I have a daughter whose knee-jerk response to being inconvenienced is outbursts of anger directed outward. This is unpleasant enough, but since I respond the same way, our morning ended up in a Tasmanian Devil Dance of reacting to each others’ reactions.
What is a Tasmanian Devil Dance, you ask? It looks a little like this…
It comes on fast, escalates quickly, and gets whipped into a blurred frenzy that combusts into vapors of bitterness.
Ironically, I had just read this after waking up…
We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ (Ephesians 2, MSG).
I’m such a juvenile when it comes to Ruthie’s outbursts, losing my temper and acting more like the annoyed big sister than a patient grown-up who loves unconditionally.
It’s my longing to love extravagantly, to pursue her with an incredible love, and to embrace her in the midst of her “sin-dead” attitude. But truth be told, today this feels out of reach and unattainable.
The Heart of Anger was an amazing read for me. And Priolo’s not kidding when he says you should read the book twice – once for yourself and once for your kid. This is not just a book about dealing with an angry kid, it’s also a book about taking responsibility for your angry kid.
I realized quickly that I’ve developed some bad parenting habits that needed to change – habits that were provoking her to anger.
— Issue #1 —
I tend to “answer a fool according to his folly” (Proverbs 26:4). Though, I kinda knew this already. We all know this about me. When my kid sasses me, I tend to respond more like a 14 year old than a grownup, and we end up getting into a YES YOU DID/NO I DIDN’T/YES YOU DID situation.
Priolo describes in great detail how Jesus responds to all the fools in his life, and never once does he 1) justify himself to a fool, or 2) bark orders at a fool. What Jesus does do, is show a fool his own foolishness.
My child acts foolish often, and by responding “according to her folly,” I create a dysfunctional dynamic between us. Basically, I’ve trained her to only take me seriously when I’m yelling. But as soon as I quit answering “according to her folly,” I began to see immediate change in Ruthie.
In fact, the first time Bryan saw me in action he was all, “Whoa. When did you become the Bitch Whisperer?”
— Issue #2 —
I allow myself to get caught up into an emotional tangle of manipulation and guilt. Priolo starts off chapter nine by giving a test “to determine just how manipulative a child might be.”
A score of 90 or better means “you are probably quite adept at preventing manipulation by your child.” A score of 75-90 means you’re probably being manipulated “to a small degree.” A score below 75 means “it’s likely you’re being manipulated to a great extent.”
My total added up to 17.
Perhaps one might freak out by the number 17, but this was actually a great relief to me. In fact, I heaved great big ugly sobs of relief because I’M NOT FUCKING CRAZY.
Somehow the number 17 was like that lazer thing Luke Skywalker fired into the exhaust vent of the Death Star. With great precision, it found a very exacting path to my guilt and blew it to pieces.
A friend asked me if Bryan would have scored the manipulation test differently.
(Do you have a friend who pokes you like this? I have many. They are annoying.)
To be honest, yes. He would have scored it a little differently because he’s less likely to be manipulated. But not all the questions were subjective, so we would have agreed on many answers.
What I loved about the book is that it doesn’t allow me as a parent to walk away blaming my kid for being angry and manipulative. The responsibility is mine to improve my parenting skills, and the responsibility is mine to mentor Ruthie through her anger responses.
A few months ago I bought a Groupon for two nights at the Earthbox Motel on San Juan Island. The islands are a favorite summer destination for us so I’m excited to visit in the off season. Earthbox boasts the only indoor pool on the island, which is really what sold me on it since we may get rained out of everything else to do on the island.
(Ruthie just asked me if we could go swimming RIGHT WHEN WE GET THERE, so this pool may be the best $150 I spent in a long time.)
My goal for this weekend is to enjoy playing with my family and to be present in the moment. I’ve noticed that my comfort and contentment tend to hinge mostly on whether my own expectations are met (peace and quiet! solitude! let me read my book!), at the expense of everyone else’s enjoyment (rrraawwwrrrrr!).
If that sounds like the description of a teenager, I accept your rebuke.
