I have been really angry this week. Sadly, I confess I have taken that out on everyone from the driver in front of me in traffic (by yelling in my own car and punching the steering wheel) to a telemarketer who truly deserves an apology from me and will get one very soon. Anger is a secondary emotion (there is your therapy lesson for the day), so when I find myself angry I stop and have a little conversation with myself that usually goes something like this: “Ok, what’s going on? The people you just yelled at did not do anything to harm you. What’s swimming under the surface?”
This usually works if I give myself the space and time to process what is going on inside of me. After spending some time with paint and canvas last night, and violently punching pool water while swimming laps earlier, I realized I was angry at the people who take advantage of other people in the worst way possible. I am angry at rapists. Like rage-filled, fire-breathing, want to run outside and start slashing tires angry.
Since I work with so many people who have been abused and assaulted in so many ways, I listen to story after story about sexual abuse, assault, rape, and attempted rape. I hate rape. I hate sexual abuse. I hate what it does to the perpetrators and the victims. I hate what it does to our community. I hate what it does to bodies and minds and spirits and souls and relationships and families and children and friends and future spouses. Sometimes, after listening to other people’s stories, I have to shut my door and just pound something. (I have a Dammit Doll on order. If you don’t know what that is, I encourage you to check it out.)
Ok so I hate rape. Does that mean I hate rapists? That’s a really, really, really hard question. I have sat in rooms behind a closed door with many of them. And if I am being honest, it isn’t easy. It isn’t easy at all. So I wrote a letter. Letters are usually the easiest way for me to process what I am feeling and thinking. Writing gives me space and time and permission to say what I need to say without impulsively acting out towards someone else. So here is my letter.
I write to you out of confusion, anger, hurt, and fear. I write to you from a dark place where I don’t intend to reside. I also write to let you know that I despise what you have done and the damage you have caused, but I do not hate you. My fingers tremble even as I write this, because I want to hate you. I want to place all of the pain and tears and screams and shame and violence I experience in my office in your lap and make you feel what you have caused. But you already know what that feels like, don’t you? Even the most villainous sociopaths used to be children, used to be vulnerable. If I try to begin to imagine what you must have endured to become who you are, well I am not even sure I could. The horror inflicted on children who become abusers is a form of evil I could even being to grasp. Evil breeds evil. No one invites a demon into their home.
I want to hate you, but I don’t. I can’t. Like me, you were brought into this world by very human parents. Like me, you experienced pain and shame and grief and guilt and disappointment. Like me, you had to find a place to put your fear. What separates us is our choices. And it is your choices that I despise.
What I want to communicate to you is that you don’t have to be a monster. You have been in the past, but you don’t have to be anymore. Call it faith or folly or absolute crazy, but I don’t believe anyone lives outside of hope. It ain’t over til it’s over and if you are still breathing, it ain’t over. You may be spending the rest of your life in prison, but you are still breathing, which means you have a choice. I get to choose what to do with my anger. You get to choose what to do with your future.
I choose to recognize that anger is secondary, and below my anger is a deep well of hurt and sorrow and pain. I choose to channel those things into art and workouts and late night conversations and letters and driving around blasting Metallica in my car and screaming until I am voiceless and sore in the throat. I choose not to hurt people with my pain. I have hurt people out of anger in the past, and it is my job to make amends for that. You have no right to take out your story on someone else, but you have every right to pursue health and restoration.
So this is my plea to you. Do the hard work. Be different. When someone tells you that you are worthless because of what you have done, tell them they are wrong and then PROVE it. And spend the rest of your days on this earth in a dedicated effort to help people, even if you have to do it from afar. You can’t undo what has been done, but you can transform what you will do about it from this moment on.