The first time I actually realized I had an anger issue was about a year ago while attending a retreat. A deacon (now priest) prayed over me and told me that he sensed that I was holding on to grudges. I went straight to confession after that revelation because it made sense. I am an angry person and have acted out of anger in ways that hurt the people around me. Not to mention that I can hold a grudge like nobody’s business! I sat face to face with this little Irish priest and confessed that I often lost control of my temper. I confessed other things and then waited to hear what he was going to give me as penance. Instead he said in his Irish accent, “Darling, your anger is a gift from God. He gave it to you so that you could survive,” and then he said the words of absolution.
For a year I have been kicking those words around, not really knowing what to do with them. I had not told that priest anything about my life or my past, and yet it was as if he knew. I felt like he must not have heard me correctly or I had somehow tricked him. I seemed like I deserved a huge penance rather than so much mercy.
It wasn’t until I read Elizabeth Scalia’s post about bullies on Aleteia that I came to understand what that priest meant. As I read about Elizabeth’s experience with being bullied, my own past came back to me. The tremendous hurt caused by being abandoned by my father before I was born, being sexually abused starting at the age of five and continuing many years after that, being angry at my mother because she did not believing me the first time I told her, the memory of those hurts came back. I remembered the anger towards kids at school who picked on me, laughed at me, had better clothes than me, didn’t want to hang out with me, and called me names when I was just a lost girl who had nobody to defend me. I realized that anger really did become my way to survive instead of giving up on life. Had I not gotten angry, I would have despaired and lost hope.
At some point, that anger helped me learn how to stand up for myself and fight anyone who tried to hurt me. I learned how to read people and know if they were trying to harm me in any way, either passively or aggressively, and I wasn’t scared to call them out on it. Someone told me that once you are no longer scared of getting hit, you become brave enough to stand up for yourself. I took that advice and ran with it. Every single offense was an occasion for me to stand up for myself, and a chance to make sure that whoever even tried to hurt me would learn never to try it again. Because I was small and only weighed 100 pounds, I did that through words more than my fists. I learned how to hear between the lines, to find a person’s weakness and then go all in using words to take them down.
It worked. I surrounded myself with dangerous people who would use other means to defend me if need be, even if I paid for that protection with my dignity. It was a very lonely existence and I drank a lot to try and numb myself from that loneliness, but the alternative in my mind was even more painful.
I had never considered forgiving all those people for hurting me. I recently forgave the man who abused me, but the bullies? Nope, it had never occurred to me to forgive them. But after reading Elizabeth’s article, it occurred to me that I needed to reconsider. Even though anger had been a gift at the time, a gift that helped me survive when I was being hurt by so many, that tool was no longer needed. I have someone to defend me now, and that’s God. I can hand Him my anger and all the people who wounded me, and be free from the burden of it all.
The last two years of therapy and serious self-examination have brought me to a place of peace like I’ve never known. I am not scared of being myself, I am comfortable with who I am and I’m grounded in my love for Christ and His Church. I no longer have this anxiety from feeling like I have to prove myself to anyone but God, nor am I a slave to my anger. Instead I am a slave to the Love of God, and I’m good with that.