During this appointment we mostly talked about my anger and rage issues, and how my responses to the things which encourage feelings of rage or anger in me are mostly impotent and misdirected.
My response to being bullied in my first two years of high school, for example, was to physically attack my younger brother once or twice monthly.
These were not brother-on-brother fist fights, I destroyed a door during one, and in another told him he’d never see the light again. These were attacks of rage brought on by a torn comic book, or not enough chips left in the bag.
These were attacks brought on by a constant build up of layers of anger, and triggered by tiny acts, only to dissipate quickly afterwards.
My mother and I would have arguments over my marks at school that would leave me with my fist cocked, and her threatening to send me to foster care. Late one night, when I was sixteen, we were on the way home from Montreal when we started arguing about something. Under my breath I told her to fuck off. She dared me to say it again, and a few minutes later, I did. So she left me on the side of a rural road, at least ten miles from home, in late October when I was wearing a light shirt and shorts.
When the police found me and brought me home that night, she was watching television and told them I had run away — or something equally… stupid. There was never any acknowledgement of having done something so stupid as to leave your son ten miles from home, in the middle of the night, and in the cold.
The point is, it was always my fault. These were the layers, these were the incidents where I was rightfully angry, but had no healthy outlet.
One of the uniquely Maoist traditions adopted by the political Cult I grew up in, was the “criticism session”. Basically the collective decides you’ve done something wrong, so you either admit to the Collective as a whole Why what you did was retarded, and how much you damaged the collective for doing it. Or you try to defend your actions against the collective.
It was basically a nightly opportunity to be humiliated, or to humiliate someone else, for the 6-12 adults in the collective.
So, after we escaped the collective, I was living as a child, then as a young adult, with a genius-level mother trained for ten years in the arts of criticism sessions. Everything was my fault. Nothing was her responsibility. All of my anger was impotent — including all of the anger I felt at having half of my family, including my father, abandon us, and none of it properly dealt with.
I had no father figure to teach me to assert myself in any given situation, so in any given situation which required me to assert myself, I’ve backed down. I took the shit given me, and ate it. I threw the new layer on top of the old layers, let it all build up, then I’d destroy a wall, or attack my brother, or drink myself into a stupor, or kick the dog, or epically fail in school.
I had a single mother who worked long hours and left my brother and I on our own to deal with bullies, to deal with life, to deal with not having a father, and mostly I dealt with the shit I was given by watching television and forcing my brother to change the channel.
So… how likely is it, today, that I can deal with the issues that make me angry? My ‘fight or flight’ response is permanently set to “it’s my fault, I deserve whatever shit I’m being given”. It takes an act of will for me to stand up for myself.
I think I should point out that while I still have an occasional, and nearly instantaneous, moment of rage — they literally last a second or two before they’re gone, I haven’t been in an honest fight in over a decade. The only time I can remember offhand raising my voice in anger was back in February when my grandmother insisted I get a paternity test because she didn’t think my son was my son.
So I think that one was justified.
These continuing issues I have with anger are legacies left over from my youth, and the anger is dealt with entirely by internalizing it and eventually letting it out through moments of frustration.
There is a hopelessness involved in this. I feel as though I’ve been taught that my anger is meaningless, so being angry is useless… and therefore there’s the hopelessness, and a helplessness in my lack of ability to respond.
So my reactions become impotent. I was called into a meeting once, where I was accused of something stupid. It actually had nothing to do with me, but I felt so trapped, so helpless, that my reactions just reinforced my boss’ belief I had done something wrong.
My fight or flight response was completely confused.
That’s a small example, but I almost lost my job because I was crippled in that moment.
My psychiatrist and I also discussed the reason why I didn’t show up for our previously scheduled appointment.
Close to six weeks ago I had Victor in my apartment for the evening. Everything was going great, but he was in his ExcerSaucer a little too long and started to cry… kind of like a motor trying to start. So I moved him to his Jolly Jumper, where he started bouncing and seemed as happy as could be. About twenty minutes later he started to cry again. But this time it escalated very fast. So I took him to the couch and changed his mostly dry diaper, but he continued to cry. If anything it got even worse. So I warmed up his bottle, and tried to feed him. He took the bottle like he normally does, but then he threw it away, we did this four or five times. All this time his crying was constant and as loud as I’d ever heard before.
The problem was I was too tired. I couldn’t think beyond the obvious. In my head I had tried everything possible, but the screaming continued. So, for less than a second, I clamped my hand around Victor’s mouth and jaw. Just, in my head, to shut him up so I could think.
I either hurt him a little bit, or shocked him a lot, because he stopped screaming for a second, and then found an entirely new level and octave. It took thirty minutes to calm him down, mostly by walking around my apartment, bouncing him in my arms and singing to him.
My girlfriend later told me that sometimes baby’s can get cramps from too much exercise which, when she said it, was blindingly obvious, but in that state of mind never would have occurred to me.
My baby got a cramp, and I was too stupid and too tired and too angry at my baby to understand what was going on, and then I made things ten times worse.
I was so scared from his response, and so ashamed of mine, that I could barely look at him for a week after that night.
Since that night, there’s been one instance when the circumstances were slightly similar — I was tired, he was crying and I couldn’t find an immediate reason — but I talked directly to him, and I repeated specific things over and over again. And it helped.
It was like I just had to get through two seconds of being helpless in the face of my son’s discomfort, and just telling him over and over again what we were going to do later, pulled me through.
My psychiatrist asked me if my son was in any danger, and I said “no”. I didn’t grab him, shake or squeeze him, I didn’t interfere with his breathing, and none of those things occurred to me. For less than a second I quickly put my hand over the mouth of a baby who, I found out later, was in pain from cramping.
All the same, I do believe my inability to properly deal with certain emotions needs to be dealt with now, and in detail, because I don’t ever want the lessons taught to me by my family to bleed over into my relationship with my son.
…this appointment was on Friday, August 13. Weird. Our next appointment is Friday, September 3.