Some years ago, a friend and I walked into a small coffee shop. In the back, a man was offering free palm readings, and being one always intrigued by things beyond the five senses, I sat down and presented my hand with high expectations. After a pause, the reader gently said, ‘you are very angry’. Not exactly what I had in mind. Surely he had to see much success in my career as a performing artist therefore, he had to be confusing the lines in my hand with someone else’s. What could I, the Queen of Effervescence, possibly be angry about? But despite my weak protests, he insisted and my supposed anger was all he talked about for the allotted 5-10 minutes. I felt like I wasted my money, then I remembered…I didn’t pay.
Fast-forward a few years; I’m artfully navigating the Seas of Life. Things were status quo-I was healthy, the bills were getting paid, I had wonderful friends and was in a fantastic relationship. Aside from the usual frustrations of the show biz life I had no major complaints though I couldn’t deny the quiet undertow of feeling off kilter, the sense of something being wrong without tangible evidence or incident. That being the case I did what a lot of us do, put it aside and focused on the day-to-day operations of my life. But one July 4th weekend I was forced to take a swim in the undertow, and come clean.
The city was in the throes of a heat wave, my honey had just left town so I had the place to myself. But he was barely gone a day before I had the absolute displeasure of a visitation from my ultimate phobia. A water bug. Now, water bugs are to me what mice, snakes, and spiders are to other people. The sight of them reduces me to an out of control wind up toy on speed. I just lose it. Since my protector was gone I had to slay the monster, and I wound up screaming and crying like a toddler in the terrible two stage, just pitiful. As I was unraveling, I knew something was truly amiss, but at the moment hysteria had a serious foothold and I was swept away in the torrent. Numb, the next day I faced myself. Why had I lost it like that? To get the answer, I knew I needed to dig deep and with care, like I was excavating in a sacred burial ground. Yes, I do abhor water bugs but gees I had carried on!
Something was truly consuming my soul and needed tending to. But what? A quiet voice responded, ‘you are full of rage. I’ve tried to tell you in many ways, but you wouldn’t listen.’ And in that moment, I knew Truth. I was full of pure, unadulterated, unfiltered, uranium rage. And no, it wasn’t that time of the month, nor did I just have a bad day. I was more than frustrated, more than angry; I was a fire-breathing behemoth behind an innocent looking face. Then Ms. Wise-in-Hymer speaks up, loudly. ‘Okay, we admit we’re enraged, but at what, pray tell?’ For a minute, I’m stumped. I’ve prided myself on staying connected; I have more self-help books than the library. I’m in touch with my inner children; we do lunch often. In the midst of my search, I came to this: you can recite affirmations to infinitum, but if you don’t clean house, and I mean truly clean house (like you do when important folks are coming over), you’re just putting perfume on over the funk. Every time I felt the bile rise, I’d shoot it down with a dose of Positive Thinking, never addressing the gnawing, just excusing it away. Anything to deny the underlying earthquake waiting to rock.
Now really, I was in no mood to go deep sea-soul searching. Having survived one of the most tumultuous times in my adult life, I thought the digging was over. My thirties began in the midst of an ugly, ugly long drawn out divorce featuring verbal and physical abuse. Add to that a no-win work situation where I battled with cast members constantly. And if that wasn’t enough drama, I was having an affair that was very destructive to my psyche and put me in harm’s way on more than one occasion. And, I lost my house. As a result, I had a constant, unrelenting pain that lived below my rib cage on the right side. Needless to say, breathing was not a cherished thing.
Now you know things are bad when you’re the smallest you’ve ever been since birth and you DON’T EVEN NOTICE!! So consumed by helplessness, I was in a period of acute depression and seriously contemplated suicide. One morning at 2am found me on the beach in Atlantic City, thinking if I just walked out into the ocean and kept going till I drowned, no one would miss me and the hurting would just, stop. To this day, I really don’t know what prevented me; the water beckoned so dark, peaceful and inviting, almost lulling me into a sense of peace. It looked like an answer. But not The answer. I pried myself away, headed back to the place I was staying and saw two very anxious and worried friends. So much for not being missed.
A vast amount of inner work got me through that excruciatingly bleak and endless period. I regained my fun-lovingness and laughter, making a pact with self that no matter how dim the light, I would always find something to laugh at. I learned to accept responsibility for my life’s choices, and stopped blaming others for my lot. And now here I was, with the discovery of toxic rage, festering in my living room, my soul! In the past, I thought I had gone as deep as I could go, why wasn’t it good enough? But inherently, I knew I was up for the task and it was imperative to my sense of well-being and happiness to keep digging. Again I asked, what could I possibly be enraged about? I knew it was beyond the obvious, which was the lack of a relationship with my father. I had been dealing with that off and on for years, and knew it was something even deeper, something I had never even considered.
Silence at first, then no, it’s NOT POSSIBLE! Now I understood why I hadn’t faced it in all these years. I was ashamed at the unearthing, how could I be mad at…my mother, a woman who had passed on when I was nine, over 30 years ago! We leave this earth when it’s our time and how could I have the right to be angry over something that is as inevitable as Death itself? How could I take my self seriously by admitting I harbored rage toward my mom? My beautiful mommy, the lady who used make my birthday cake with pink and blue icing. The lady who made all my clothes and let me play with her jewelry. The person who gave me my civics lessons like don’t stare at the nuns across from us on the bus because they look different. The one who could move her neck from side to side before Janet Jackson was a thought in her mom’s heart. Mommy, who explained death in a way I could understand at five years old. Death, when you go to sleep and don’t wake up.