This weekend I desire to play and be silly and explore and snuggle and say Yes more than I say No. I don’t do any of that often enough, which is probably why Bryan is such a rock star in this house. He does it all with his eyes closed and standing on one foot.
For inspiration, I looked to a favorite vacation post from February 2007. If you overlook the fact I’m STILL the same control freak I was five years ago (STAY IN MY HAPPY PLACE! DON’T OVERTHINK IT!), you’ll see I had a magical time being free with my kids.
This is my hope for the weekend. Also, I’d love to find my sense of humor again.
Our trip to the San Jose area couldnâ€™t have come at a better time. Iâ€™ve spent the last couple months reorganizing and reprioritizing my focus as a mother and household manager, trying to correct the part of my brain that sometimes finds it easier to focus on the latter and see the former as a distraction. I want to be present with my children. I want to enjoy them. My goal in spending ten days apart from the household duties of cleaning, laundry, and other such necessities was to develop good habits in spending time with my children.
I believe I did well in accomplishing what I set out to do. We played hide and seek. The tickle monster attacked. We went to parks and visited attractions. We left the hotel every day. We talked. And we didnâ€™t watch t.v. Even in the midst of being away from the comforts of home, I only used the morning PBS programs to occupy Ruthie while I showered. We kept busy, and I remained focused on them until they were sleeping.
For me the pinnacle came on Monday when we visited Santa Cruz, about an hour from our hotel. We were nearly alone on a wide open beach, running around and digging in the sand with nothing but our fingers and some empty coffee cups. I stretched myself, and offered Ruthie some freedom from my control, and I watched her revel in a world with few boundaries. The beach was so empty, so expansive, and the ocean before us was so never-ending, that my need to control every situation, every moment, every move seemed insignificant. I realized how rigid I had become, how inflexible. But that morning I was able to let my children run, and I practiced trusting them, and I patiently corrected them when they wandered too far, and I became their biggest fan once again.
It was the silence, and the time, and the space provided by this trip that allowed me to grow as a parent in this way – to remember that my job is much more than just keeping them fed and clothed, but to also disciple and teach and model, and to sometimes play with them. I developed a taste for getting out, for exploring, for inspiring my children and giving them opportunities to run and jump and play – not that it couldnâ€™t have happened in the absence of a vacation, amidst the everyday life I live, but it seems a trip to San Jose is how God chose to get through to me.
As we left the beach in Santa Cruz my kids immediately crashed into a coma, and I listened to the Garden State soundtrack. I love it for its mix. Many soundtracks have a schizophrenic feel to it, accommodating for love scenes and fight scenes and war scenes all within the same album. But the Garden State soundtrack has a vibe, and itâ€™s a good vibe for a quiet ride home from the beach. When the song, Let Go, by Frou Frou began playing I immediately knew it was the soundtrack for the day at least, and maybe even for my overall struggle through anger and control.
Youâ€™ll know why when you hear it.
So, the video you are about to see is more than just a video scrapbook of a fun day. I had a vision for this project the moment I heard the song. It is a stone for me to carry, like the ones Much Afraid carried. It is a rock cairn to remember the path I have taken to get where I am now. It is an alter built to God, in praise of who he is, like the ones built by my spiritual forefathers in the desert.
Earlier this year Ruthie had an ongoing conflict with some kids on the school bus. She wanted to sit in the way back – in the last seat – but the older kids wouldn’t let her. If she claimed the back seat first, the older girls would kick her out.
Sometimes she got off the bus mad, sometimes she was crying. Several times the older kids had the nerve to sass me through the window as the bus pulled away.
“She called me a bitch!” one of them said through the window one day.
I know, I KNOW. Maybe I shouldn’t have smirked, but despite her inappropriate response, I was pleased my girl had moxie.
Every day after school I’d ask Ruthie where she sat, and she’d report what happened. I asked detailed questions about who said what. I learned names. I listened.
I wanted to know why sitting in the back seat was so important to Ruthie, and I learned it was important simply because she could. Kindergartners and first graders were supposed to sit toward the front, but now that Ruthie’s in the second grade she can sit where ever she wants.
And she wanted to sit in the back.
When I pressed, she held her ground. “I can sit where I want mama,” she would say sadly. “But they told me I can’t sit there.”
