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Posts Tagged ‘Anger’

I vowed to myself

“I will never be

Like my Dad was

Toward me.

I just won’t!”

I wanted to have

Nothing to do with him.

His path

Was not mine.

*

Then one day

I read a poem.

*

A poem I had written

When I was

Fourteen years old.

*

The poem read:

A fiery, bubbling demon

Against the sky.

The huge volcano.

Lava pouring from its lip,

Like angry words hastily spoken.

It seems to be making fun

Of someone below it.

Or trying to shame a person

For doing a wrong.”

I was astonished

At how early

I had realized

My Dad’s

Venomous tongue.

I said to my mentor,

“See, that poem

Is about my Dad.”

*

His simple response

Is tattooed on my heart.

He quietly replied:

“Is it?”

*

I was stunned

As the truth

Of his words

Clutched my soul.

I had become

      Just like my Dad

*

My Dad at age 19

Me at age 19

My words had

Been harmful

To many people.

I constantly

Had to make up for

The damage I had done

With my sharp tongue.

*

It gave me a task –

To uncork

My own volcano.

Find out

What fueled

Such deep anger.

It became

My commitment.

My life’s goal.

*

It was critical

That I do so.

Imperative

That I solve this problem.

I was watching my Dad

As his health suffered:

Heart attack,

Open heart surgery,

Colostomy,

Not following doctor’s orders,

Overweight, still smoking

And just

Sitting on the anger.

I was watching my Dad

Commit slow suicide

By stuffing

His own anger.

He had sobered up

But the past was the past

And he wanted no part

Of figuring it out.

He would not deal with it

Or even admit

How angry he still was.

*

So he sat on white knuckles

And it was killing him.

My Dad at age 43

I knew my Dad

Would die early.

I knew that I

Would die early too

If I didn’t do

Something drastic.

That’s why my task

Was so necessary.

To not be like

My angry Dad.

*

It led to

A lot of hard work –

Uncovering abuse,

Healing wounds

Releasing anger –

But without hurting anyone.

First, do no harm.

I became

A completely

Different person.

Calm, alive,

Safe for other people.

The venom purged

The volcano disappeared.

*

Then years later

I had a flash of awareness.

Had my Dad

Not sobered up

He would have died

Many years

Before he did.

It was a paradox.

Even while sitting

All that anger

He helped many people.

After I delivered the eulogy

At his funeral.

One man said to me

“Your Dad

Saved my life.”

I knew from his look

He meant it literally.

*

Then I put

All the pieces together.

My Dad –

Who abused me

When he was drunk,

Illuminated my path

To healing

By his example

By his journey of recovery.

And in that way,

I want to be

Just like my Dad.

Me at age 58 at a high school reunion, after a night of dancing!

*******************

Last Saturday night I read a new poem at an open mic event.  The next morning I got up and wrote three new poems.  “I Just Won’t” is one of those poems.  I will read it this Saturday night at the open mic event!

Photo Credits:

Don Swanson via Wikimedia. Creative Commons via Wikimedia.

Pictures of Dan and his Dad, Copyright Dan Hays. All rights reserved.

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On the first day of my creative writing class, the teacher opened the discussion by asking “What is a story?”  She suggested that we begin by defining the word.  Several people responded.  I took a minute to think about the meaning, and then raised my hand and said “A story is something that happens to someone.”  The teacher smiled broadly, nodded, and said “That’s it exactly – at the very basic level, the essence of a story is action.”

So what was the best way to tell a particular story, to describe that action?  Over the next several years I read a lot about point of view – mostly looking at first person and third person, and what were the advantages and limitations of each.  First person is confined to the thoughts of the narrator.  Third person can either be omniscient – using the thoughts of all of the characters, or limited – using the thoughts of one character’s mind. After I experimented with point of view, it became apparent that it depended on the story.

Years later I wrote about a time my Dad’s life when he disappeared for a year, worked the wheat harvest, had a spiritual experience in the process.  He returned a changed man.  After his death I realized I’d never asked him what happened.  I started with the part I knew, leading into what might have taken place later.  I decided to make it a novel, and chose the third person omniscient viewpoint.  I wrote in a more detached style, which allowed me the distance to step back and imagine the events objectively.  I could speak from the perspective of various characters as needed.

