(Blog revised May 15th, 2012)
Anchors Away…Letting Go of Anger
“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”
Mothers can say the meanest things.
About a year ago, my mom and I were chatting on the phone. We made it through the first five minutes of me telling her about my life and then fifty-five minutes of her telling me, in graphic detail, about hers — and everyone else’s she happened to cross paths with over the previous days.
Then we got on to current events, which I admit keeping up with is not always on the top of my priority list. She asked me a question about a recent event mentioned in the news.
I wracked my brain, trying to recall if I’d heard anything it. I drew a blank.
“No,” I said.
“Oh for God’s Sakes,” she snapped. “You’re an embarrassment to the family!”
Now, I know my mother didn’t literally mean this. Rather, she was just telling me, in her own odd way, that I should keep more up-to-date on world affairs.
As such, I could justify her comment by explaining that, despite the nasty remark, my mom is actually a loving, caring person who is very proud of me. But that’s not what this article is about.
This article is about the timing of receiving that nasty comment — and what happened next.
Although there’s never really a good time to receive a verbal jab like that, my mother’s timing was particularly potent. For I’d just spent the previous three days diligently preparing to give the keynote presentation at a workplace safety conference — about the circumstances that had led to my husband’s death, which was the result of a preventable fall at an unsafe workplace.
So being told I was an embarrassment to the family was the last thing I needed to hear at that point in time. Public speaking on any topic requires significant confidence and self-esteem. Speaking about a personal tragedy also requires courage and support.
And there was my mother, telling me I was an embarrassment to the family because I hadn’t listened to the news that week.
I was so astounded — and hurt — that I had no comeback. Instead, I quickly ended the call and then burst into tears in my kitchen. It was as if I was suddenly able to see, with painful clarity, how my mom still perceived me: as a little girl who could be controlled through cruel comments. For truth be told, that had been the status quo for much of my life up till then.
Call it an Irish temper, call it a nasty comment, call it a manipulative mother, call it what you will…verbal abuse is emotional abuse and it’s not acceptable.
So, there in my kitchen, I finally found the courage to say, “Thus far and no farther.”
But I didn’t say it to my mom — not on the phone that day nor in the weeks to follow. I said it to myself…and I meant it. I accepted that I cannot change who my mom is, what she thinks, what she says, or how she treats people.
All I can change is what I’ll put up with and how I will allow myself to be treated.
Still, I continued to cry on and off for the rest of that evening and then started again on Sunday morning. Then in an ironic twist to this story, I picked up the newspaper (better get up-to-date on current events!) and came across an article about an old anchor being found off the coast of South Carolina. Historians thought it was an anchor from the pirate, Blackbeard’s, ship.
Alongside the article, there was a photo of the anchor, moments after it was pulled from the water. You could see all sorts of sea creatures clinging to it. However, not surprisingly, it wasn’t the sea’s most beautiful specimens adhering to an anchor at the bottom of the ocean. Rather, it was the significantly less desirable-looking — but still important — creatures stuck to said anchor, apparently attracted to the decomposing iron.
Upon thinking further about this photo and article during a walk in the woods later that Sunday morning, the writer in me couldn’t help but see a parallel between the ugly anchor and my anger at my mother’s rude comment. It wasn’t just her remark that had hurt; it was the blatant disrespect to me as a person.
So right there in the woods, I metaphorically hauled a rusty old anchor of my own out of my psyche — and held it up to the light to have a look. It was really ugly and had all sorts of nasty-looking things dangling from it!
The image in my mind was so clear, I could practically see all my mother’s disrespectful jabs, mean comments, rude remarks, and unrealistic demands over the years, clinging to an anchor that had been weighing me down far too long.
A flood of memories came rushing to the surface: her ridiculous behaviour during the planning of my wedding, her wreaking havoc on my marriage and then, when I became a young widow, her manipulation of my time…until I finally found the courage to leave the familiar waters of my hometown and seek new shores.
But I had obviously dragged the anchor along with me to my new life. And boy, did it feel good to haul that horrid and heavy old thing out!
Sorry to the sea creatures getting a bad rap in this story but as a metaphor, they are perfect to explain our old hurts. For if we don’t deal with the uglier things — hurtful comments, toxic relationships, tragic events, etc. — that have caused us pain in the past, then we can’t get them out of our heart, mind, and soul.
Rather, the negative bits just stay there, stuck to a decomposing anchor that’s attracting even more hurts.
So once I’d yanked the anchor out of me, what became of all those wee creatures clinging to it? Out of the water, surely they’d die. And well they should. That’s the point of pulling them out! The deep-rooted anger, resentment, and old hurts I’d been harbouring were gone; what remained was forgiveness.
For she is my mom and I love her very much. I just don’t have to always like her. And I certainly don’t have to tolerate rude comments.
So then the question became: what to do with the anchor?
Well, as luck would have it, I happened to be going on a cruise with my family the following week — and my mother and I shared a room with a balcony. In other words, I had the perfect opportunity to return that old anchor from whence it came 🙂
But it wasn’t my mom I wanted to throw overboard. Rather, it was all the old anger that got the metaphorical toss.
More than a year has passed now, since my mom made that mean comment. And I am pleased to report there has been none since. Granted, she’s getting older and I’m getting wiser. But I also suspect that me letting go of old anger has lightened both of us up.
So here’s to anchors away…lighten the load and let the healing begin.
Maryanne Pope is the author of A Widow’s Awakening and the playwright of Saviour. Maryanne is the CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions and the Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund. To read more mothering-related blogs, please check out Mothering Matters.