It broke my heart to see her so sad, but my knee jerk reaction was to sweep it away. I don’t like conflict, and it was tempting to blow it off and tell her to just move on. I wanted to tell her it wasn’t important, to do the “easy” thing and just quit trying.
But I couldn’t. I couldn’t bring myself to say she should back down. If she wanted to back down I would have supported it, but I felt it was something she needed to work out on her own.
I could see that Ruthie was identifying an injustice, wrestling with it, and struggling to stand up for what is right. So instead of encouraging disillusionment or apathy – my own default response – I attempted to teach Ruthie how to deal with conflict in the real world; how to choose what to fight for and how to prioritize her battles.
We talked about why people act like bullies, and we talked about the times when Ruthie herself was a bully, and we talked about the right way and wrong way to respond when someone is mean to her.
Eventually she decided to sit in the middle of the bus. She was very pleased about this because it was something she decided to do. She was choosing to ignore the other girls and sit somewhere else.
Honestly, I half expected someone to start throwing punches, and I wasn’t entirely convinced it would be the other girl. Regardless, I think Ruthie was finally able to grasp that she wasn’t an enemy of the other girls, but that they were using her to work out their own anger – something she and I know a little about.
For more than ten years this song always seems to find me in my darkest hour.
Whether I am depressed, wallowing, full of rage, or drenched in the stench of my own selfishness, the Truth in these words sets my heart straight.
And it’s not just the words themselves, but the way in which I get to shout them out at the back end of the song – a full body submission to the true Owner of my heart.
I did this tonight in my kitchen. On repeat.
I’m struggling in particular with my selfishness these days. Sometimes I think I’d like to spend my days walking alone, writing the great memoir, drinking tequila, and listening to really loud music. I’d spend my nights similarly, only maybe without the walking & a little more tequila.
The fantasy never includes disobeying children, hard conversations with husbands, and poop-eating dogs.
I hear a lot of messages out in the wild. I hear that I deserve to be happy, that I need to do what’s right for myself, that I’m in control of my own destiny. These are very tempting messages for me because I think I would make a very good brooding & reclusive writer if I put my mind to it.
I also possess just enough sass and mystery to drive the men wild.
But when I find myself in this dark place where it’s me & Lisbeth Salander against the world, I am shaken by the fact that I am not the center of the universe, that it’s not my destiny to do what’s right for myself, and that happiness doesn’t come from getting whatever I want.
On the contrary, I am called to worship Him – to set aside everything I ever thought I wanted for myself and trust that He knows me better than I know myself.
Jesus calls me to unclench my fisted heart. In turn he fills it with joy no matter what circumstance I find myself in.
And so tonight I sang in my kitchen. I turned it up to eleven and I yelled into the window as I did the dishes:
take the first of my thought
take the first of my time
take the throne of my heart
crush all other gods
you alone sit on the throne
Ruthie finally came in and burst my little worship bubble and yelled at me that she couldn’t hear her movie on the Hallmark channel (there’s many things wrong with that, believe me). So I stepped back into the real world and practiced living according to my re-set heart.
I pray I never give into my fantasy. I pray the lies of that false happiness are destroyed. And I praise God for songwriters who point me back to His Truth.
If I cataloged everything Ruthie tagged with a marker or pencil, it would make the Ikea catalog look like a Sunday paper insert.
My friend pointed out that at least the graffiti was cute, but since nearly everything she tags involves a love note to me, it actually feels more stalker-ish than anything else.
This tag, along with a similar message she wrote on the wall above her pillow, was made just days after a very stern lecture from me for coloring all over a photo album given to me by one of my oldest friends.
It contained photos of my honeymoon.
And it wasn’t so much a stern lecture as it was a raging explosion of words that may or may not have been appropriate to use near a 7 year old.
I suck at grace.
But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. – David (Psalm 86:15)
In the midst of my rage, David reminds me what anger is supposed to look like. God is patient. It takes a lot to ruffle his feathers, and he certainly doesn’t react.
In comparison, I am quick to anger. It’s easier in the moment to just yell about all the ways I am offended so Ruthie can feel like a total jerk for what she did.
