Talk of Tigers
(Written March 9, 1990)
“Tell me about your tiger,” she said. They were at the zoo, standing in front of the tiger cage. A huge, restless Bengal tiger paced back and forth the length of the cage. His eyes looked devoid of life, cold, neutral. The huge paws silently padded up and down, the tawny skin rippling over muscles bunching and loosening as he walked, endlessly pacing. There was about him an ominous presence, a sense of unbelievable power and force, frightening, even with the steel bars separating him from outsiders.
“OK,” he replied. “I guess to do that the best way to start is to tell you about this dream I had. In the dream I was walking down a road with a friend, and I was taking her to see my house. I wanted to show her all the beautiful new rooms I was discovering in my house. We opened the front door and went inside, and as we closed the door behind us, I knew there was something in there with us.” He stopped, paused, took a deep breath. “We began walking through the house, with me pointing out all the neat rooms and nice features. Suddenly there was a tiger with us, walking next to us. My friend was, of course, very frightened. I assured her It was a tame tiger, that I knew it, and that it wouldn’t hurt us. Then it grabbed my arm in its mouth. I could feel the tremendous power of its jaws, even though it wasn’t biting hard – just playing almost. Then I knew the tiger was not tame, I had been fooling myself. I could not control it, and sooner or later it would destroy me, and any of my friends who might be around. I got scared, and the dream ended.”
“Boy,” she gasped, “that’s pretty powerful. So what does the dream mean to you?”
“The house, of course, is me – the inside of me. It has many wonderful parts – rooms – to it, a lot of which I’m just now discovering. The tiger was my rage. Something terrible because it was uncontrollable, capable of destroying the house – me – and anyone who came close to me.”
The tiger continued to pace as they watched in silence for a few minutes.
“What was it about tigers that scared you most?”
“I think it was that they are so compassionless. They kill for food with no thought of the prey, no remorse. It’s almost like a need to hurt.”
“Wow! That’s pretty intense.”
“Yeah. Also, they have great self control in their stalking, but once they go for the kill they are merciless. And they live so much of their life alone, roaming, seeking the kill. I didn’t want to live my life that way. But there was a part of me that understood that. It scared me so much, I kept it hidden – even from myself a lot of the time.”
“That’s pretty scary. But – I’ve never seen you like that.”
“You see. I kept it that well hidden. But it was there. Some people have seen it.”
“How in the world did you get like that?”
“I guess you could say it was an inheritance. From being raised by a brutal Ex-Marine who let his tiger act out on a twelve year old boy. Like his Dad did to him.” The tiger continued to pace.
“So what did you do about it?” she asked.
He was quiet for a long time. “For me, learning about the tiger was a sort of revelation. I didn’t know he was inside me. But overcoming the tiger was a process, a journey if you will. It started the way much of my journey started, with the First Step.”
“You mean The First Step?”
“You got it. Powerlessness. As long as I tried to fight the tiger on my own, I lost – it was too powerful, too destructive. It was as I worked The Steps on my rage that I began to be able to conquer it.” He stopped and reflected for a moment, then spoke again very deliberately. “There is some more to it than that – some specific things that happened. But they’re still very private for me. I don’t share them with people. It’s like, it’s just between me and God. I guess the best I can say is – do you believe in miracles?”
“Yes, I can accept that,” she replied. They turned and walked away. The tiger, at long last winded and tired, had finally laid down to rest.
10-28-09 I’m finally about ready to talk about the things that were still very private at the time the above piece was written. The miracles and the events of confronting my rage. It will be the topic of a book, “The Tiger Unveiled,” that I have laid out, but not finished. Below is the pivotal event that made me face the tiger within me.
The Tiger Unveiled – You Got The Wrong Guy!
As we sat down at the Denny’s restaurant, what went through my mind was, “Oh, my God, this feels like an Intervention.” There were six of them, and one of me. They had gotten me out of bed that night – woke me up late – and said they wanted to buy me dinner. From the moment I opened the door to my apartment, my intuition screamed that something was wrong. The people who came to my door didn’t fit together – some of them didn’t even like each other. And they wanted to buy me dinner? This late? They told me they wanted to confront my pattern of backing away from people. Even though it didn’t make sense why this had to be done “right now,” I went along with them – because I trusted them, gave power to their words – in a sense because they were family.
I had seen these people earlier in the evening at a party. I had been in a lot of pain – because of grief over my Dad’s death, but also the pain of knowing that I must move on from some of these people. I loved them dearly, but I had to detach from them, for my own well being, to save myself. So when it got too emotionally crowded at the party, I went home.
Now as I sat in the middle of the long oval table, surrounded by these people – trapped in a sense, because I was sitting on the inside of the booth – my thought was: listen to what they have to say. Give them the benefit of the doubt – don’t get angry and get up and leave. Trust them. They began talking about how they had seen my pattern of backing away from people. That felt strange. Couldn’t that have waited until tomorrow? They said they were doing this out of love. As I looked at them, they looked frightened, agitated – some looked like they were in an altered state. They made statements that sounded reasonable, but in some way sounded angry.
The things they said about me could have been true about them as well. It sounded like they were describing themselves, but they were saying it was about me.
Then they started talking about suicide – how they feared I was about to kill myself. What? That’s not why they said they needed to talk to me. Where had talk of suicide come from? One person did most of the talking about suicide, the others just nodded in support, which hurt just as bad.
Their words grew more hurtful, more demanding. I grew – confused. For years these people had been praising my growth toward health – now they were saying I was sick. They were accusing me of things, diagnosing me – telling me how in distress I was. Some of them grew more angry, more insistent. It continued. They used a lot of “should” statements. Nothing I was doing was good enough, or right enough.
I tried to explain, to tell them I knew what was going on with me, that I was talking with people about my situation. I tried to tell them that they were discussing things that should be addressed with each person privately. They went on. As I looked at each person, I could see that they doubted – no, they had decided – not to believe me. It hurt, and I emotionally closed up. I began to feel the unreality, the insanity of it. I had been condemned before they got there – they wouldn’t believe me.
I was alone – against 6 people. The weight of numbers bore down on me. It was crushing, and I grew numb. They mentioned love again and took me home. The reason I knew I wasn’t suicidal – after that attack, I didn’t go home and kill myself.
Several days later, I found out the truth about how this had all come about. A group had formed at the party, and the rumor began to spread that Dan was home about to commit suicide. I was humiliated to hear that. I heard about “secret meetings,” and “mass hysteria.” Several people “encouraged them to wait.” Someone I had been talking to, who knew what was going on with me – was told they could not go, because there were “already too many people going.” My one advocate – denied access.
They became convinced they needed to save me, so they came after me. When I heard details, I grew angry, very angry. I felt my tiger, my rage. I knew my rage was primarily tied to my Dad, but it scared me deeply, because now there was an immediate target for the rage – that group of people. Something had to be done.
The event at Denny’s was one of the most hideous experiences of my life. Yet I would later refer to it as one of the greatest blessings I’d ever received. It forced me to confront and deal with my anger and rage. But I was committed not to hurt anyone. I ended up signing before 2 witnesses, very solemnly, an Anger Contract that that stayed in effect for 2 years, as to how I would not act out my anger on someone else. I also committed to actively to release that anger in safe ways. It worked! That was the great blessing of the event at Denny’s.
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