Well, hell. I just had a whole post I’d actually edited, which is something I do not much do unless it’s for money (this blog has yet to make me a red dime, which I suspect may be a vaguely racist saying, for which I apologize. I also apologize for shoddy sentence construction, because it’s been a long week, and I’m not editing this twice), and then WordPress ate it.
The point of the post – and I wish I could recapture it, but it’s late and I’m tired – is that recent events have taught me there are worse things than getting angry and yelling at people you love.
Let me start again.
I grew up in a family where yelling and communication were often one and the same. I almost didn’t even count a discussion unless it involved verbally heightened expressions of emotion. That changed when I married (far too young) a man who had substance abuse and verbal abuse issues. The substances he abused included booze, sugar, and – unbeknownst to me until things ended – cold medicine, which go figure, because why cold medicine when you’d already kicked a cocaine addition?, which he had. When he ratcheted himself up on any of these things, he got angry at me and yelled things. Horrible, soul-crushing things – especially if you’re an idiot who chose to marry someone way too early and didn’t fully understand that it was OK to end things that harmed you – that made me believe, for a long time after I did find a coward’s way to end a marriage that never should have happened, that expressing anger in any way less than dispassionate was wrong and scary.
You can’t blame me. You weren’t there. It was awful. I could tell by the set of my future ex-husband’s jaw whether or not we would have a pleasant night. Think about that for a moment: A personality reversal so severe that I could mark it by the set of a jawbone. He said horrible, awful, hurtful things; screamed them at me, and because he wasn’t physically hitting me – although he was cheating on me, lying to me, and certainly verbally abusing me – I didn’t feel it was my right to leave.
Ah, the wonders of being raised Catholic.
I left this all behind me, despite how it may sound. There’s kind of a point here, pinkie swear. That point is, even after I left, for years, people couldn’t get angry at me without me having a full-on meltdown. Shaking, crying, chest pains – essentially, a panic attack. I had nowhere to go and I just knew if I stayed there and dealt with the emotion I would die or collapse or explode. Good times. Something with the wiring in my brain went hinky, because normal conflict was just as taboo as screaming hateful things.
Tonight I mark my 12-year anniversary of leaving my marriage, and over the past 12 years I have managed to heal. A few months ago I would have told you I had managed to heal, mostly. But then something happened, something wonderful and horrible: I spent some time around an alcoholic with whom I do not share DNA, which means they don’t act like the Salustri drunks and also I can’t act like a Salustri around them.
See, my family has its share of chemical dependency issues, although largely we rely on booze. We also deal with actual (not fashionable) depression, and, well, we’re a big group of mostly Italians, so that’s kind of the trifecta of family fun. We yell. Lots. Although, to be fair, we haven’t had a real throw-down since we buried my grandfather and we had a brawl just outside the sanctuary, and it’s been years since anyone went to jail as a result of quality family time. None of that is made up.
However, it is, as El Cap likes to mention when he and I fight, almost sport for us. As much as he believes that to be true, I’ve spent a long time avoiding actual conflict. I might induce it, but then I avoid it. I’m a peach of a partner.
This year I’ve had the “pleasure” of seeing the long-term effects of not allowing conflict in one’s life, and it’s far worse than yelling. I’ve had the displeasure of watching what happens when someone chooses to swallow conflict and anger – along with the requisite fifth of bourbon – for many, many decades, and how chronic rather than acute anger can ruin your life.
How? Pretty simple, really: When you bottle up your anger, it’s really, really easy to open another bottle. And when no one around you likes conflict, either, no one will tell you to put down the damn bottle. And so you drink. And if you drink enough, guess what? You can actually turn your brain to pudding. Fun stuff. So then what you are, in essence, is an Alzheimer’s patient, except you’re not, because you could have changed your situation at any turn by not drinking, so people don’t really have the sympathy for you one might like. Which is fair, in my mind, because my grandmother died after a ten-plus-year battle with Alzheimer’s, and to do that to yourself when you could have avoided it is as close as this reformed Catholic gets to calling something “mortal sin.” Life is a gift, or at least it should be.
Now, before you scramble for the comments section to tell me I don’t understand alcoholism, I totally do. My father is a recovered alcoholic, and he chooses not to have a drink every day. He has since I was in my early twenties, because that’s how much he loves himself and his family and believes in life. I have no small measure of respect for what he has done, and I thank the Universe every damn day he didn’t let his drinking turn his brain to tapioca. My mother has scars from enabling him as long as she did, and the fact that I married someone with substance abuse issues is not at all lost on me. My uncle was an alcoholic, my grandfather was an alcoholic, my great-uncle died as a result of his drinking… do you need me to continue? I didn’t think so. I get alcoholism. My life is a constant state of evaluating my own drinking to make sure I don’t have those issues. I periodically stop drinking to make sure I don’t miss it. I periodically quiz my friends and El Cap about my drinking and whether they see any signs I’m missing, to the point where they’ve suggested perhaps I need to relax a bit. I get what alcoholism is and what it does. I also get that it’s sometimes a symptom rather than the cause, and in the instance to which I refer, it’s a symptom of chronic anger.
After watching chronic anger simmer down to brain pudding, I have, to put this whole chain of thoughts succinctly, decided that as long as no one’s telling me they hate me and wish I were dead, yelling is OK. Because the alternative shatters lives.
And so, as horrible as it may be for other people this holiday season, our lesson this Christmas season, boys and girls, is that it’s OK to get angry. And I’m finally understanding that yelling isn’t the worst thing that can happen.
It’s not yelling.