Kite-Eating Tree

Punching Bag

am I burning
am I only melting
these diamonds in the making
and I'm at the end of myself
anything you want and
nothing seems to satisfy me
take anything you want
One of my biggest personal realizations recently was how very pent-up I am. I used to think I was a very expressive, very liberated kind of person. But it turns out that even with all the expression and liberation I had, I was bottling things at a high rate of speed. I think I was aware of it in the back of my mind for some time, but last month I had a massage therapy appointment where I truly confronted the bottling behaviours that were creating some of the issues that made my life harder.

The most emphatically pressing issues, the pressure in the pop bottle, so to speak, was years of aggression, rage, anger, and it's predecessors, frustration, fatigue, helplessness. So I began a journey to letting myself have emotions and letting them out. The first steps have been massively difficult.

What kept me from doing this initially and continues to be an issue daily now that I'm really trying is just how quick I am to anger now that I'm finally letting myself feel. There is a decade of fuel in the fire of my rage, and I find myself going up in flames like an oil-doused fire every time a match gets let nearby. Things that trigger me are likely to start a firestorm. And they can be very, very small things these days, even when I have good control over the resulting fire.

It is the most wonderful of blessings that I have therapists to tell me that this is supposed to happen, and a husband who is being a very good sport and letting me vent even though sometimes my venting is fraught with loud and angry words and the occasional expletive that I normally leave unsaid. I have probably said the F-word twice as many times this month as I have in my entire married life. I know I'm saying it more often because it feels good, first of all, and because Paul doesn't blink at me like I'm from the moon when it slips out anymore. It helps, though. It helps to express all the things I've been trying not to feel.

Imagine, if you will, a bottle of pop that's been shaken for about 2-3 decades, give or take. Now imagine trying to twist the lid slowly enough to stop the fizzy stuff getting everywhere. Maybe you've tried something like this before... It takes a steady hand and a lot of fast action if you are to avoid losing the entire contents to the ceiling. I feel like my anger is like that. And I also feel like my hand is getting steadier.

I've tried a few things. When it's convenient, I take to the pool or the gym and move until the feeling leaves. There's some nifty visualization exercises I've been learning in therapy, since the brain is an amazing vessel and can contain all the sights, smells, and visuals of a gym with a punching bag at any moment of need, not just when I can get there. It always smells like sweat and wrestling mats in my imagination - the smell I associated with somewhere to put all the feelings, a safe place to translate thoughts to muscles at a high rate of speed.

I've been imagining having a punching bag available since my mid-teens, and I may very well attempt to learn how to throw a punch at some point in my life. Everything I know about throwing punches comes from training scenes in movies like Million Dollar Baby. I swear I've been dreaming of having a punching bag twice as often since I watched that.

To make a fighter you gotta strip them down to bare wood: you can't just tell 'em to forget everything you know if you gotta make 'em forget even their bones... make 'em so tired they only listen to you, only hear your voice, only do what you say and nothing else... show 'em how to keep their balance and take it away from the other guy... how to generate momentum off their right toe and how to flex your knees when you fire a jab... how to fight backin' up so that the other guy doesn't want to come after you. Then you gotta show 'em all over again. Over and over and over... till they think they're born that way.

- Million Dollar Baby

Of course, as an adult, the things you really want to punch are tax return paperwork, insurance mix-ups, and people being unfair. I never thought I could be so angry so often and actually feel like it was okay. It's a big change in my life, and I suspect the process of letting of steam is going to take a few more months at least. But every singe day that I burn off some of that excess, I feel more like myself. It's freedom to know that it's okay to feel. It's okay to be angry at the unjust ways that others have treasted you, as long as you forgive them. It's okay to speak angry words with another person as long as they aren't directed at them, and you have their consent. It's okay to feel hurt when others hurt you, just as it's okay to laugh when they tell a joke. You just need to flow through those feelings in real time.

I've been collecting feelings like pounds on my body. I've been storing them up as though that meant they had somewhere to go. But it was making me sick.

So today when both Paul and my health insurance have decided they are the second fiddle when we really need our refunds in the middle of one of the two poorest months of the year, I got mad. Really mad. I'm tired of dealing with stupid red tape about stuff that should be obvious to everyone. I'm tired of having to deal with people who profit off me when they don't help me when I need help. I deserve better than that, and I know that now. More potently than I think I ever have.

Then when more things happened that fueled the anger, I managed to let it out with some control - not perfectly, but Paul was really patient with me. I'm so new at this, after such a long time bottling.

I'm learning to be silent until I can safely let off steam. So I've got the first part of the bottling process perfected already. I can bottle just fine. It's the part where I take the bottles off the shelf and open them that I'm really working through.

It's a great freedom, but freedom and responsibility go hand in hand, and I am learning a new skill of trying to live with the fire inside and let it fuel me in all the things that really matter. I am learning to direct the energy towards work and allow myself quiet, too. I'm learning to write private rants - things I will never read again, but that must come out somehow.

I am learning to look to Jesus example of how to deal with life when it isn't fair. You can get angry when it's the right time. You can be filled with the sorrow of loss and pain and all the unfair parts of living in brokenness. But it's all only temporary, and there's glory coming yet. In the meantime, it's time to learn how to let off some steam.