When the story was about me, “something that happens to someone” still held true.  Something had happened that I wanted to share, and decided to write about it in depth.  Not an original concept.  Many people have written a memoir for that very reason.  The first person viewpoint had an immediacy that helped me capture the emotions and experience of the moment.  I wrote about the events surrounding the time of my father’s death 17 years ago.

I knew what happened, and had journalled extensively about it at the time.  There was plenty of fodder to refresh my memory of the events.  As I wrote I fell into the mode of  “I did this, that happened, I felt this about it, I experienced, and then next I …”  I was in the middle of the events, with no psychic distance.  To tell that particular story, I needed to be that close.  Yet as I wrote, I could feel the events at a physical level.  My heart raced as I felt unsafe when that strange person entered the room.  I smelled the coffee I drank in a restaurant as I chronicled my feelings in a notebook. I felt the heat of Houston on a muggy afternoon in October; heard leaves blowing in the breeze that only stirred up the heat without relief.

Even more happened.  I had never written down everything that took place the week my Dad died.  I heard the jangle as the phone rang; heard my sister say “better come home, Dad is dying.”  I sat in a darkened airplane and wrote brief notes in a small notebook “it’s too soon, I’m not ready for this.”  I walked up to a hospital at night in Tulsa, wondering if it was just my imagination because of the lights, or was this huge building really pink?” (I saw it the next day, and sure enough – it was pink.)

I looked down at my father lying in a hospital bed with a tube down his throat, barely heard the nurse saying he was already functionally gone, and the machines were keeping him alive.  I returned to the room after the machines had been turned off, and his breathing had stopped.  I stroked my father’s forehead, something I never would have dared if he were alive.  I walked into to the “Grief Room” at the hospital, where no one was attending to the needs of my family, sitting and crying all alone.  I pushed down my feelings because someone had to make funeral arrangements, and the task fell on me.

Later in the week, I visited his office at the hospital, heard his boss describe how he had spent his last several years helping others.  I drove just outside Tulsa and walked across his 5 acre pecan orchard, then used his chain saw to cut down a couple of dead trees, a project he and I had shared.  I sat at the dinner table at my parent’s house and went through my parent’s financial papers to reassure my Mom.  I stepped out in front of a packed church to deliver his eulogy.

Of course it was cathartic to write down those experiences – isn’t that one of the biggest benefits of memoir?  I felt the events, experienced them in a deeper way than before, and could release some of the emotional charge they contained.

As the memoir continued I wrote about the events after my Dad died.  I met with a minister to discuss an reservoir of old anger I had discovered – anger at my Dad, anger at God.  I dreamed a man was chasing me with a gun.  I did an inner child exercise, and remembered a violent incident with my Dad when I was a teenager.  Then came some intense healing work.

I did an exercise to cut cords to the feelings I was carrying from generations of my family – an ancestral burden that had weighed me down greatly.  Many nights I released terror from the violent incident.  I relived the violent incident on a feeling level several times.   I wrote down ways I had changed, and burned the papers, to let go of who I used to be.  I dreamed that there was a tiger living in my house.  I knew it was my rage, and had to be dealt with.  I made a commitment to release that rage in safe ways.  There were a number of other healing experiences, and by the end of the memoir, it all led to a new sense of forgiveness for my father.  I wrote down my tremendous gratitude for the whole experience.

Then something happened which I hadn’t envisioned.  After I published the memoir, which I called Freedom’s Just Another Word, I had numerous people say they benefitted greatly from my experience, from reading about my journey and the steps I had taken to heal.  I was genuinely surprised.  I hadn’t seen that coming, but was delighted that it happened.  That was not the reason for the memoir – it just was something I needed to do.  For me it was an enormously healing process.   But if writing a memoir could yield additional rewards like that – helping other people heal and grow – then it was a huge success.

 Originally Published in Laura Schultz Now

Photo Credits:

“Good Question” e-magic @Flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.

leaves in the wind: jans canon @flickr.com.  Creative Commons.  Some rights reserved.

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“Dear God.  I am really angry with You!”

