When we attach colors to emotions, we usually associate anger with red and calmness with blue. But in my household growing up, anger was black. As an adult, I have written a lot about the confusion of being received as black and being rejected by black. I hated my blackness. I hated the features that stood in the way of being acceptably beautiful by the (mostly) white people in my community. I hated the parts of me that were different from my white friends. I hated that I couldn’t do anything about it. But being angry is fixable. If you work at it long enough, you learn to flip the switch. Turn your emotions outside in. You swallow everything that slides down your tongue. Catch the words like hot fire in your teeth, bite down, and inhale them back in. So I carried pain in the back of my mouth like a strep throat. And this pain ate a hole in me I didn’t know how to fill. So full, it split me open and broke my heart. I fell out of love with myself and now I’m trying to fall back in.
As a child, whenever I would get upset about something, my mother would tell me to calm down. She’d say getting angry wasn’t “good for me” and I understood and internalized this. Anger was bad. Anger was unlady-like. The only people who were allowed to get upset in our house, were my dad and my brother. Anger was black. Anger was a black male. My parents were separated when I was very little. I do not have many memories of what it was like when we all lived in the same house. I just remember patterns. I just remember who was allowed to do what. And I remember my father’s presence, even after they had joint custody. I remember his phone calls where he would lecture and yell at my mom, like they were still married. I remember her taking it, until she couldn’t anymore. I remember her hanging up and him calling right back. I remember being angry that she would even answer the phone. I would say things like “you’re not married to him anymore. You don’t have to take this.”
We had two separate families. My brother and I spent three days a week at each home. Sundays were alternated.
My brother’s rage developed like a disease. The peak hit around his late teens. I remember the out-of-control-anger that was often directed at me and a few punches, my mother may or may not know about. People with tempers were allowed to do whatever they wanted. Anger was to be expected, and was always accepted in masculinity and males. By the time I was in my late teens I remember asking my mother about my brother’s behavior, “why do you let him get away with this?” I remember saying “you are afraid of him.” Two separate homes. One pattern.
There is something to be said about non-verbal communication and eye-sight. You do not need to be told verbatim how to act or who to fear. My mother and I do not do femininity the same way. She doesn’t wear perfume or fake eye lashes like me. I never kept my hair as short as hers. Still, I’m proud to say I learned to stand up for myself from her. In most cases, she’s a force to be reckoned with. I learned how to use my voice from her. But norms and fear are nuanced. A bright kid learns more than she’s supposed to- whether she wants to or not. Kids learn early on to pick up markers, when they have to take care of themselves before they are ready to. So I also learned how to know when to shut up from my mom. Kids pay attention to what you do, more than what you say.
I write a lot about the weight of secrets. A little over a year ago, I became unable to carry the truth of my secrets. My back was achy and my arms were tired. I started writing the pain. And as I did, almost simultaneously, I began to lose actual body fat. There is certainly a correlation to the amount of walking I do, when my anxiety is on the verge of unmanageable. It would make sense that I lose weight. But when the weight of secrets tips the scales, I also go through periods where I don’t go outside much. And it seems I still lose weight, as I lose secrets. My shame is heavy. So I give a little back every year. It isn’t mine to keep.
During the past four months, I had two experiences with people where their actions made me very hurt and angry. I have historically turned my anger on myself, which results in self-deprecation, panic attacks, and isolation. But I know that I am growing at a really fast rate this year. I started spilling out. I turned my insides, inside out. And getting angry did not feel good. But letting it out, did. And I have continued to react and respond with my true emotions, whenever possible. I think it heals me. But it also scares me. I tried so hard for so long to not be angry. Ever. The only people who ever saw me get angry were my mother and my partners. Now, when I do get angry, I often have a panic attack. I don’t know how to be present in my body, when I am angry. I disconnect. My hands shake, and I feel guilty. Girls are not supposed to get angry. I am not supposed to be angry. But I know better. I am not for reinforcing patterns. I put my hands, feet, and whole body into them, and I break them.
Incidentally, it is very difficult for me to trust people- especially men and masculine people. This is based on a combination of societal norms and family patterns. It is largely due to the socialization I received in my family- not only as the girl, but as the girl who wasn’t smart and didn’t think she was pretty. And while I have more or less grown out of my attachment to the Male Gaze, I am still concerned about the Masculine Gaze. I vacillate between feeling like I am too feminine and therefore unrelatable and feeling like I am not feminine enough. Or not woman enough.
I understood early on that women have attitudes, but men get angry. And I have certainly performed my femininity like this in the bulk of my relationships. However, in thinking about writing this, it occurred to me that in my most serious relationship, I did not hesitate to express my anger with my masculine partner. I think that is an important piece because it was in my strongest connection, that I expressed my truest emotions- even when they weren’t well received. And I know that the dynamic between the men in my family set the stage for my relationship patterns. The most difficult family dynamics, repeat in our other intimate relationships until we resolve them.
I’m an empath. A gusher. A crier. I feel. I have spent my life trying not to cry or yell too much. Still, I cry a lot and yell internally because I’m afraid of my own feelings and my own voice. So I experience my feelings two times over. But a shift is happening. I am working through this and through them. I have written poem after poem, when I couldn’t say the words. I have hidden the words on my body, like fat. I am overwhelmed with feelings and overgrown with silence. And as I get older, I get smaller. And louder. I no longer swallow rage or choke on truth. I spit up and spit out. I am anxious, I am angry, I am all of the things they said I wasn’t supposed to be. But I am here, putting thought to paper and paper to heart. I hold my words next to my whole, so I can heal the hole in me. This is the crux of me. I am still here.