The anger satisfies me.
But what I desire most is to be satisfied by a Love that loves me despite what a jerk I am. If I find contentment in that place, then I won’t need to rage in defense of my own feelings and offenses.
I am loved, after all, despite [dot dot dot].
And if I am satisfied by a Love that loves me despite what a jerk I am, and if I find contentment in knowing I am loved despite [dot dot dot], then all of these stupid little things that set me off won’t even matter anymore.
The peace in my heart will bring peace to my home, and I’ll think to myself, “Wow, there must be forgiveness here, cuz everyone has their weaknesses…”
After several volatile mornings followed by several volatile afternoons I had to regroup my wits and come up with a way to deal with Ruthie that didn’t involve me yelling at her.
I’m really good at yelling – it’s a knee-jerk reaction to being yelled at, and I get yelled at a lot.
I hate that I fight with my kid like she’s a playground cheer leading rival, but when I do it’s a sign I have an undisciplined tongue.
On the really good what-would-Jesus-do kind of days I remember that I’m the grown-up, and that the right combination of words won’t necessarily make Ruthie listen to me. Those are the days I remember that God already established a plan to provide peace in our home:
Honor your father and mother so that you may live in peace. Exodus 20:12
(I paraphrased this verse a little from the NIV, but I think Jesus is okay with that because it’s all in the name of contextualizing this stuff for my kids.)
No amount of yelling or manipulating is going to sway my stubborn child from the line she is toeing. But as for my part, I need to remember – and be confident of – my place in the hierarchy of things.
I am Ruthie’s mom, and it’s my job to lead her. When she follows my lead there is peace in our home, and when she doesn’t there is much yelling.
It’s really pretty simple, and when at least one of us gets that (*cough*), there is peace to be had.
The other morning when Bryan brought me coffee in bed –
(yes, I said when, because that man brings me coffee in bed every morning)
– he handed me the cup then reached out and rubbed my forehead with his thumb.
“What are you doing?” I asked, still waking up.
“I’m wiping away your grouchy lines.”
“You look like you’re mad.”
“It’s 5:30 in the morning and there’s a light on in the room – I would call that squinting.”
“Well, you look mad.”
Now I’m paranoid about this ugly face I keep making and catch myself doing it all the time – driving into the sun, walking against the wind, thinking about what to say next, digging a hole to plant my tomatoes.
Even when I’m not thinking about it, my body expresses anger.
Going back to work opened a new arena for dealing with my… issues.
Sometimes the stress of project deadlines carries over into home life, and I get short tempered with the kids for no reason. Or I can’t turn my brain off, and the fourteenth WATCH THIS MOM sends me over the edge. Or something is not going my way at work, so I over react when one of the kids gives me resistance.
One day I caught myself thinking, “I can’t do this job anymore – it’s making me too mad.”
It reminded me of my kids blaming each other for the graffiti on my lamp shade.
In the past I’ve blamed my anger problems on all sorts of things – because my parents are divorced, because I’m PMSing, because my kids are so challenging. It’s as if I thought I DESERVED to release my rage as payback for all the crap I have to put up with.
And then I end up thinking all these stupid thoughts like, Wow, this person or this situation is really pissing me off. What’s their deal?
Pretty soon I realized the only common denominator in all these scenarios was ME.
So my perspective has changed this year whenever I get pissy and rageful. Instead of lashing out and wondering, WHAT THE HELL? WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME? I’m actually turning it back on myself and asking, What is it about this situation that’s ruffling my feathers so much?
Usually it boils down to an issue of me trying to control stuff I can’t control.
“From that time many of His disciples went back, and walked no more with him.” John 6:66
When God gives a vision by His Spirit through His word of what He wants, and your mind and soul thrill to it, if you do not walk in the light of that vision, you will sink into servitude to a point of view which Our Lord never had. Disobedience in mind to the heavenly vision will make you a slave to points of view that are alien to Jesus Christ…. When you find that a point of view in which you have been delighting clashes with the heavenly vision and you debate, certain things will begin to develop in you – a sense of property and a sense of personal right, things of which Jesus Christ made nothing.