Just saying those words out loud made me hold my breath.  Would I bring down the fabled wrath for having said that?  But it was true – it was the most honest statement I’d ever made to God since I’d started trying to pray.  I was really angry – for a lot of reasons.  But I had been somehow conditioned that you don’t talk honestly to those you have a problem with – so the same should logically apply to God.

I knew something was really wrong in my life.  I had been plagued by problems for years, problems I couldn’t pin down as to origin.  I had even tried to talk about that as a prayer, many years before.  When I was about 21, there was a Sunday evening service at the church I attended, and at one point in the service, they would dim the lights, and people were invited to come down to the altar rail, kneel and pray.  One time my prayer had gone something like “Dear God, I don’t know if You’re really up there, and if You’re really listening, but if You are, I know there’s something terribly wrong with my life.  I seem to hurt deep down inside, and I don’t know where it’s coming from.  Please help me God.”  I didn’t seem to get an answer at the time, and for a long time afterward.

But it was just after Christmas in 1987, and my Dad had just died, at a time when the problems I had been struggling with had escalated.  It felt like my whole world was spinning out of control.  I was 37 years old, and my anger at God had already started to surface.  In anger I had torn up and shredded a lot of Bible study notes, frustrated at the seeming lack of answers in all that study I had done.  Then I got the phone call – come home; Dad is dying.  I had returned to my parents house, had been there when my Dad died, delivered the eulogy at his funeral.  It had been a hugely emotional time, and I was still reeling from it.

Now, a month later, the anger was back, and boiling.  I was willing to risk all sorts of possible bad things to be honest with what I was feeling, and just say – flat out – how angry I was at God, and at the situation.  Having stated my anger, and not been struck down by a bolt of lightning, I sat down and started writing what I was angry about.

I had recently started narrowing down where all the issues were coming from.  I had remembered several ugly incidents with my Dad when I was a teenager.  First my Dad had shamed poetry that I had written for a school literary magazine, told me it was worthless and I’d never amount to anything.  It was a horrible experience, and it felt like a light went out in my soul when my writing was taken away from me by being told it was worthless.   The next thing I had remembered was arguing with my Dad over being able to wear my hair like the Beatles.  He was a former Marine, and refused to allow it.  Then late at night he came into my room and beat me up, telling me not to talk back to him.  I had a feeling there may have been more – the evidence pointed that way – but I didn’t know how to root out whatever still might be underneath.

Then there was the horrible hurt I was feeling over my Dad dying.  Our relationship had been strained for a number of years, but recently we had found a new supportiveness and peace between us.  And then he died.  It wasn’t fair!

So it came back to “Dear God, I am angry with you!”  I knew I couldn’t keep carrying that anger, so I took a risky step.  I set up a meeting with a minister at my church, to admit before a man of God about my anger.  Wow – now that felt risky!  But it also felt necessary.  I had watched as my Dad denied his anger and refused to deal with it for many years.  He had suffered numerous health problems, and had died in his late 50s.  I had been watching his behavior and expecting his early death for several years, and knew – somehow I just knew – that if I didn’t deal with my own anger, I would end up going down the same path.

I met with the minister the next day.  I shared with him what I had written, and the things I was angry about.  I held my breath, expecting some dread penance for irreverence.  Instead, the minister confirmed that many people felt things like I was feeling, and had experienced deep anger at God.  It just wasn’t supported at church to talk about that, so everyone put on what I called the “happy Christian game face” and didn’t talk about things like anger at God. He said I had opened the lines of communication with God in a whole new way, and God would honor that honesty.  He told me it took great courage for me to share what I did, and that it would only help my healing process. Then the minister said something very interesting – he said not to be surprised if other things continued to be revealed to me.  He was right!

Several weeks later, I found the deep source of the issues that had plagued me.  A very deep and violent incident with my Dad when I was seventeen, while he was drunk.  I kept getting clues that something had happened, followed them, and was led to have this incident revealed.  It was a horrible event to remember, and I knew it would take a long time to fully work through the effects.  But – there was also a tremendous sense of relief.  I now knew why my world had been so skewed, and in the big picture, things made a whole lot more sense.

So saying I was angry at God, being honest in that way, had led to a huge healing process.  Not eternal punishment, chastisement or condemnation.  I still had some of those teachings stuck in my soul, and it took a while to release those old beliefs and realize that God really did want the best for me.

