t.
He is incredible, and the connection you feel is and may always be unmatched by any other in your life. Understand you might always be in love with him, even if only a little, and that’s okay – but don’t let that blind you of the reality of who he was with you at times and who you were with him, and the toxicity of it all.
So before you try to go galavanting back into his arms, have a seat, close your eyes, and remember all of this…

This dose of reality felt good. It made me feel less victimized, like writing it down made it real, tangible, valid. It took the stagnant crushing anger had I placed on myself and mobilized it, made it energy flowing through my veins instead of weighing me down. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t spend two or three days fighting the urge to throw eggs at his window.

And so began the belligerent texts…

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It got so bad I started to self-discipline. Tried to discipline myself into not behaving like an unhinged toddler. But nothing seemed to work. I tried blocking his number, but something would trigger the wrath of Angry Zo and it’d be unblocked. I tried deleting his number but Angry Zo knew how to find it. It wasn’t like I was spouting absurdities, everything I said I meant and was valid, but it was too late. We were already over. The validation and justification I was demanding pertained to things that had already happened, things he probably didn’t even remember or care about anymore. It was like Angry Zo was trying to stand up my past self by airing out every single grievance I had ever felt (and failed to address) in our relationship. Out of context and without provocation (and often entangled with my anxieties about how he felt for me) I probably sounded even more unstable than I felt.

Sometimes we’d fight. Sometimes he’d give me a minimal answer to avoid a fight. And sometimes he wouldn’t answer at all.

And in his (lack of) response, the rage I felt would be doused with a spoonful of shame. I began to feel much worse than I had when I began, and even Angry Zo realized this was only making things worse.

So I got creative. I wrote more letters, but this time to him, that would never be sent. Long letters. Almost incoherent paragraphs carved into the pages of my diary that left the sides of my hands stained with ink and my heart racing.

And they helped.

I once heard a phrase that said “Trauma not transformed is trauma transferred”. And that’s what I began to do. Instead of allowing the energy of these negative experiences transfer into my daily life, infecting everything with anger and uncontrollable rage, I released it onto the pages of my diary.

Shaped it with my hands into clay scupltures.

Splattered it onto canvases and large pieces of wood. 

Belted it out in the shower, and let the anger run through me like water down my skin until it crescendoed into tears on the bathroom floor. 

And on the days I felt it buzzing just beneath my skin, I ran like all hell in the hopes that screaming in my legs and sharp pain in my chest would be enough to tire out what I heard inside. 

And when it didn’t, I broke shit. 

That’s right, I purposely broke things. Violently, I might add.

I brought home boxes with the intention of stabbing them with a pen.

And when the impulse to run to his house and throw eggs at his window arose, I threw clay at a wooden box.

And it worked. Somehow, my rambling letters became introspective and opened my understanding to what my anger was masking, and what I was really feeling. Physical acts of aggression were cathartic in their ability to release the heaviness off of my chest, and allow anger to run it’s course, instead of festering unacknowledged inside of me.

Slowly but surely, the anger began to lift, and my shoulders felt looser, my head held higher, and I began to smile from within again. It was like a ghost had been expelled from within, like something opened back up, and suddenly I wasn’t haunted, I wasn’t clouded with negative energy, and I wasn’t full of hate. Anger overstayed it’s welcome and had infultrated my life with as much misery, confusion, and burden as sadness and fear had ever caused and I didn’t know it then, but even if I think I’m in control and I’m the one pulling strings, I’m still stuck playing the same goddamn game. I just don’t want that anymore. 

 This new found sense of wisdom and mental clarity made way for the next stage: Bargaining.

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