Anger is a signal, and one worth listening to.
Anger isn't good or bad. It's what we do with anger that makes the difference. This afternoon, I was angry with M. (the father of my oldest daughter - the one with the new girlfriend). You could call it anticipatory anger. Here's why. Yesterday, my therapist agreed that now that M. has a girlfriend, he may not be in touch with me when I am back in Michigan. This is distressing because, as with many people in adoption reunions, I've weathered more than one period of silence and thought we were, at last, beyond that. Last summer M. told me that, "You haven't lost me. Our relationship has entered a new phase." I'm pretty sure that he didn't mean silence when he said, "a new phase." So, I'm angry because I'm afraid that I'll never hear from him again. This is an inevitable - and very real - fear in adoption reunions.
I don't know that M. will disappear, but the signs are there. And so, I'm having anticipatory anger because I'm at home where I have a safe place to be angry in and I hope that being angry now might help to ease the pain I may face in Michigan. (Well, who said I was rational?) Besides, I can't seem to stop what I'm feeling. Not surprising. People with PTSD often fall into negative emotional loops that are hard to get out of. My usual loop is sorrow, shame and self-blame. Maybe anger is a step up, but it still feels painful. Malcom X said, for example, that anger is better than being sad. "Usually when people are sad," he said. "they don't do anything. . . . But when they get angry, they bring about change." Writer Thomas Moore said that, "Anger gives you the impetus you need to change conditions that need to be changed."
So, what is it I need to change? I think my anger is telling me that I need to keep myself safe and not be so open with M. It's not possible to be open to another person and put up a wall at the same time - it's like how you can't simultaneously open and shut a door. That makes me sad because I thought we were making progress. Now, I can see that it wasn't that simple. M. wants to get on with his life and, despite what he said and even promised, probably isn't ready to process the hurt we went through together and be friends, as we both hoped. At least, that's my therapist's take on things.
Putting up a wall won't be easy because trauma survivors have an overwhelming desire to re-write the traumas of the past and create happier endings. When it comes to M., I have this in spades. This phenomenon is known as traumatic reenactment. In our case, this is reinforced by the powerful biological drive to be a family that two people who have a baby together experience. For M. and I, that family was destroyed but the part of our brain that stores trauma doesn't realize that it's too late to become a family now - at least a family that is raising a baby. Which brings me back to anger. I know anger is warning me to go slow and be careful and it is also telling me - which I do not want to hear - that I don't have any control over what M. does. I only have control over how I respond. And that's scary. I'm afraid I'll be too angry to cope at a time when my parents need me to be calm not enraged. Anger can be either constructive or destructive; it all depends upon how you handle it. So far, I'm managing but I don't like the way anger feels and I'm pretty sure that I'm in for another roller coaster ride on the PTSD emotional express. I have that same queasiness in the pit of my stomach that you get just before the car plummets down the first steep slope. Courage, I tell myself, courage. But only time will tell "which of them I'll become" - the out-of-control angry person or the angry person who looks her anger in the face and tries to hear what it's saying.
How do you cope with difficult emotions? Which emotions do you find the most difficult?