Another afternoon conversation with one of my best girlfriends went like this:
“Well, I am really proud of you. You fought back and you’re not a fighter,” my friend with a smile. Her remark was in response to my son’s most recent IEP meeting. I had not backed down. I stood my ground when they were trying to remove services. They were telling me he was doing well, despite the fact that he was going into Fourth grade and unable to use capitalization and punctuation. By the end of the meeting, they were giving me the additional testing I wanted. They had acquiesced.
For some reason, her comment hurt. Of course I’m a fighter, I thought. Geeze, one of my favorite sports to watch is UFC. Conor McGregor is the most arrogant showman, but his unhinged fighting style keeps me constantly entertained. Nothing brought me more joy than watching him run around the ring after winning another championship to become the lightweight and featherweight champion. He was just screaming with his thick, Irish brogue, “Bring me me other belt!”
I know she intended this as a compliment. I know her intent was to show that I could be strong, and I nodded and smiled back, but later, the words haunted me. You are not a fighter. You are not a fighter. The words cycled through over and over again and the feelings of inadequacy and annoyance came with them. I started to question. If I am not a fighter, I asked myself, then how do I do all of this? How did I leave a marriage that was completely wrong for me, start over as a single mom, and get up each and every day to work and fully support my boys? Don’t you need to be a fighter to do that?
I know she’s a “fighter”. She gets in the ring, puts on her gloves, and delivers some great punches. She will go to bat for anyone she feels has been taken advantage of or wronged. She uses words and phrases that cut people into shreds and causes them to retreat into themselves. She always has a cause to stand behind. There is always something that “isn’t okay” and she needs to step up. I felt that she was telling me that I am weak. I lack the strength that she has to be a fighter.
When I get angry, upset, I become quiet. Sometimes I cry. My words become sparse and I have no desire to attack anyone. When someone is not doing what I like or giving me what I want, my first response is not to blame them. I question myself. I question my own feelings. The feelings of anger in my body are uncomfortable. It feels like a scratchy suit that is entirely too tight. I don’t want these feelings inside of me.
I have read that there are no wrong emotions, and one needs to be open to all of them. One must allow emotions to pass through. Observe the feeling, detach from the feeling. Pema Chodron speaks about this in her text When Things Fall Apart. If you are looking for spiritual guidance through tough times, I highly recommend this book. If you can get the audio book, which is read by Pema Chodron, you will not be disappointed. Pema Chodron was married and she divorced her husband for another man. She remarried and years later she arrived home from work and her second husband told her that he was leaving her for another woman. Talk about difficult emotions. This event signaled an ending of sorts. She found her current spiritual practice and is now a Buddhist monk. She helps people to navigate through their own emotions and spiritual speed bumps.
But this is not how I feel about anger. I don’t want to feel it at all. I want it gone, banished. I worry about how anger in me looks to others. I apologize for it. I become immobile. Clearly, my friend’s words touched a sensitive nerve in me. I did not want to be viewed as weak, but there is no part of me that ever wants to be angry. Is there a way to be balanced? Is there a way to be both?
I started to really question what is true strength. Is strength allowing our emotions with no reaction? Is strength using that anger to motivate and push us to undo the wrongs that we see? Is strength cycling through our anger and exploding on someone else so that he/she understands what we are feeling? None of these things sound like strength to me.
Perhaps I am not a fighter after all…