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Charlotte Wood recently published an incredible essay about the anger of women.
It got me thinking about my anger, my rage, how I processed trauma; of recent experiences, and of simply existing as a Muslim woman of colour living in the West.
I must be clear. I do not think less of anyone for being angry. Often, almost always, the anger is justified. The world is not fair, trauma is real, and anger is an incredibly valid response to the pain the world, society and individuals, inflicts on us. Anger can drive change, and often does. It catalyses action in ways many other emotions do not. It is the fuel behind many an engine of transformation. It has its place, and is so deeply part of the human experience that to deny it completely would be folly, and perhaps, dangerous.
But like fire, anger can be the candle that lights a room or a burning inferno that destroys a home.
For the first time in my life, this year, I felt my anger spiraling out of control. I felt it consume the oxygen in the room, slowly creep under the doors. The flames of my fury licked at my window frames and threatened to engulf the safe house I had built myself to survive.
I frightened myself.
Charlotte Wood’s piece refers to this:
I won’t forget the look I’d seen on her face. It was fear, of drowning in her own rage.
My housemate, incredibly thoughtfully, bought a gift for my birthday. ‘It’ll help you get the anger out’, she said. It was a session at The Break Room, where you can break things, and feel good.
It was a wonderful sentiment, but I was strangely and involuntarily repulsed. My housemates were confused; they felt my rage. Surely smashing crockery was the perfect way of unleashing it. ‘I’m afraid of my own anger,’ I told them. ‘I don’t like the person I become.’ They didn’t understand, but how can they understand that sometimes we are most afraid of ourselves, of the darkness only we know exists?
We went anyway, despite my sullen mood and protestations. It was a wet Melbourne morning, the weather matching my demeanour. I watched the others take baseball bats to mugs, throw plates against the walls, hurl glasses with pure abandon. Loud metal music drowned the sound of chaos.
I felt sick.
Housemates 1 and 2 insisted that I have a go. I smashed a few mugs. I felt a tendril of satisfaction. Then, I felt sick.
Allowing myself to be violent in response to anger felt like opening the door to the room on fire, the room which once held a candle. The fire was hungry for the rest of the oxygen in the house, and once that door was open — even just a crack — well, that was all the invitation it needed to consume the building.
Maybe I was wrong. Perhaps breaking things would starve the fire, remove the oxygen.
I still felt sick.
My anger was justified, I felt. I had been treated unfairly, I felt.The world was systemically set up against me, I felt. My anger felt safe.
I found allies in the anger, other women and people of colour who were also deeply enraged. Rightly so, because my feelings weren’t off base: the world was set up against people like us. My anger alienated some but drew in others. I found community, in anger.
Anger, for a brief moment, was liberating.
And then, it wasn’t.
The fire had consumed all the oxygen.
I couldn’t breathe.
I don’t like being angry, certainly not when it is without restraint.
I don’t like the person I become.
But anger is an energy, a fuel, and perhaps like energy, it is neither created nor destroyed, but only transformed into something different.
Petrol engines transform chemical energy into mechanical energy. Perhaps there was a way for me to transform my anger into another form of constructive energy, into an emotion that does not consume the very essence of who I am.
I’m occasionally reluctant to talk about how faith plays a role in my life. Having grown up in quite an anti-religious society, I know how faith-based discussions are received. Religion, like Islam, is often mocked and ridiculed, sometimes by the very same progressives who fight for the rights of those who practice the religion. Irony aside, it is obvious that we all have our own framework for understanding the world. Fabulous; the plurality of experiences makes our world the wonder that it is and coexistence is divine. Mine is, and has always been, faith.
My faith allowed me to believe there was nothing I could not handle. That every obstacle was an opportunity for growth. That I could use the fire of anger; contain it, tame it, channel it. It taught me how to use the fire to light 100 candles, rather than let it run free. It didn’t work alone — faith worked in conjunction with therapy, a strong support network and moving countries. But it gave me the fortitude to ask myself how I wanted to use my anger, and what I was going to do about it. I am an engineer, after all. Energy is only useful if it can be channeled constructively.
So yes, I have anger. But I am no longer angry, Alhamdulilah.
I am not so frightened of myself anymore, and god, how that helps me breathe.
The first day of the year often brings with it an opportunity to rest, reflect, restart. As corny and passe as that might be, I revel in and enjoy the chance to stop, pause and think. To give myself the time to listen; to myself, to others, to what the world is telling me beyond the conscious, perhaps.
Here’s to a 2018 where I learn to live beyond a destructive anger. A year of directing that energy to raising others up, to building, to maturing. A period of time to be treasured, as all time deserves to be.