I read this from Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest this morning, and it struck a note. Over the years I’ve come to disagree with much of Chambers’ theology as I’ve become more reformed in mine, but he is still filled with nuggets of wisdom.
The verse Chambers quotes from John 6 refers to the occasion in which Jesus draws a line in the sand. He declares he is the Son of God, the Bread of Life, that anyone who believes in him will have eternal life with the Father. When many of the disciples heard this, they said it was a “hard teaching,” and deserted him. When Jesus asked The Twelve Disciples if they also wished to leave, Simon Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
I like the way Chambers puts it – you will sink into servitude to a point of view in which Our Lord never had. In other words, when I disagree with or lose sight of Jesus – his hope, his truth, his vision, his healing, his rest, etc. – I will fall captive to something else, and it will not be beneficial to me.
I think of my anger, which comes from my selfishness and need to be in control. When I think only of myself, I become angry at others who thwart my comfort. When I set aside my perceived needs and desires to follow Jesus, I take on his “point of view,” which is love, kindness, service, etc.
Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obeyâ€”whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness (Romans 6:16-18).
Today feels like a New Day after several weeks of chaos and lack of routine. I feel refreshed and ready put my universe back in order – mind, body, and soul. Today, I focus on these words from Jesus’ disciples in prayer for the priorities of my heart to be set correctly –
â€œLord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.â€
When have you felt like a “deserter?” How were you drawn back as His disciple?
Over the last couple years I’ve learned what circumstances trigger my rage episodes, and they are as follows:
Low blood sugar – If I go too long without eating, or if I eat all the wrong things, watch out! When my blood sugar gets low I feel frantic, anxious, on edge, and my patience is on a very short leash. I yell at the nearest person or dog at the slightest provocation. When my blood sugar is low, I definitely feel out of control of myself.
Running Late – If I need to be somewhere in five minutes but Thomas is not moving fast enough for me, he is screwed. Poor kid. And he’s one to freeze in the face of conflict and stress, too, so the more angry and impatient I get, the more he freezes up, which only increases my impatience. It’s a quick ride to CrazyTown when we get into that loop.
Too Busy – Occasionally we get into a week when we’re never home. Laundry piles up, clutter builds up, and dishes don’t get done. Sometimes the kids don’t get to bed at a decent hour, and I’m so tired at the end of the day I crash into bed without any sort of mental recharging. When going at a pace like this, my body aches and my brain hurts. Literally.
PMS – I know it sounds cliche, but it’s true. I started tracking things related to my cycle several months ago, and as it turns out I’m a complete irrational bitch the day before I start my period. Not the week before, not two days before, but the 24 hours before I start.
Well guess what? The last two weeks have been a perfect storm of all these challenges, and I’ve been rough on my family. But this is not to imply “the devil made me do it” or any other such blame shifting. I’m the first to admit I create most of these scenarios because I’m selfish and easily distracted.
99% of the times I run late it’s because I was doing something I shouldn’t have been doing rather than getting everyone ready to go. And running late is usually the reason I forget to eat a meal, which makes me insanely grouchy as we’re rushing out the door behind schedule.
Sometimes I can’t help how busy we are. We generally do a pretty good job of saying no to things and leaving white spaces on our calendar, but on occasion everything just happens to land during the same week, and I can’t really do anything about it.
What I would like to be able to say after a stretch like this, is that it was a hard week but I managed to find peace and focus in Jesus. I would like to be able to say I resisted the urge to give in to my anger during these weak moments, and breathed deep from the Holy Spirit. I would like to be able to say I put others before myself and stayed on task, thereby avoiding 75% of these situations altogether.
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
This is a pretty foundational concept in the Zug Haus, though some of us (…ahem…) don’t always execute it gracefully. As Believers we give grace because we have been given grace – though usually I demand grace for myself and justice for others.
Ruthie is an apple that did not fall far from the tree.
Much like me, she is quick to turn hot, and quick to turn cold – saying hurtful things she doesn’t really mean, then smoothing it over with a quick apology. Over and over and over again.
(Did I mention she is my carbon copy?! It’s frightening, really.)
