Last week, roommate Natasha asked why I don’t drink coffee a bit more often.
In 2019, I had to give up the daily 2-3 cup habit that was partly responsible for a bad case of GERD – the kind of in-your-face indigestion that I was willling to ignore for months because of addictive desires for a hot morning beverage.
After several weeks of not drinking coffee at all and switching to tea, I returned to coffee in a limited fashion. Two cups per week – one on the weekend, one during the week. Any more than that, I explained to Natasha, and I will not be able to stop myself from resuming a bad habit. It’s a matter of control, of not exceeding certain parameters or crossing a line back to the time when I chose to hate my own guts.
This is how it is with anger and how we choose self-control.
We all have our moments of anger…right? It’s a natural human reaction when life doesn’t bode well at a given moment – when the waiting line at the DMV is out the door, when someone lies and then denies to your face, or when the pie crust didn’t turn out again after the third attempt. I remember doing the latter many years ago and finally throwing the rolling pin on the floor, yelling an expletive and participating in a lonely self-pity party. Not my finest moment.
I’ve had similar incidents since, of not controlling my anger the best way possible, but also not stepping over a line.
Natasha and I have been watching a Marvel TV series, one in which the bad guy wasn’t able to control his anger by anything less than violence. He killed his dad at age 12, with a hammer, as dad was beating up on mom. Because he didn’t grow up with love from a berating dad who taught him all kinds of wrong, he became the villain, the guy who is emotionally messed up and becomes viciously angry when neither life nor his business pursuits follow expected outcomes.
I realize this is a fictitious example, but it makes me ponder about reactions to this emotion.
What makes us angry? How do we react to our anger? Do we pray three “Hail Mary’s” and forgive ourselves for throwing a kitchen tool on the floor? Do we take ourselves to task when our words and actions exceed what is accepted at work, with friends and family, within our spiritual life, or in social situations? When do we take a step back, dig deep and know when to love, overlook and forgive rather than drink an angry cup of bitter espresso?
As most realize in 2021, the world can be an angry place, with its people not always knowing how to funnel that anger into something positive. Some humans prefer to yell, scream, punch, kick, hate, fight wars, and be the vicious bad guy, than to resolve their anger issues with calm and peace through knowledge, awareness, meditation, counseling, exercise, or a personal resolve to love and care unconditionally for others.
Constant, malignant anger is difficult. It requires use of the awful frowny or angry face emoji in social media platforms, never using hearts, smiley faces or a thumbs up for cute kitten or puppy posts. It increases blood pressure that’s worse than sitting in a cold doctor’s office for 30 minutes, wondering if cholesterol levels have gone done after six months of dietary agony. Anger requires knowledge of all pertinent swear words and the ability to raise a loud voice over the din of a pack of howling wolves. This emotion, when unchecked, gives one few friends and a cold-shoulder from many family members, including the mom who is done making excuses for her son or daughter. It requires a case of Rolaids because of the horrible upset stomach that keeps the soul awake at night. Those that still hang around, wonder about the weird obsession with Angry Birds and why their friend joined a group that urges the brandishing of weapons on neighborhood streets, in places of worship and in government buildings. Most angry people of this magnitude don’t understand how tiring this is, to put so much effort into one emotion, to be constantly dragged around in negativity and have very little rest from this way of life.
For most of us, anger is a temporary and short-lived release of emotion. We let out what’s troubling us because, for that moment, we have no control over ourselves or others, or simply want to be angry. Anger is not something that entirely goes away unless you are a monk, living on the side of a mountain, with everything you need and nothing that conspires against peace. We live with anger because that’s a part of our emotional make-up and inevitable since we got cranky over a poopy diaper and hunger pangs. It’s how we respond to anger that either makes us a villain or simply a human being that forgets a meditation mantra, the loving voice of a parent who gently talked us down in our hormonal youth, or the knowledge that anger hardly ever makes the world right. With anger stashed in a back pocket, it’s always up to self to ensure it doesn’t inflict harm on others, physically or emotionally, when we take it out and use it.
Personally speaking, I don’t remember ever verbally swearing at another human being, but I’ve said angry words in my head or when I’m alone. I don’t speak the word “hate” about anyone, but the anger can still exist in the heart. I try not to show anger in public (because years ago, I embarrassed myself with this one), but at home, by myself, it can be a different story, rolling pin and all.
Are those reactions okay or a sweetened, milky version of a bitter cup of joe?
Anger is an emotion I continue to grapple with in how I respond to stressful situations and the inequities of humanity or behavior of others. Little things, like uncooperative pie crusts, don’t bother me as much these days, perhaps due to retirement and a pandemic that keeps me at home, or because I haven’t made a pie crust in years. I don’t know where my rolling pin is and I don’t care. If I need to vent anger by throwing, there are plenty of soft pillows and cat toys around the apartment.
I eventually answered Natasha’s coffee question with, “It’s a slippery slope,” and the same is true with anger.
In the end, GERD is lessened by watching what travels from mouth to stomach and anger is lessened by delving into our positive emotions of love, empathy, compassion, caring, and letting go of what we can’t control.
Dealing with anger is not always easy and reflecting an appropriate response is forever a work in progress, but seeking calm and happiness is a lot less difficult and tiring than being the bad guy in a Marvel TV show who ends up in prison or the woman who sits alone in her living room, swearing at the game of Angry Birds and downing bad coffee.