Trigger Warning for Descriptions of Intimate Partner Violence, Sexual Assault, Self Injury, and Rape.
I am angry.
I mean, not right now. I’m actually fairly calmly sipping a lemon-berry shandy and chatting with my fiance about the use of F-bombs in Breaking Bad. I just mean in general. I get angry quite often, and I often hear things like “Why are you so angry?”
I hate hearing things like this (in fact, thinking about them might be making me a little…angry). I hate it when people tell me that anger is destructive and unhealthy. I hate it when people insist that I must give up my anger or it will destroy me. I hate it when people equate anger at someone with hatred or violence toward them.
Anger can be empowering, energizing, and subversive, and I won’t stop being angry until there is nothing left for me to be angry about.
I’m a little defensive of this emotion called anger. I’m defensive of it because it saved my life.
I have a story. It’s a little long, but if you’ll bear with me, I feel like I need to tell it.
When I was 16, I went to a fundamentalist school and church and there I learned that all emotions except for JOY (Jesus, Others, You, of course) were straight from Satan. Especially as a woman, I was never supposed to get angry, but was instead supposed to patiently and calmly nurture others back to Jesus. I was supposed to take “persecution” like Jesus did–going as a sheep to the slaughter, never making a sound about it. I also learned that when I got married, or met the person who could be my future spouse, I must never be what Proverbs 25 (KJV) called a “brawling woman.” I must never complain about or nag to or get angry at the man I married (or planned to marry).
Then I met this guy.
I didn’t know it was abuse at the time because I didn’t have any awareness of what abuse really was. He would grab my ass, and I’d nicely ask him not to, but he’d keep doing it. It was constant. I’d ask nicely, he’d apologize profusely and promise never to do it again. He’d do it again, not even hours later sometimes.
I wanted to be angry. But I was THE “good Christian girl”. I had an AWANA Sparks vest with all the jewels in my crowns (if you don’t know, just…don’t ask) packed away in some attic somewhere, and I was a member of the state-champion Bible Quizzing team, so I knew that “a soft answer turneth away wrath.” So I stuffed down my anger, and just kept asking nicely.
Before I knew it, the guy I was dating was coming over every day. He was forcing me to stay on the phone with him for hours and hours. He was transferring schools so he could be at the same school as me.
Within the first six months of our relationship, the ass-grabbing progressed to him forcing (I was afraid of him so it didn’t actually take much force) me to give him fellatio. His need to constantly be able to monitor what I was doing progressed to his telling me what and what not to wear. He wouldn’t let me wear make up or do my hair nice (sometimes he wouldn’t even let me shower) so that no one else would find me attractive, but then he’d tell me I couldn’t wear underwear. If I refused, he’d threaten me with blackmail. Or he’d hurt me physically (never hitting or punching, but in ways that you never think about when you think of abuse, like tickling me until I was crying and about to vomit).
I was the world’s most naive 16 year old, and I barely knew what sex was and I had no idea what a condom was (he never used one), and yet I was this man’s living, breathing sex doll.
But I still couldn’t release my anger. I felt anger, but I began to take it out on myself through cutting (which my abuser responded to by stealing my razor blades, cutting himself in front of me, and saying “You made me do this,” and then not letting me shave for weeks because I “couldn’t be trusted”).
I think the turning point came one day around Christmas when I was sitting in his car, and he smashed my face into the dashboard of his car. I don’t even remember why he did it, but my nose was bleeding and one of my favorite shirts (the only one I had from Aeropostale, which was totally cool back then) was ruined and there was no way to pass this off as “oh, I was just having fun! Stop being so sensitive!” like he did with the tickling. We were near a church member’s house so he drove there, lied about how it happened, and asked for some paper towels to stop the bleeding. They didn’t say anything but I looked in their eyes and I knew that they knew his story was a lie. I suddenly realized that even they knew this was wrong. How could I have missed it?
That’s when I couldn’t hold back the anger anymore.
The last few months of our relationships were filled with me constantly screaming at the top of my lungs at him. I got mad. I got mad at abuse, and everything else about him while I was at it. His friends thought I was bitchy. My friends thought I was bitchy. They didn’t see my Aeropostale shirt, all covered in blood. I wonder if that would have made a difference.
I shouldn’t have had to get mad. I should have been able to ask nicely months before hand when he started grabbing my ass and it all should have ended there. But it didn’t, because asking nicely does not stop abusers, and neither does getting mad (and it is not always safe for an abused person to do so). Whether or not an abuser is abusive is not hinged upon the abused person’s emotional response to abuse.
(Note: Anger didn’t stop the abuse. I want to be clear that that’s not what I’m saying. In fact, the abuse got worse, and once led to my abuser threatening (quite convincingly) to kill me. I am sharing my own story, not telling other abused people to follow my example if they are not in a position where it would be safe to do so. Every situation is different)
It did not end the abuse, but what anger did do was teach me, little by little, that what was happening in this relationship was seriously wrong.
And one day, it gave me the energy to leave.
He was driving my sister, two of my friends, and I home from school that day. We got to my house, my sister went inside, and I lingered outside the car to say goodbye, while my two friends sat in the back seat. I don’t even think he was mad at me that day. Sometimes he just hurt me because he thought it was funny. He picked me up, put me on the roof of his car, and used his hands to push on my shoulders until my body was at angle where I felt like I was going to snap in half.
I tried to tell him to stop but I couldn’t get enough air to talk. I tried to sit up but he was too strong. I was scared, in pain, and humiliated as he laughed and my friends sat in the car watching.
So I punched him in the face.
I had never done that before, and oh, he was mad. He grabbed the necklace I was wearing (which he gave to me–I learned later that my friends used to call it my “leash”) and ripped it off my neck saying, “Fuck you. You don’t deserve this.”
And I was angry. I was angrier than I’d ever been in my life. He’d hurt me, over and over and over and over, yet I was the one who was supposed to feel guilty? He’d done this guilt trip a thousand times before, but this time I was done.
I’m particularly proud of this next part, because I really was THE “good Christian” girl, and before this day I’d honestly never said a “swear word” in my entire life. I even used to feel guilty watching Leave It to Beaver because he was always saying, “Gee, Wally!”
But that day I said, “NO. Fuck YOU.”
Anger, pulsing through my veins. My hands shaking from the rush of energy. I was angry beyond all ability to fear the man in front of me, who I knew could hurt me. Who had hurt me. I was angry beyond all ability to feel guilt for my actions toward him. Beyond all ability to talk myself into staying with him because I wasn’t a virgin so I was “damaged goods.” Beyond all of the feelings of love and care and affection that I had never stopped having for him.
Anger, pushing me beyond all of the hundreds of feelings and excuses and fears that had kept me from saying and meaning those two little words before. I shouted them now.
Those words. Those freeing words. I said them and I’d never felt so good.
It wasn’t completely over, of course. It’s never that easy. There were a few more threats from him, a few moments of fear and desperation from me in which I went and begged him to take me back. There were the words that he said that are still in my brain and in my soul and the things that he did that I still feel in my body.
But that day was the end, really. The power I’d felt in that moment of anger left that nightmare of a relationship hanging by a few threads, which snapped not long afterward.
I could say so much more about anger. I already have and I’ll probably say more someday. But for now, I’ll just say that it probably saved my life.