Then the question.  Did God hear my plea down at the altar rail when I was 21?  Were things revealed to me at a time and in a way that I could handle knowing the truth?  It sure seemed like it!  I know I couldn’t have handled knowing about the violence when I was 21.  It came out as gently as it could given how horrific the abuse had been.

“Dear God.  Thank You for revealing this incident with my Dad at a time when I could handle it.  Thank You for being so loving toward me.”

Quite a different prayer than the earlier one.  But they felt connected – the angry prayer led to the thankful prayer.  I do believe that.

Photo Credit:

“Speak Truth Banner” Donnaphoto @flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some Right Reserved.

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“I Abandon A Book – Again!” An author has several agents interested in his novel. He works hard to revise his manuscript, only to be crushed when it needs further work. He walks away from the book.

Published in Life As A Human.

Photo credit:

“Self Portrait, Walking Away: On one of the jetties at Gräsvik” Misteraitch @flickr.com Creative Commons, some rights reserved.

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” Words of Wisdom, Talk of Tigers” – A new post on Life As A Human magazine.  It honors a video I recorded after I had a radio interview with Cyrus Webb, where he expanded my understanding of the book I had written!  Amazing experience!

Here is a link to the interview that sparked the video:

12-9-2009 Conversations Live with Cyrus Webb and Dan Hays

 

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I spent a lot of time walking around Houston in the middle ’80s with many of the symptoms of PTSD, and didn’t know it.  I was having flashbacks – of occurrences I didn’t remember.  I felt like the man in the Bourne Identity with amnesia, who was getting glimpses of his past – a past he could not recall.  Sometimes it was like feeling memories – like I was somewhere else living through something.  But I had no idea what was going on, and it was terribly frustrating and confusing.

I would disassociate under stress – I would emotionally numb out, feel like I was up in a corner of the room watching events, totally apart from what was happening.  I had a sleep pattern where I would go to bed at 11 PM nice and tired, suddenly pop awake and be wide awake until 3 AM.  I had outbursts of anger that were way out of proportion to the event that might have triggered my explosion.  I had hypervigilance – I called it my “on patrol” mentality, where I was alert with all my threat detectors going off – but not sure why.  I had an exaggerated startle response – slip up behind me and poke me in the ribs and I was like someone jolted with electricity.  I had stomach problems a lot, feelings of guilt and shame, feelings of betrayal, suicidal thoughts, struggles with substance abuse.

I had all these things going on, and one time in the library found a discussion of this thing called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – only recently recognized as a formal diagnosis.  The short definition was – exposure to a traumatic event in which the person experienced, witnessed or was confronted with an event that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury, and the person’s response involved intense fear, helplessness or horror.  That definition, with all the associated symptoms, sure looked like what I was experiencing.

The puzzling thing was – I didn’t have a traumatic event I could point to that might have triggered all of those symptoms.

That was the state I was in when the events in my book “Freedom’s Just Another Word” began.

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Written August 5, 1990

All I really wanted to say was “I’m sorry.”

I had said some hurtful things to my Father. But he had been dead for three years. How do make amends after they’re gone? It wasn’t perfect, not like him being there, but I was talking to him anyway. Just making up a conversation in my mind, inside my spirit. And answering for him – what I thought he would say. No, that’s not quite true. Some of the things my Dad had said to me, but I could not hear them at the time, or at least, could not receive his words.

My Dad had owned 5 acres of land in the country outside Tulsa that he was planting in pecan trees. We had been out there one time, with me clearing trees and brush while he grafted pecan trees. While we were resting, he’d been telling me stories about the good old days, like he always did. I told him that with any other adult male I would get up and leave if the stories got too much, and so I would with him. God, how that must have hurt.

And now I felt bad about it. I imagined us now out at that land once again, sitting in camp chairs under the large oak trees, resting in the shade. I was saying now what I couldn’t say before.

“Dad, I know it must have hurt you, what I said when we were out here that time; that and some other things I did.”

He answered me. “Yes, son, that did hurt. I never knew you didn’t like my stories. I didn’t know what to say.” He paused. “What other things?”

