Anger: A Necessary Fire
"You need to let go of your anger," my mother tells me. "You'll never be able to move on with your life. Just forget about it." It was January and I was begging my mother for what felt like the hundredth time in my life to divorce my father. It is September now and their divorce is nearly finalized, but my mother continues to tell me the same thing. "Hate is poisonous. It's a heavy thing to hold onto. Your father is not a bad person."
Growing up, I watched or heard my father beat my mother on multiple occasions. It was never spoken about, but became a silent monster living among us no one had the courage to face. My father kept his family clenched in his tight fists- he only loved what he could control through physical, verbal, emotional, and psychological abuse. I grew up in a quiet household: tense, but docile. Anytime I tried to speak up about the abuse, I was promptly hushed, to the point that I thought I must be imagining it, that somehow, I'd dreamt it all up with an overactive imagination.
As I grew, my trauma grew with me, a festering wound that refused to heal no matter how I tried to cover it. And how could it heal? The abuse happened over and over. My family was seldom happy- we were holding our breaths, waiting for the next explosion. When it inevitably happened, no apologies or explanations were offered. Every incident became just another thing to sweep under a rug that grew more and more noticeable. There was no way to process what was happening, and no room to heal. Each of us used some method to cope. While some family members turned to erratic behaviors and self-medicating, I detached myself completely from my father, harboring a fury that soured the longer I held it inside me.
This past summer was one of extreme emotional turmoil. My mother summoned all the strength in her being to leave my father, leading to more unstable behavior on his part as he tried to force us back under his control. Many previously-hidden, especially violent details of his mistreatment of my mother came to light, which traumatized each of my siblings and me in turn. And finally, I drew up the courage to finally confront my father, to tell him, "I watched you hurt my mother over and over. You broke my heart." It was emotional and extremely anxiety-producing to speak of everything I wanted to tell him at long last, but the most heartbreaking and infuriating part was that he was not sorry. I found myself dodging manipulations, insults, and excuses, and even trying to convince him why abusing my mother is bad. Not only was it futile, but I winded up wishing I hadn't wasted the emotional energy to try and speak to him in the first place. It was utterly exhausting, painful, and only served to fortify the anger I'd already been trying to work through.
I am still trying to find ways to come to terms with the bitterness I feel. At times it comes out sideways, exploding at minor inconveniences throughout my day. This is how anger has always been handled in my household: because it couldn't be directed at the person we were truly angry at for fear of the consequences, we took it out on anyone or anything we could. I am trying to curb this reaction, catching the anger before it has the chance to explode on someone innocent, and while I've been getting better at it, I still haven't found anything productive to do with my negative emotions, letting them build up until I drown in them.
The issue is rooted in the way my family has traditionally handled anger. Only two people were allowed to display their anger: my father (because we deserved it) and my mother (in reaction to my father). The rest of us were seldom allowed to show emotion, and were often told to stop being dramatic or to shut up. Anger, sadness, fear- they were all bad emotions, ones that we shouldn't show because they made everyone else uncomfortable or upset.
In light of what has recently been happening within my family, many family members and loved ones have been telling me continuously to "let go" of my anger, to "get over it," essentially to just forget about it and continue to push it away. And although I have experienced the toxicity of certain types of anger all my life, I have to disagree with their viewpoints. At its heart, anger is just like any other emotion- necessary and completely normal. Anger is an essential part of our lives as human beings because it lets us know when our boundaries have been violated. It allows us to feel indignation and stand up for ourselves and our loved ones when we've been wronged.
My anger is not an indicator that I am a bitter, grudging, poisonous person, as I once thought. It is telling me, time and time again for over a decade, that something is deeply, gravely wrong. I am hurting. The people I love most are hurting. And we deserve so much better than what we're getting right now. When you take into account what my father has done and what my family has been experiencing, my angry is not only a rational response, but completely justified.
This is not to say that I am choosing to be angry, or to hold onto my negative emotions for as long as possible. I have seen anger burn astray, holding people's lives hostage. I think that is what I've seen when people allow their anger to stand in the way of their healing, when in reality, I would like to do the opposite. My anger allowed me to see the problem in my family that everyone else was blatantly ignoring. Without it, I would have turned a blind eye to what my father was doing, and I would have never tried to convince my mother that she deserves more. Ultimately, my anger will serve to help me heal. It will help me establish better, healthier boundaries between myself and my family members, especially my father as I try to navigate our fraught relationship. It will drive me to continue to reach for better for my mother and my siblings. It will let me know when injustice is happening, and how to fight back. In the meantime, I will find ways to control it, but also to release it productively, without lashing out at others or bottling it in. And one day, I will let it go: when I see my mother start a new life on her own and begin to find happiness and healing, when my siblings find a way to face and overcome their trauma, and when I feel absolutely ready, I will let go of this anger. I will not let it consume me and take control over my life.
At the heart of the fire I've been feeling, I know now what's important to me, who I love, and what I need. I know now what has to be done.
Wanda Deglane is a night-blooming desert flower from Arizona. She is the daughter of Peruvian immigrants and attends Arizona State University, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in psychology and family & human development. Her poetry has been published or forthcoming from Rust + Moth, Glass Poetry, L’Ephemere Review, and Former Cactus, among other lovely places. Wanda is the author of Rainlily (2018) and Lady Saturn (Rhythm & Bones, 2019).