The Alchemy of Rage

The Alchemy of Rage

In the weeks that have followed my break-up, I have had to contend with rage. At the outset of the break-up, I had the sampler of emotions: remorse, regret, rage, sadness, hurt, bitterness. They were prepped fast food style and served out immediately to whoever was closest at hand. Often I dumped them on my first wife* but I also dumped this on others.

The “whys” of why I am in this state are two fold. First, I wanted to end the marriage. When the situation became clear, I seized the opportunity to end the relationship. Why are we heading for a divorce? Because I wanted out. Second, she gave me an abundance of good reasons to get out, so I took them all as sufficient overkill to end it. The “why” of why she did what she did to me is her own deal. It won’t repair anything to know. I know that after a series of painful legal and financial procedures, I will be unencumbered by what her wiring made her do. She will have that in her head forever and so be it. I am pretty good at getting inside of people’s heads, so I have lots of work to do to purge what I have adopted that I now need to abandon.

Still, there is a phantom limb problem that has manifested. I get angry. When I had to sit in a doctor’s office for an hour, I bloomed this sense of injustice and rage. The doctor wanted to prescribe an array of anti-depressants. I was quizzed on whether I had been arrested recently or had suicidal thoughts. Because of my work scheduling, I use my lunch hours to exercise, to work toward the physical component of The Rebuild. When I see a doctor, I have to forego lunch and the exercise so that I can manage the appointment. Seeing a doctor makes me less healthy. I cannot lash out at the doctor who doesn’t know how to heal, only prescribe. I cannot lash out at the drivers on my route from the doctor’s office to the house. I cannot lash out at friends and loved ones. I cannot lash out at my first wife. I feel a lot of sympathy for her. So I have a cocktail of rage, pity and love. When I feel selfish, I cut her down. When I feel the pity, I talk about her getting the help she needs. When I feel love, I feel good. The problem with love: it’s confused with reconciliation by others. Nothing is getting reconciled and mended. It’s like my fondness for Diet Coke. Some days I crave a bottle of Diet Coke (mmm… inorganic material that mimics sugar…); I haven’t had one for a couple months. The craving doesn’t turn into a change in behaviour. Love and pity: those emotions manifest as benign things. The rage does not.

What do I do with the rage? There are three routes:

Explosion. I can unleash my rage every time I feel it. Every time some new betrayal surfaces. Every time I discover how much harder my life has become. Every time I remember something. That’s a dynamite factory. No one’s buying dynamite these days.

Burying. I can suppress it. I can force it down like another painful memory. I had actually gotten really good at making pain into amnesia. There are people who have wronged me who I have largely forgotten who they are and what they did. Even now, the last 18 years is evaporating in my head. So many things are getting purposefully hazy. But buried bodies can surface, so burying has problems.

Alchemy. I can transform the pain into something new, better and productive. There are ways to turn this anger into something positive.

The Alchemy

Don’t bottle it. Own up to it.  From Moby Dick: “He piled upon the whale’s white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart’s shell upon it. ” Rage isn’t good, but it’s better to spend that counterfeit currency rather than keep it in your wallet. Rage is a blunt instrument, so I use it to accomplish blunt things. If I have to get up a steep hill, I surface my rage and literally scream up that hill. The blur of anger takes me away from the suffering of the climb. When I am done, I am too spent to care and the rage, for a moment, has been spent out.

Couple rage with other physical outlets. Run. Don’t jog. RUN! Pick a track or a route and sprint. Sprint until your endurance is tapped out. In my case, I sprint until my legs give out. I need a t-shirt that reads “I am actually okay” so that people don’t think, “there’s another dead fat man.” I can take a fall. I can lie there until I catch my breath. The intention is to zero out the bank account of fury through exertion.

Find a healthy outlet for a blow out. For example, volunteer to help with a demolition project. Put on some gloves and tear that thing apart. Remember that rage and precision are infrequent allies.

Maybe your rage can be shaved into the shape of a scalpel with enough work. It can fuel you with determination. It can backup your convictions and your attitude. If you are facing a difficult situation and converted rage is simmering below the surface, people will not distinguish conviction all of its own from conviction fueled by “never again.”

One friend transforms her upset into her music and lets her music be the way she expels her emotions. Her pain turns into art.


Getting Help

Self help and spending rage may not get someone the whole distance. Trauma can be transformed, managed and dissipated through different forms of professional therapy. I am working through trauma. One person’s BDSM is another person’s spousal abuse. Without delving into the depths, I react to it as though it is painful. The process of The Rebuild will get me to a place where the pain is less and maybe even successfully transformed. Along the way, there is a lot of merit to getting help.

In researching the topic of PTSD, there wasn’t a great deal available on the intersection of trauma and bad break-ups. This post,!__about-ptsd/effective-treatments does have some strategies through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). The general components of CBT for anxiety disorders are:

  1. Cognitive therapy-a systematic effort to change anxious thinking and beliefs.
  2. Exposure therapy-using exposure to feared objects and situations in order to decrease conditioned fear reactions.
  3. Education regarding the disorder and its causes.
  4. Arousal management strategies-using relaxation exercises and other techniques to lower the physical symptoms of anxiety.

Some of the treatments:

Prolonged Exposure (PE): This protocol for PTSD has been well researched, with numerous studies demonstrating its effectiveness.  The program has all of the core components for CBT for PTSD, including cognitive restructuring, education, arousal management strategies, and exposure therapy.  The protocol strongly emphasizes the exposure component of therapy.

Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT): This is another CBT-based protocol for PTSD.  This treatment program was originally developed for use with sexual assault victims, but has been successfully adapted for use with combat veterans.  The protocol contains education, arousal management, and a heavy emphasis on cognitive therapy.  The protocol has a much smaller exposure therapy component, with having patients repeatedly imagine their trauma as the main exposure therapy.

Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing therapy (EMDR): This is a controversial but popular therapy and is currently listed as an effective therapy in the DoD/VA guidelines for PTSD.  This therapy largely centers on having patients recall and describe their trauma memories, while the therapist makes movements with their finger or an object in front of the patients face.  The patient holds their head still and follows the movement with their eyes, helping to reprogram and desensitize the traumatic nature of these memories.  This obviously incorporates imaginal exposure to traumatic memories, and this is likely the reason that the therapy works.  While the eye movements have been shown to be unnecessary, and the theory behind the use of eye movements has been show to be scientifically unsound, the overall therapy has been show to help patients with PTSD.


Refined Goods vs. Raw Logs

Being Canadian, I am used to seeing cargo ships sail out of Vancouver laden with raw logs, minerals and other unrefined goods bound for ports overseas. We’re abundant yet we ship the good elsewhere to be converted into something of high value.

I could spew raw hate at the world, but that’s a low value commodity. It’s ubiquitous. Converting hate into something refined and effective doesn’t disown hatred as much as it uses it for some decent end goal.

In converting hatred into determination; rage into focus; and hurt into art; one can take something bad and make something good out of it.  Determination, focus and art: those are high value refined goods.


* I am calling the wife who I have left, my “first wife” as opposed to my “ex-wife.” It doesn’t undo who she was, she is just in my past.