“I’M NOT GONNA BE YOUR FRIEND ANYMORE!” and “YOU’RE NOT INVITED TO MY BIRTHDAY PARTY!” are the popular declarations.
My patience has been enormous in this area. I guess I have a superhuman load of compassion for Ruthie’s anger, and spend a lot of time in prayer begging God to help me help her figure out all that passion before she’s, say, thirty-five and swimming in postpartum hormone surges.
(That was not fun).
My patience ran out just a little bit tonight – partly because I’m PMS-ing, but mostly because she told ME I wasn’t invited to her birthday party.
“OH YEAH?!” I screamed back at her up the stairs. ‘IF IT WEREN’T FOR ME YOU WOULDN’T EVEN HAVE A BIRTHDAY PARTY!”
I just snorted my wine as I read back through that last sentence. It’s so nice to be able to laugh at myself. I wanted to throw her out the window in the moment, but after the fact? It makes for a hilarious line in a blog post.
I hauled out the Big Guns tonight while she was in her time out, and I read the above verse to myself. All through this struggle with her temper we’ve talked about love being kind, that love never gives up being a friend, that we love others even when they frustrate us – most of which is found in I Corinthians 13.
And while all that is true, it’s really first and foremost about Jesus.
So when she came downstairs I read her this verse, and I asked her if Jesus waited until we were nice to him before he died. She laughed. Of course not! was her basic answer.
We talked about how the people Jesus loved were mean to him, but he still loved them, and that’s how he wants us to love others.
A little while later Ruthie and Thomas were squabbling over a game of Candyland, and Ruthie blurted out, “I’M NOT GONNA – ”
She slapped her hands over her mouth and looked at me wide-eyed. I smiled and winked at her, and she smiled back.
And then it hit me.
“Ruthie,” I said, “I can tell Thomas was really frustrating you. Instead of yelling at him about not being his friend anymore – because I know you don’t mean that – why don’t you just tell him you’re really frustrated?”
And you know what? She told Thomas she was really frustrated.
Sometimes I feel like the most dominating aspect of being a parent is rather CSI-like, always following the trail of clues past all the bullshit to find out what the heart of the issue is. It’s a hair-pulling experience, but when I finally crack the case it’s always liberating to feel like I know what makes my daughter tick, and how to help her connect all the dots about who Jesus is.
Reconciling with children is much different than with adults. When Bryan and I get into a fight, it often takes several long conversations to cover all the rabbit trails of baggage that manifested itself in the actual fought upon issue.
I get to explain my feelings. I get to lay down the foundation of how I came to respond the way I did. I (usually) get to bring closure to each and every point of contention.
Not so with children.
Their nanosecond attention spans do not make an exception for long-winded apologies. Their simplified reasoning skills do not grasp the complex nature of complex relationships. Often when I get caught monologuing, Ruthie will sigh and say, “You’ve been talking for a long time!”
Lately I feel like Ruthie steps off the bus ready to pick a fight. Like a passenger in a car fishtailing toward a tree on the side of the road, I brace myself for 3:30. Sometimes we miss the tree, sometimes we hit it dead on.
Today we wrapped ourselves around it.
If I don’t have something EXCITING, and DELIRIOUSLY FUN, and WILDLY ENTERTAINING waiting for Ruthie when she comes home, she becomes angry. Not just disappointed or whiny, but downright angry. Right there at the bus stop she’ll yell and stomp her feet and declare she’s never going home again. I’m so boring.
I understand her anger. It’s my anger. I gave it to her when she passed through my body. We like to get our way. We like to be in control. When she falls and skins her knee she cries dramatically, but then she throws something or kicks the ground. Stupid rocky ground! she’ll yell. Falling down means she’s not in control, and that makes her angry. I know this, because I made her. She is from me.
I lost my temper with her today. I feel defeated. Frustrated. Hopeless. Sometimes I feel like I’m raising a monster; sometimes a sweet angel. Sometimes I’m the one who’s a monster. My emotions and hormones can’t hold me intact as I bounce back and forth from moment to moment, first drawing her close, then pushing her away.
