There was a time when I could imagine losing my children because of my ongoing issues with anger. My marriage had become strained and was easily at stake. I envisioned clearly one afternoon after a particularly destructive fight with my husband that he, a historically reasonable and loving ally, might take the children away from me.
These are the hardest words I have ever put down. And yet they lived, if not comfortably, certainly familiarly, in my head for months as I prepared myself to take on the worst parts of myself and my history. The meticulous yet destructive ways in which I had learned to protect myself from the world would have to be undone.
My journey of healing resembles more closely an acclivity than an even easy path, but it is a steady quest nonetheless.
Now I write about anger and mothering; and I write with great gratitude about the process and payoff of overcoming rage in parenting. It was not within a bubble that I existed with this burning emotional life; breaking the cycle of anger so that my children would cease to model my brokenness became a thing of singular importance. Because I write about rage and recovery, I am asked often–by similarly suffering parents–to explain how I became less angry, how I protected a fragile marriage, and changed the course of my family.
I want to simplify as much as I can here, how I became what I call a “softer” parent. It is not from a perch of perfection that I offer my story; I do my best, and I do my best to be forgiving in the presence of less.
These are some of the important elements of my “self-help” program that wasn’t really self help at all. It was a desperate search that was answered by professionals, by my own intuition, and by a generous and tenacious support system.
Medication. I have to put this first because it can be critical. And it’s a dynamic process because there is no “correct answer.” It changes. I’m sorry; that’s not good news because it may require trips to a qualified physician (please see a psychopharmacologist who is trained specifically in this area) and more trips to this physician to fine tune prescriptions. Over and over sometimes. It’s not easy and it’s not neat, and it’s not forever necessarily.
Meditation. Just one letter difference from the above. An endless journey to get this “right.” (There is no right. I’m only joking.) But it works. It slows me. It focuses me on other people when I need to do that. It slows me. I already said that, but it’s important.
Alcohol. I limit it. I don’t eliminate it for now. But I know it has its place and its time and that can’t be “whenever I want it.” Similar to how I use social media, I have restricted use of alcohol today. I need to because drinking—like my being face to phone all the time—eventually affects how I react to my children and how I feel about myself. Too much of a good thing is just too much for me.
Therapy. I can’t stress the importance of a smart, effective, caring practitioner enough. I have seen many (MANY) therapists over the years; it wasn’t until my husband and I saw someone with great insight and no cliches that I appreciated having a therapist. Often the family, or other family members, can benefit from therapy as well. Some of the best advice I have gotten has come from my son’s therapist.
Sometimes it takes a few tries to find a good connection. Don’t give up until you find someone with whom you click. It’s worth all the money you’re going to spend. (Look into insurance and sliding scale rates to cover therapy costs.)
Yoga. I don’t like it. Still. But it helps with the mental and emotional weight of what we carry. It does. There are a few DVDs that I use at home so that I don’t have to leave my apartment all winter.
Friends and loved ones. The ones who get it. Anyone who gets it—family, friends, online community. Find your sacred people. There are others who, without judgment, will listen and support. By much grace, my husband did not leave when our life was at its most difficult, when my own problems were affecting everyone’s happiness; he was willing to participate in the hard work.
We are all flawed. I am not proud of who and how I was at times, and I should not be; yet relinquishing the vice grip of shame allows healing to enter into the aftermath. We all need compassion for our faults; but we need as much, or more, to hold the hope that we can be better than we are today. The difficult, ongoing, rewarding work, to break the destructive cycles in our lives, is waiting for all of us.
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