“I’ve got a bat, bitch. Don’t come close to me.” The woman waved her bat in the air as I ran toward her.
She had just shut off the electricity in the apartment building across the street from me for the fourth time that evening and my housemate and I caught her doing it. We yelled for her to stop, and intelligently, my housemate remained on our porch. Something compelled me, however, to do something more.
“Bring it.” I told her, surprisingly calm as I approached. I believed she was all bluster, showing her two friends how tough she was. She alone had flipped the shut-off lever, the two guys with her hadn’t even approached the building, but kept walking past it. Her threat though sent my brain straight to – you can’t bully me. If I don’t stand up to you, who will?
“Don’t come any closer. I’ll smash you.”
“Do it. Hit me.”
She didn’t hit me, but by this point I was standing in front of her. “Stop turning off their electricity.”
Instead of responding, she continued to threaten to hit me and then shoved me twice. “Call 911,” I yelled to my housemate.
“You’re in her space,” her buddies yelled at me.
“I haven’t touched her. She’s threatened me. She’s shoved me. And that’s after she turned off their electricity for the fourth time tonight.”
I had no idea what was happening around me, but I was not moving out of her way. I wanted the cops to arrive before she left. Someone grabbed my arm. “Get your fucking hands off me.”
He let go. It turned out to be the guy in the tight, red superhero costume who had originally asked us to keep an eye out while we handed out candy to trick-or-treaters. Someone had shut off their building’s electricity three times already that night.
“I don’t want you to get hurt because of us.” No doubt he was regretting my involvement.
“Don’t worry. I’m fine.”
In hindsight I see that it was a harmless, albeit annoying, Halloween prank. Not unlike when I’d cover the trees in friends’ yards with toilet paper in high school (the toilet paper might have been more annoying since it took a lot more work to clean up). I can also recognize that as I was yelling for her to stop and approaching her, she was probably scared. But threatening me with a bat flipped that switch in my brain that stopped thinking rationally, lovingly, or even protectively. I was going to let her know that she couldn’t treat people that way.
In the moment I was pulled aside, the woman walked away. My brain flew to when I was robbed some years ago and how the guy got away. It didn’t matter that this was not even remotely a comparable situation. I wasn’t going to let her disappear. So I followed her believing the cops would show up soon.
After a couple minutes she held a phone above her head and said loudly, “Hey Facebook. This woman’s following me.”
“Because you threatened me with a bat.”
She put down her phone, but kept walking. “Fine. I admit it. I turned off the electricity.”
Now I pulled out my phone and pointed it at her. “So you admit it?”
She went silent.
She started yelling, “Help! Help! Help!”
“Seriously? You have a bat. I have nothing. Who’s in danger here?”
A guy yelled down from his window, “What’s going on?”
“This woman turned off my neighbor’s electricity and when I told her to stop, she threatened me with a bat.”
He disappeared back inside his house.
In the meantime, the woman sprinted off and I had lost my will to follow. ‘This is crazy’ had finally entered my head.
Unbeknownst to me, my neighbor and his roommate had been following me, worried for my safety. “She wasn’t going to hurt me. She just wanted to look tough for her friends,” I said, not realizing that I might as well have been talking about me. I didn’t want these guys to know that my body felt like it had filled with concrete and the snake that had been hissing me on, had curled up and started rattling its tale, warning of danger.
“What is wrong with me?”
My housemate had been worried I would be hurt. She also worried that the woman knew where we lived and might do something later. I hated that I caused her so much anxiety. I hated that I’d scared my neighbors and possibly put them in danger. And despite my feelings of invulnerability, what if that woman had hit me with her bat?
I could barely sleep that night. My thoughts on a loop alternating between the fear of what could still happen and the disgrace of not being who I wanted to be in this situation. I tried to be compassionate to myself – it’s natural that you’re angry; that woman deserved to be called out; at least you didn’t yell or swear (mostly). But the other voices soon drowned the compassionate one out – none of that matters if you end up severely injured or dead; you would have hated yourself if that woman was arrested for a stupid prank; she was probably scared and you could have handled it more lovingly; you need to learn to not be so reactive and think first about your actions. I asked God for redemption and put it in her hands. I finally slept.
Learning New Skills – Anger Management
In the morning, I decided to take action. I had thought the anger I had felt since my breakup, as I described in The Shame of Anger: The Making of An Offensive T-Shirt, had dissipated. With a second situation of feeling unable to fully control my reaction to an annoying situation, though, – this time not even my problem – I needed to find a way to change how I was handling my emotion. Within an hour I had downloaded a book on rage and ordered a workbook on anger management.
Learning the Why
Working through these books, I discovered that the two e-mails I had received from my ex days before the incident played a huge role in my reaction. I had not responded to my ex’s e-mails a month earlier telling me how bad he felt and that he needed more time before he could be friends. So he wrote again, repeating how awful he felt for hurting me, and that he wanted it to work, but that it just never felt right. This repeated refrain put a lump in my throat, but even more, it set the snake inside me hissing. In his words, I heard that he thought I couldn’t accept that he didn’t love me and was so weak that he had to try to make me feel better. I hated thinking he saw me as weak and the shame I attached to that label was a part of my reaction to the woman with the bat, but it wasn’t all of it.
When we were together, I would take him to parties and be so excited to introduce him to friends. I thought that they’d like him, but, as importantly, I could show them that I wasn’t the loser who always showed up to the party alone. I wouldn’t have to be the third wheel tagging along and feeling like an unwanted little sister when I spent time with couple friends. At the time of the bat incident, I hadn’t yet fully realized that I was the only one ashamed of my single status. My friends and family just wanted to spend time with me. So his last set of e-mails was not just a reminder of the loss of him – and loss can always trigger anger, but it was also a reminder of my disgrace that I was single again. Piled on top was the embarrassment that I was still hurt by the breakup five months later. And shame, like grieving loss, is a huge trigger for explosive anger. The work I had been doing over the past month to foster my self-love as I wrote about in How Much Love Must I Receive to Believe I Am Loveable, wasn’t enough to overcome that loss and accumulated shame. So I tried to transfer my pain to the woman threatening me with the bat. In doing so, I ultimately discovered that I needed more tools to manage my anger.
Learning the Tools
In learning those tools I’m able to see my reaction to the woman with the bat with more compassionate eyes. First, I wasn’t entirely conscious of the hurt, shame, and anger I still felt because I believed I should have been over them and tried to ignore them. But I also hadn’t yet recognized that these underlying emotions left me primed to react when provoked. Second, I had never learned to identify when I felt roused to anger or when I had triggering thoughts. The combination of suppressed underlying feelings, without proper tools to detect what was happening within me, led me to react almost instantaneously to the woman’s threat and I didn’t have the skills to either walk away or explore other avenues for resolution. I still have more to learn.
Learning to Accept All Parts of Myself
My anger is part of my humanness and we all experience it. I am loving, kind, and empathetic most of the time and yet I still behave in ways that I find shameful and potentially dangerous. The juxtaposition is confusing and has led me to define myself as not good enough. I am learning, however, not to characterize myself by my regrettable moments but add them to the pot of who I am: kind, embarrassing, loving, angry, joyful, sad, fun, exhausting, and so much more. Accepting and learning to have compassion for the more painful parts of myself is helping me to be more fully the loving person that I am – both to myself and others.
Also published on medium.