“Dad, I guess it was mostly me provoking you, arguing with anything you said, rebelling. Putting you down. I did a lot of subtle stuff. I didn’t know why I was so angry with you. I’ve learned more and seen where all that anger was coming from. But that didn’t make it right what I did.” It felt like my words were all rushing out, stumbling over each other, eager to be free. I felt awkward, like I was saying it poorly, now that I had the chance.

He replied. “Yes, it did feel like whatever I did wasn’t good enough for you at times. Almost like I couldn’t live up to your expectations. But Cowboy, I know I hurt you, too, many times. And I think that’s where your anger started. I didn’t ever remember – I was too drunk. But now I know more.”

We sat in silence for a few moments, reflecting.

He spoke again. “It’s real sad, but I guess it happens a lot. My Father was there for me, and then when I was 12, he left. He turned his back on me. I felt hurt, abandoned, and like he didn’t love me any more.” He paused for a moment, then continued. “And I can see now that I turned away from you when you were the same age. I began punishing you. I was really proud of your writing, your speaking, your acting. But I made stupid, ugly comments about them all – I can remember now – over here we see things a lot of things more clearly. And I know I hit you, abused you. I guess it was because you were daring to develop your creativeness – and I had never been able to. But that’s no excuse.”

There it was. What I’d always wanted to hear, wanted him to admit – I hadn’t realized it would be this hard to accept. I was having trouble catching my breath. We sat for a long time, not speaking. I spoke again, feeling my words. “Thanks, Dad, for saying that. That’s the way it felt for me, too. But the things I said to you were wrong, no matter what you did to me. I blamed you for all my problems and played victim and all that shit. I have to accept responsibility for what I did after I was grown up. I apologize.”

“Me too, Cowboy. I apologize, too. The sickness and the disease we carry with us makes us do hateful things, things we would not do if we were in our right minds. I never intended to hurt you. I was very proud of you. But when I was in my sickness, I couldn’t always let it show.”

“Thank you, Dad. I do know now that you were proud of me – you told me before, but I couldn’t hear it.” We sat in silence, hearing the breeze whistling through the trees, the birds singing in the upper branches. I drew in a deep breath.

“Dad, there’s something else.”

“I know, son.”

“I have to leave. I have to separate from you, and be me, be Dan. I have lived for 20 years trying to be what I thought you wanted me to be, not who I really was. I hope you understand I mean no disrespect by leaving.”

“No, Dan, I don’t think that way, not at all. I don’t know if you remember, but I encouraged you to go out and be whatever you wanted to be, and I’d support you.”

“Yes, I remember.”

“Well, I meant that. If you want to be a writer, I support you in that. I am glad you are happier being that.”

“Thanks, Dad. But please know this. I will take with me the gifts you have given me.”

“Gifts? Like what?”

I started choking up. “Well, like when I saw you have the courage to come home and put our family back together after you sobered up. And even though it took 10 years, you got back your old job. And the guts to stick to it, even though it would have been easier to leave. Staying sober for 20 years. You modeled for me perseverance. And courage. You gave me my love of literature, of reading. My writing ability came from you. You know, I’ve always been real proud of you. But in my sickness, I couldn’t tell you either.”

“Thank you, son.” We sat quietly for a time. “So can we be at peace with each other?” my Father asked.

“Yes, Dad. At peace. I am a man, now, and I want to shake your hand – man to man.”

We shook hands, solemnly, firmly, slowly. “You certainly are a man, Dan. And a very remarkable one. Go for it. All the way. Let your writing go as far as it will – and that’s a long way!”

“Thank you, Ben. I will. I will remember you always, treasure all you gave me. You are part of the story I have to tell. You are one of the greatest men I have ever known.” I paused. “I’ll check with you along the way. Goodbye, Ben.”

“You do that, Cowboy. Goodbye. Vaya Con Dios. Go With God.”

———

Several years after I wrote this piece, when I felt I was ready, I went back out to the land with the pecan trees and read this piece out loud. I made a ritual out of it, read the conversation very deliberately and with a solemn sense of ceremony – because I knew that at the land he loved so much, he would hear it. I also knew the words would become more real for me as well, as part of saying goodbye to Dad.

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