My rational mind screamed, this finding was preposterous; of course you’re mad at your dad! Look at all the stuff he did to you, and then having the nerve, the gall to shun you! But I knew it was integral to the evolution of my being to deny it no longer. I was ticked off because mommy died on me. The floodgates opened. The more I came to terms with my truth without judgement, the more I sobbed. I was finally ready to deal with the loss, pain, and rage. I gave myself permission to feel the emotion, as irrational as it seemed.
All that I endured in my childhood was a direct result of her passing. The step-mom from hell moving in 5 months after and declaring her turf, making no bones about her disdain for me; a tyrannical dad who I think just snapped due to the guilt and sudden loss; loving relatives cast aside as a result of the fallout and rendered strangers. My entire world was turned upside down, and because things moved so fast and furiously, I didn’t have the time to mourn my loss. I followed the example of the adults in my life and moved on.
The last image I have of my her was through the doorway as I lay in bed, seeing her as a white cocoon wrapped in a sheet as they carried her out on a stretcher in the middle of the night. If I were a film director, I know exactly how that scene would be lit. I must have awakened just at that moment, having no recollection of hearing anything or anyone prior. I knew things were wrong with a child’s knowing, unable to express it like adults, but fully cognizant of events. I had asked for another orange late that evening and she said yes. There’s no way she would’ve said yes if she were up to snuff as my aunt would say. When I went to bed, dad wasn’t home and there was something so sad about my mom. When I think about it, she had been that way for almost a year; there was such a heaviness in her energy when she thought I wasn’t looking.
I was in the stupor of sleepiness when she was taken from our home. I had no idea that would be the last time I would see her. For two weeks I eagerly awaited her return, unaware she was laying in a coma. I stayed with my bible spouting grandma who railed on about the Last Days and Times, leading me to ask God not to destroy the world before I turned eighteen. I also asked that mommy would be OK so my brother and I could go home. But that was not to be.
I did what we’re taught to do. Move on. But I had only postponed the inevitable, the How Do I Feel about this life-altering event?? When I finally came to grips with all of this I felt like I had shed a hundred pounds. Not to say I could flip cartwheels, but I gained peace with self. And it’s an ongoing process, because I will always miss her, but I no longer harbor rage toward her and I have released it with no harm to myself or others. I know I am the person I am and live the life I lead because of the sum total of my experiences and choices and of that I’m proud. I love her and am thankful for the time we had. The things she taught me in her short time on earth stay in my heart and mind. Memories flood me that were once lost; remembering her drawing the snot out of my infant brother’s nose with her mouth because he couldn’t breathe has to go down as one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever witnessed. But what an extraordinary testament of love and though the eight-year-old was totally grossed out, her adult counterpart sees the lesson. Coming to terms with my anger created the freedom to rejoice in being a living product of her. And everyday I look in the mirror I see, her.
The more I talk to Nana and my great-aunt, the more I learn we have much in common. She wanted to be a dancer; I ended up dancing professionally. That bit of information recalled the memory of sitting impatiently outside the door of a dance studio, I guess I was about seven or eight and totally bored. She was taking a ballet class and thoroughly engrossed. Little did I know I would be doing the same moves years later.
Sometimes I serve as a judge at dance competitions. Two years ago, I was completing the score of a young contestant. I passed her sheet down, placed the next score sheet in front of me while I readied the tape recorder. I looked up in time for the start of the next contestant and the world ceased to exist. That smile, that face, that spirit, it was HER. I watched the two-minute routine in a haze of tears, the young artist was astounding and I was rocked to the core feeling an intense connection to my mom, as we co-existed in the same time. She was here, fulfilling her dream to dance. Now, was that truly my mom reincarnated? It doesn’t even matter. I do believe our loved ones are with us always and one must be open to receive the communication.
Meeting and releasing my rage has shown me how easy it is to delude oneself about inner health. Many of us are very diligent about getting that yearly doctor’s checkup, that mammogram, that pap smear, the dental appointment; but when it comes to how one is really doing inside, halting to tune in and listen to our inner selves, we’d rather not. In this technological age with barely enough time to breathe, inner health falls dead last in priorities. Volcanoes are brewing within and we do just enough to keep them at bay. But, ultimately it manifests by taking it out on our children, our mates, co-workers, employees, friends, strangers and ourselves. Checking in can seem self-indulgent, and it is. To realize one’s true self is to delve into Self. Ask questions, take inventory, take responsibility and make changes if you don’t like what you see. And while you cannot change the past, we have the power to change our attitude about it, hence how it ultimately affects us. Claiming, facing and letting go of anger releases its hold on us allowing the god-self to shine. The self that attracts kindness, joy, and peace. Though it doesn’t release us from our lessons, feeling better about the journey of life makes it worth living-and enjoying.
The tragic events of September 11th are a prime manifestation of rage coupled with hatred and the choice made in expressing it. Making others the object of one’s displeasure causes immense pain and torment and when the smoke clears, what was accomplished? Nothing. Just pain and destruction and life continues. Of course 9-11 was a much more complex situation, and I mean in no way to over-simplify that catastrophic event, but if we pause and realize what happens when rage isn’t dealt with the consequences are endless, sometimes startling sometimes tragic. Visualize everyone taking responsibility for our selves and treating others with compassion. It would change the world.