I spent the first three decades of my life angry. Of course I was unaware of this anger day to day, but there it sat, in my soul, percolating. There was a big disconnect for me between fighting and being angry. As one of seven children, I was constantly fighting: for the front seat of the car, for the TV show I wanted to watch, for the prize buried at the bottom of the cereal box, for the bathroom, for attention. However, I never considered myself an angry person. In fact, in my family I was known as the peacemaker–the one who tried to get people to make up. I even had a mantra that I would use when talking to others: “I’m a Libra; I’m a peacemaker.” And I was (I still am a Libra). I was a peacemaker AND a fighter–a damn good fighter. In my house, the art of argument all depended on the noise. The loudest person won. It didn’t matter what the fight was about, just that you were prepared to amp it up with yelling, and shortly thereafter with slapping and hairpulling. But if you could scream the loudest, you were technically the winner.
“You were the one who taught me how to fight.” These words, spoken by a friend of mine over some beers, came as an epiphany to me. Here was a successful lawyer who worked as an assistant district attorney for many years, attributing her skills as a verbal pugilist to little old me. At first, I took the statement as a compliment–and indeed I think it was meant as such. But as I churned the words over in my head, they made me sad. Did I really fight that dirty and vocally that someone who prosecutes robbers, rapists and murderers attributes her skills to my scrappy screaming? I knew she was implying that her skills were honed while with me because I would never let an argument go until I thought of myself as “the winner”, or at least that I was being heard (finally). Yet, this accolade was a dubious distinction. I was known as a fighter.
My late teens and twenties were spent in an alcohol-induced haze. I was a terrible drunk and I practiced being one more than I care to admit. And, with alcohol comes argument. When I was drunk, I was beligerent and nasty, spewing forth my vitriole to friend and foe alike. Little did I know I was numbing the pain of spending all those years fighting, sober or not. I wanted to escape all the memories I was hiding from, yet sadly, the alcohol just confounded the situation. I was part of the viscious cycle of awareness/repression/denial. I often tell people, “I’m not an alcoholic, but it’s not from lack of trying.” I am lucky to have dodged that bullet.
In my late twenties, I met an amazing woman who was as normal as I was not; whose family was a functional as mine was dysfunctional. She was the yin to my yang. We were attracted to one another because we were such polar (or should I say bi-polar) opposites. During our courtship, I was on my best behavior. We only saw each other on weekends, so our time spent together was rather idyllic. After a year, almost to the day, I proposed and she accepted. But the cracks had already begun to show in my facade. We were in the Virgin Islands. It was the night before I was going to ask her to marry me, and I became angry over something ridiculous–we got lost trying to find our way to a restaraunt. I had been drinking before we left, so Pam drove. After awhile, we gave up and just came home. I was sulking over the spolied night out; she simply wanted to make the best of it. I spent the rest of the night being sullen. I remember sitting in our beautiful house overlooking the water, and thinking in my boozy state, “You are an asshole, ruining a perfectly good evening. What’s the big frigging deal?”
In hindsight, I know what the big frigging deal was. In less than twenty-four hours, I would be asking this woman to be my wife. And I knew, deep down inside, that I had so much unresolved shit to deal with, shit that would eventually spew forth. I knew in that moment of clarity, that I was walking into a landmine. How could I marry this woman, this kind, gentle, peaceful woman, when I was filled with such deep-seated anger? I felt bad for her, for inheriting all of my baggage. That night I was trying to push her away subconsciously–my last ditch effort to spare her a lifetime of my bullshit. I am so glad (and lucky) that she had yet to see the cracks…