I had a breakdown last week.
It was building up for a few days and brought to a boiling climax when my youngest couldn’t find his shoes in the morning and we were almost late for school. He went in Crocs, which he’s not allowed to do. I told him, “You have no choice.”
The anger was uncontainable that morning. I yelled at him. I made him feel worse. But that wasn’t enough for me; I called my husband at work on the way to school and blamed him for not making sure the boys put their shoes where they’re supposed to after school the night before. My words were scathing, as I meant them to be. I blamed him for the mess. “Why do I have to do everything? Why do I have to deal with the messes all the time? Why don’t you care?!”
My kids went to school that morning knowing my anger. The anger was directed at them. I didn’t contain it.
I got home, dumped all the shoes from the hall closet into a garbage bag (yes, even mine) and stuffed the bag into the trash can. I did the same with one of my closets (yes, I have two). Took everything that would fit in my embrace and shoved it in my trunk to be donated. The clutter, the mess – it drives me up the wall.
At some point during the manic purge, I spotted the Beanie Baby cat my son was so excited to bring to school for his Stuffed Animal Party. It was there in his dresser drawer. He’d left it behind.
I resorted to a hot shower knowing I needed to calm myself down before I purged everything we own to the street. The cat made me stop and think. My anger melted away under the hot water as I remembered what I said and the look on my littlest’s face as I said it. And that I stressed him out so much, he forgot where he’d put his cat (whose name is Fred, by the way). And I broke.
My anger bit into him. He started his day with that poison on his mind. And it was all my fault.
And then I realized that I had done the same thing to my husband. I had no right to do that to any of them. It’s been a long time since I last let my anger best me.
By the time the water started to go cold, I was a mess. Sobbing, I asked my husband to come home. When he asked me if everything was okay, I hesitated. Normally, I say “yes” regardless. That day, I said no.
He dropped everything.
He called me as soon as he got to his truck. I couldn’t breathe enough to get whole sentences out, but he stayed on the line anyway the whole way back to the house. I apologized for being so shitty to him that morning. “I forgive you,” he assured me. “And most importantly, I appreciate that.”
I told him how horrible I was yelling at the boys and how it killed me to know I made them feel bad. I wished I could take it all back. I hoped they would forgive me, too.
As soon as he walked in the door he came to find me huddled in the bed with tear-stained cheeks. The sobbing had subsided thanks to the sound of his voice on the phone. He just held me. And when I could breathe normally again, I told him I needed to see my boys.
So we hunted the house for the shoes. (My husband found them behind the recliner in the corner of the living room. Don’t ask.) We grabbed Fred. I wasted no time with makeup as we headed out the door. Their school is just five minutes away. We signed in and headed to the cafeteria. He wasn’t in there, but his teacher recognized us and said she’d send him out. We waited, me anxious, wondering how he’d react to seeing me after the hell I’d put him through that morning.
My heart swelled when he zipped into the cafeteria with his tray in hand, searching the room for us. His eyes lit up when he saw us. I hugged him tightly. “Please forgive me for yelling at you this morning. For being so angry. I’m so sorry.” He’s so forgiving. He played it off like he’d forgotten about it already. We asked him if he wanted to switch his shoes and surprised him with Fred. On the surface, everything seemed okay, but I know I’ve left a lasting mark. Hopefully, it’s no more than a lesson about how not to be.
We stayed for the next lunch period so we could catch our older son, too. And I apologized to him.
I’ve been working on my anger for the last eight or nine years. Maybe more. And I’ve come to realize that while it’s perfectly human and everyone’s God-given right to feel angry, it’s a different thing entirely to be angry. Being angry affects everyone around you. Being angry is acting out, yelling, breaking things, diverting onto someone or something else. It’s not healthy and it doesn’t help our situation in any way.
Feeling angry is just that – feeling it. Repressing it is bad because it only builds up and then, one day, we buckle or explode under its pressure. Feeling it, owning that emotion, lets us adjust and move on. Knowing how to do it without being angry is something that takes time.
- Distance yourself from the source of your anger. Sometimes you only need ten seconds to recollect your composure, sometimes you need a day (or two). It depends on the situation.
- Talk it out with a 3rd party. Doing this can help you hear yourself with a clearer mind and realize whether or not your anger is misplaced or an over-reaction.
- Write it out. Whether you choose to write or talk, getting it out of you is what’s really important. Don’t keep it in. It’ll only sneak up on you and cause more problems down the road.
- Think about the pain you put on someone else. This usually zaps the rage right out of me.
When I look back over my life and all the struggles I’ve faced, I see the breakdowns followed by breakthroughs. I am who I am today because life got ugly every so often. So I’ll take this one. I lost my cool and hurt the people I love with a harsh tone and accusatory words, but the important thing is that I recognized it. I saw it for what it was and owned it. The other important thing, of course, is that I apologized to each of them. I need my boys to know it’s okay to feel angry, but it’s not okay to lash out at people with that anger. The next time I start to feel angry, I’ll respond slower. It won’t boil over like an unwatched pot. I’ll remember that moment.
Though the breakdowns are ugly, the breakthroughs that follow are priceless.