Today I happened to be hormonal, so I cried. Right there in front of her. I apologized for losing my temper, of course, and then I just started babbling about nonsense. I was mostly talking to myself – talking myself down off that cliff of despair. But she sat quietly and listened.
Ruthie looked sweetly at me with her round eyes and big cheeks, and then? She leaned forward and began to wipe my tears away with the bottom of her shirt. She was so tender, dabbing gently over each tear, wiping softly the trail it left.
I feel this could be one of our greatest moments of communication, a connection, a breakthrough. She is beginning to understand me, and I am able to tell her how I feel. It’s all going to be okay, just like when Bryan and I work it out.
Ruthie finishes dabbing my tears, and I smile at her.
She sits back in her seat and opens her mouth to speak. I think she is going to say something incredibly profound for a five year old (it’s been known to happen).
In her sweet, compassionate, kind voice, she says, “Can I have some chips?”
A year or more ago, I was talking with a friend about how I had taken to self medicating my visits to Funkytown with alcohol. I know that sounds bad, but hear me out. After Thomas was born, which was two months after losing Gordy to cancer, I experienced postpartum depression that was severe enough for me to seek help, and I began taking Zoloft.
After a year on this medication I decided to wean off. I never intended for it to be a permanent solution, and it just seemed like a good time. I should mention that my depression brought out the reality of my rage issues, and during the time I was on medication I was getting some awesome therapy, plus participating in a regular group discussion regarding the same issues. In other words, I was having some very real, very vulnerable, very intimate conversations with others on the State of Jen.
As I continued to work through my issues with rage and what triggers my anger, exercise became a vital element to prevention. So did deep breathing.
When I find myself entering into a rage state of mind, it feels a lot like an anxiety attack. I feel it in my chest – it tightens, my heart is racing, and I’m tense all over. My adrenaline kicks in, and in my attempt to assert my control over the Universe I say and do things that make me feel powerful and others weak.
One day, as I found myself entering into this unhealthy place, it occurred to me there was one thing that would slow the physical aspects of my anger – a shot of vodka. So I chugged one back, and stood in my kitchen breathing deeply. As I felt the warmth wash down through my body, the relief overwhelmed me, and I burst into tears – the kind of tears that come, for instance, after you swerve your car on the freeway express lanes to narrowly avoid a sedan that pulls into your lane from a dead stop, right in front of you.
I came to a screeching halt, just inches from the concrete jersey barrier.
And here began my sporadic self medication. I don’t make a party out of it by mixing it into a cocktail, and I don’t come close to even being tipsy – I simply chug it back like a dose of Nyquil. It takes the edge off, so to speak, so I can get ahead of the physical rage and get to the emotional core of what triggered it.
I know this will cause a low rumble among some, and I’m not saying it’s ideal or even right – though, maybe it’s just fine, and only causes a stir because of America’s unhealthy view of alcohol. I am also not – I repeat, I am NOT – suggesting you do this, or that I think it’s way cool that I can. As a follower of Christ, I know his peace is the answer to all our emotional struggles. As a follower of Christ, I know his blood covers all our sin, and I don’t need anything else to deliver me from anger. As a follower of Christ, I know we are not to place any idols above him.
Yet, at this point in the process it’s the tool I choose to use. I anticipate this will not be the case for much longer – in fact, I can’t really recall the last time I used alcohol in this way.
In a group setting, someone once asked a very wise drug-addict-turned-Christian-therapist what he thought of alcohol consumption. His response was that unless you have a healthy way of working through and getting to the core of your issue, you should really stay away from alcohol.
I think about this often as I drink, both in self-medicating situations as well as social situations. I consider what I may be trying to accomplish, if anything, and whether I am using alcohol to mask or escape. But most of the time it’s just good to enjoy good food and good drink with a friend.
I’m not sure what prompted me to post these long-processed thoughts today, especially since I haven’t once thrown back a shot of vodka during this last episode through Funkytown. I have lost my temper during this time. In fact, I just unleashed an unreasonable verbal tirade on my kids about five minutes ago, and do not feel the need to imbibe.
Perhaps this is precisely the reason: I’ve already outgrown my need to self-medicate, and I want to remember how far I’ve come.