My Journey Through Toxic Anger

I don’t know the first time I realized I had a problem with anger.  It was a confluence of events—fights, usually escalated by me—between my ex-partner and I.  A criticism would be shared, usually something that reflected her efforts to create clearer communication and feel recognized, and like a regulatory function in my brain I saw it as an attack.

Pretty soon it’s going back and forth, voices rising in volume and throaty harshness, and then she’s a “BITCH” and I’m throwing my Iphone across the room, punching a doorframe, or walking out in a fury.  My blood pumping with adrenaline, I am convinced with total certainty that I have been ambushed, that I am an innocent bystander, that I was defiantly and nobly defending my honor from my partner’s betrayal.  If she loved me, then why would she criticize me so harshly?

In time, the tension would ease—often after the shedding of tears.  My rational mind would kick in and I would apologize, genuinely, for my behavior.  Oftentimes, I could not remember the words I had said in the moment.  I would cry too, citing my fear of abandonment, of rejection, of feeling unlovable.  I lashed out because I was scared.  Violent language was my defense against the perimeter I had built to maintain stability.  My words were retaliatory blanks, fired off to reduce me from boiling over.  But when you are on the receiving end such hatred, absorbing the volley of epithets and curse words and insults designed to hurt, you cannot forget.  It stays with you, brands into your thoughts.  It was and is, abuse. 

I think it was easier for me to defer confronting my toxic anger because I never raised a hand to directly hurt my partner.  I believed that abuse, in its definitive form, was attacking someone physically.  I may have clenched my fists and thrown objects, but never at her, so how could that be me?  That wasn’t me.

Except, it absolutely was.

The truth is, it really doesn’t fucking matter if you ever hit someone.  Words are violence.  And when you are intimately connected with a partner, you know their weak spots, the chinks in their armor.  You’re entrusted to protect those places, but in my moments of rage I would swiftly use them to my advantage.  You hurt me so now I will hurt you tenfold.  All the while, believing that, because I was demonstrating assertiveness, my partner would not think I was weak.  She would see I could stand up for myself and be even more in love with me.

There are numerous root causes for what is often deemed “toxic anger”, and much of it is pervasive in masculine culture.   Emotional vulnerability is not the paramount lesson of young boyhood, but it very well should be.  We teach our young men to “man up” and carry themselves with stoicism and boldness.  We advocate extremes that negate the multi-faceted emotional landscape of being a human.  Our parents do it.  Our coaches do it.  And our young men repeat it, and condition it into one another. 

As a child and teenager, I was never the strongest or most gifted athlete.  I cried easily, and I remember the jeers, heckling and even physical taunts of my peers-- both male and female.—because of it.  I was a fag, a pussy, or just a woman.  And I was desperate to relieve myself of what I saw as an inherently faulted personality.

So over the years, I used anger to defeat my fear of being ostracized.  It emboldened me.  When I roared, the room quieted.  The laughter stopped.  But mostly it caused devastation, and mistrust amongst my partners over the years. You lash out at loved ones enough, and eventually they will pull away.  I’m lucky in that my most recent partner loved me enough to tell me how much I was hurting her when I lashed out.  She encouraged me to seek help, therapy and healing to dissolve my anger.  She established her own boundaries, took space and time for herself.  That takes tremendous courage.  And love. 

And I still have flare ups.  Sometimes I take criticism of an action as criticism of me and before I know it I absolutely cannot be fucked with.  It’s my own version of going on a bender.  I reemerge bleary eyed, amazed at the damage I have caused in so little time.  It’s mortifying at first, but I learn more each time.  I write.  I speak to my therapist.  I cry.  Yes, I fucking weep, and I dig deep into the depths of emotional sludge that we try and hide away within ourselves and upchuck it onto the floor.  It’s messy and sometimes downright terrifying, but when you face it, it disappears.  Little by little. 

And I’ll take that.  Small steps.  Incremental pushes toward the light, toward good, toward healing.  A little more open, everyday.   

New Postcard Set!

Hey all! I've got a brand new, limited-edition set of "Desert" postcards coming for the holidays.  For those interested in prints, but wishing to get more for their dough! Check out the images below, and I'll post more info as they arrive.  Orders will cost $25 for a set of 10, taking about 2-3 weeks for delivery after ordering and printing.

E-mail: for inquiries! 

Return to Wyoming

Sera and I recently went back to my father's ranch in the Big Horn Basin of Wyoming for the second time this year, to decompress, visit family, and recuperate from a month of manic activity.  It continues to astound us the amount of mental clarity that comes when we remove ourselves from city life.  Traffic din and police choppers are replaced with the sounds of horse hooves on rain-cleansed soil, the migration calls of sandhill cranes and distant thunder cries across the mountain peaks.

The first day often feels like reverse culture shock, our bodies and thoughts unaccustomed to stillness and open space.  But after the first night's meal, and a poetry reading of the requisite Billy Collins poem "The Revenant" at the dining room table, we ease ourselves into the pace of ranch life.  By day, we help with whatever chores need to be done: weed pulling, laying irrigation pipe, mucking horse manure, tilling the soil for the Spring crop, and feeding the animals. 

The eight equine residents of the ranch--all of them rescues who work summers as therapy horses for the Wyoming Boys School and local war veterans--grazed just outside our summer camper.  Even after spending months with them as my bedroom window companions in the past, I still find them infinitely fascinating as creatures of healing power. 

A few days into our trip, we were visited by Sera's father Steve.  Having grown up on a farm himself, Steve took to the open space with the quiet contemplation of a man returning to a sacred space.  Our walk to the mud swallow nests at the cliffs above the canals brought an added serenity--unbeknownst to me, Steve has had a lifelong fascination with the swallow.  Their fervent swirling flight as we walked beside the cliffs brought him to a church-like calm.  

Now, at home beside our computers and electronic devices and demands and commitments, we find ourselves assessing and reassessing how we live.  Are we maintaining this Earth with the same commitment as my father and stepmother? Are we simply idealizing our trips to Wyoming since they are free of financial commitments to maintaining a ranch (while we visited, the irrigation canal needed emergency repair and one horse required medical care for anxiety-produced foot pain)? There's probably not a simple answer.  But we take solace in knowing that there's a refuge out there hidden away from the melee of the modern world.  A space for afternoon naps and home-cooked meals.  A space to just be, and breathe.

Projection LA

Last week, Sera and I drove past the derelict Sunset Pacific Motel--a long since abandoned apartment complex known locally as "The Bates Motel" due to it actually being on the corner of Bates and Sunset--and found it to be covered in white paint.   The installment turned out to be that of French artist Vincent LaMouroux, who got permission to limewash the neighborhood staple before developer Frost/Chaddock demolishes the building to make way for a 122-unit live/work/retail space.  A last hurrah before gentrification kicks in called #ProjectionLA.

I snapped a role on a bleary mid-afternoon, using what was--unbeknownst to me--a rejected overexposed role from Sera's point-and-shoot.  Our developer called me the night before I was set to pick up my processed scans, warning me that the shots were "reallllly white and overexposed" and were mostly "random double exposures".  In the end, the roll wasn't "perfect", but the beauty of film is that mistakes can become happy accidents.

ProjectionLA opens to the public on Sunday, April 26th.