Emotions are an ecclectic group of divas. There's timid happiness, which can be chased away by something as simple as a dumbass driver swerving into your lane. There's fear, which is fairly easy-going in the pleasure/pain department, content with any reaction we have to it. We go to scary movies for the thrill of it, change our shorts with the reality of it, or go feral and vicious with the threat of it. Sadness is often very shy and likes to hide behind our grins and wisecracking jokes. Grief is heavy; an overweight uncle on your back, begging for a ride. Family loyalty makes you reluctant to sluff him off. Love is giddy or consuming, depending on the object it's aimed at. Hate is consuming too, but acidic: alien blood that eats through all our decks. If we don't let it go, the vacuum of space implodes us. Anger can be useful in small doses but molders into bitterness very quickly if we don't clean it off the wallpaper.
And then, there's rage. Rage is an altogether different emotion. Behind most of the long-term negative divas, rage is their foundation. It's a powerful entity, as alive as a flame, feeding off slights both real and imagined, and as difficult a monkey-on-the-back as heroin to kick. With a lot of effort, it can be controlled, but rage is a black-hearted thoroughbred whose only wish is to run free and take you with it. It can't be tamed. It's always looking for an outlet, a break in your defenses, a slip in your own control. Rage is a savage poem, lyrical and graceful in its black and red fury. There's something delicious about it, especially to fucked up child abuse victims like myself. I was raging for the first three decades of my life and didn't have a clue that that was what was wrong with me.
I went through the normal phases of self analysis: Dad was a monster, check. Mom was a weenie meanie, check. My siblings were awful, check. I was a loser, check and double check. With smug complacency, I declared myself cured through benevolent forgiveness and a release of anger toward all those who hurt me. But like the old adage about confession, if you don't tell everything, if you hold something back, that one rotten apple will poison the whole barrel and rage will run...right over you.
The targets of rage are seemingly obvious. Daddy beat and fucked me, beat my brothers, tortured my sister, demeaned my mother, I HATE HIM I HATE HIM I HATE HIM!!!!! There, that felt good. I'm moving forward, excellent. Mommy threw us all to the wolf called Daddy, patting herself on the back at her coffee clutches and mouthing platitudes about how her children meant everything and she'd kill anybody who hurt them. YOU HORRIBLE, TWO-FACED BITCH I HATE YOU TOO HOW COULD YOU DO THAT TO US?!? Oh, I'm almost cured. I went through all the foot-stomping and bitter shrieking at all the individuals who'd done me harm through the years. It was cathartic, it was amazing, it was ghastly in its beauty and healing and yes, it did help.
But there was something wrong. Something was curling up inside me, a black tendril with tensile strength, worming almost physically along my nervous system, burrowing into my veins until its darkness was everywhere. My heart pumped black ink instead of blood and something laughed, hidden from view. Hatred. I could feel hatred but at what? At who? Sadness and shame, yes, that was there too, but for what? What was the cause? I tried to clean it up, figure it out, but my enemy was invisible and scentless. I couldn't track it. The hatred, depression and shame were just symptoms.
My outside environment didn't help. I had surrounded myself with needy, greedy people and I served them all a nice big slice of Rebecca pie every day but kept none for myself. That was my fault too but I couldn't seem to help it. The noise of all that chaos and selfishness was too loud for me to concentrate on anything way down deep inside me. My emotional addictions were chattering away and nothing was ever silent.
Then finally, one day, I saw her. The problem, the core of all that rage, the one rotten apple still in the barrel, the reason I hated so consumingly. It was a her, definitely. She was small, maybe a second-grader, with reed thin legs and golden hair, wearing a pair of leopard pajamas, little pink toes peeking out from beneath the shadow of the hem. She was hesitant as she stepped out of the shadows, aware that I'd been looking for her for years. She stood before me at last, and my eyes went red with fury. "YOU!" I screamed. "You're the reason for all of it! You're the reason for everything! You let them do it! You let him beat you, you let them put cigarettes out on your head, you let them stick their dicks in and tear us both to pieces! You let him beat Ian and now Ian's dead! It's your fault YOU LITTLE CHICKENSHIT BITCH! How could you let them do it? I HATE YOU! I WISH YOU'D DIE! Why didn't you die? Why did you live and put us through all this horror?"
She stood there and took it because it was something she was used to. She was used to adults hurting her. I was just the loudest and the longest. I'd been abusing her for forty years, almost my entire life. Eternally a child and unendingly tormented, she just stood there as I poured all my rage onto her defenseless little head. All those years of violence in my youth, all those decades of misery and depression and bad relationships; I blamed her for everything. This little girl. This strange, fey-eyed child. She just stared at me, her eyes raining, the tears spilling onto her tiny pink toes as they curled under the onslaught. Me. The little me of the past, the unforgiveable victim of all those unforgiveable crimes. She was the rotten apple who'd poisoned the entirety of me. Little, eight-year-old Rebecca O'Donnell.
But something happened during my rant. A communication between our so-similar eyes, both green and hurting. I saw her, this elusive creature, this shy and terrified and damaged baby. When had I become the aggressor? When had I become the abusive parent? Because this girl was a child. She would never grow up, locked forever in that frame, frail and new. She was my past but my present and future as well and I had treated her very badly. This child, this inner self, was my responsibility every bit as much as my own two children were. How is it that a person can be kindness itself to others but so unforgiving to themselves? I think it's a matter of one's point of view when looking at the past. I never blamed other kids who'd been brutalized like I was, or worse. I always had infinite patience with them, understood them, knew how to help them. Why then did I hate this one so much? Why did my rage consume me at the very sight of her?
The answer was simple. Because it was me. I was the one responsible for all these years of misery. Me, the so-called responsible adult, pointing a bratty finger at a little girl, insisting it was all her fault, like a snot-nosed kid on the playground who didn't want to be found out as the bully. The rotten apple wasn't this innocent. It was me, now, the adult Rebecca O'Donnell, and I had to stop hurting someone who'd been tormented for her entire spiritual existence. Because the eight-year-old Becky O'Donnell had been molested and beaten a long time ago. It was over, in the past. I was the one rehashing it, I was the dog with a bone who couldn't let it go. The rage had been dancing like a whirling dervish since those days, drunken with the power I'd given it.
So there is a way to expunge rage, after all. It's a diva, yes. A runaway horse, absolutely. A creature that feeds like a tick in warm flesh when we let it, giddy with all the belt thrashings and bloody fists we can rain down on our own defenseless inner children. That's the secret. That's the real rotten apple. Our own blind self abuse.
So, I began to take care of that little girl. I comforted her, washed her, bathed her wounds, murmured softly as a mother to my own beloved children. Because that's exactly what she is. My own eternal child, blameless and pure. May you recognize the innocence of your own past selves and forgive not only them, but the you of the now. Become worthy and do some good for yourself and the world. Don't be afraid to share your own thoughts and kindness, and rage will collapse like a house of cards under your own sweeping hand. Those of us with traumatic pasts will never be fully rid of it, but the self-love and forgiveness of those inner victims goes a long way to gathering up the reins and steering a course we've chosen ourselves. Good luck with your own search. May you find those lost children inside and begin the long, beautiful process of bathing their wounds. Take care.