Anger is often called a secondary emotion because we tend to resort to anger in order to protect ourselves from or cover up other vulnerable feelings. A primary feeling is what is felt immediately before we feel anger. We almost always feel something else first before we get angry. We might first feel afraid, attacked, offended, disrespected, forced, trapped, or pressured. If any of these feelings are intense enough, we think of the emotion as anger. (www.creducation.org)
After I was past the worst of the anguish from that last painful episode, I continued to have lingering feelings of unease. Not debilitating, but nagging at the back corners of my mind. My instincts were kicking in. Something was just not right with Blue Eyes. On good days Blue Eyes seems happy and content. He goes about the day without appearing angry or resentful and our life together is enjoyable. On Sunday he had deftly dealt with my visiting family and did not appear annoyed with me. He eased into Sunday night, attended his Buddhist meditation, we enjoyed a healthy late dinner together, read a little, and another week was in the books.
Blue Eyes is now more than five weeks post hip replacement surgery, and I believe most of his pain has receded, but then, he had physical therapy on Monday and she (the physical therapist, we like to call her the drill sergeant) asked him to stop taking ibuprofen. He has been off the other stronger meds since the week after surgery, but he quickly replaced them with his regular OTC drug of choice, ibuprofen. She said she thought it a good idea if he lived with the pain to gauge just exactly where and how much he was feeling. In other words, not to immediately medicate at the first sign of any discomfort. Well, Blue Eyes is an addict. He doesn’t like pain of any kind, and, he doesn’t like being told he can’t have his drugs. We went round and round about the drugs post surgery. I was in charge of them and tried to gauge his need for them versus his want for them. After the PT’s edict, I could see the resentfulness peering out from under Blue Eyes’ otherwise controlled veneer when he told me about the drill sergeant’s request. He has said numerous times since then, like a defiant child, “I can take pain meds if I need them.” I believe he is getting this off some internet source or another. Many talk about how the lingering pain from this kind of surgery can last for months. Blue Eyes will take any excuse to numb his pain. I am aware of this. The bigger issue is his resentfulness and anger at being told he should not be taking pain medication. He is on his own on this one, but I could see the little cracks starting to appear.
Then, Monday early evening Blue Eyes burst into my office and started talking about an assignment he had been given by his therapist the week before. I had no idea where he was at with his therapist, nor what they were working on at the moment. He said his therapist had asked him to go back to his childhood and think about the feelings and emotions surrounding his illnesses and surgeries of the past. He started rambling on about how he had gone on the internet and researched his old surgeon and had come to find out that he had been one of the surgeon’s few early failures. Blue Eyes had extensive surgery on his digestive system when he was a teenager. He had suffered from Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis since he was 6, and Ulcerative Colitis since he was 10. Apparently, depending on the situation, they often wait to perform surgery on children until they are sure the child will not outgrow the illness or that it does not go into remission on its own. In terms of the colitis, that meant years of abdominal and digestive pain. When he did finally receive the surgery to repair the diseased intestines, he was relieved and lived a fairly normal lifestyle (except for the occasional debilitating bout with the arthritis) for a few years. He finished out high school and was two years into college when the surgery failed. I met Blue Eyes at this time in his life, as his body was rejecting him once again. I have never known a completely healthy Blue Eyes. Perhaps there never was a healthy Blue Eyes.
Back to my office… he is angry. No doubt about it he is pissed off that he was one of the few failures, a guinea pig if you will. Because of the lack of success of that first operation, he had to have numerous subsequent operations. I was with him for all of them. I start to ask him what the point of this assignment is, the one given to him by his therapist? He says he doesn’t know. He is just supposed to go back to his childhood and remember the feelings from when he was sick and what he felt when he had surgery. Right now all I see is anger. But, from what I know about it, anger stems from other emotions. Blue Eyes was the first to come home from therapy way back when and talk about how anger is a secondary emotion.
Anger is a Secondary Emotion
What many people don’t realize is that anger is a secondary emotion. What does this mean? Typically, one of the primary emotions, like fear or sadness, can be found underneath the anger. Fear includes things like anxiety and worry, and sadness comes from the experience of loss, disappointment or discouragement.
Feeling fear and sadness is quite uncomfortable for most people; it makes you feel vulnerable and oftentimes not in control. Because of this, people tend to avoid these feelings in any way they can. One way to do this is by subconsciously shifting into anger mode. In contrast to fear and sadness, anger can provide a surge of energy and make you feel more in charge, rather than feeling vulnerable or helpless. Essentially, anger can be a means of creating a sense of control and power in the face of vulnerability and uncertainty.
Let’s look at a few examples. When anger arises between couples sometimes there’s a fear of abandonment underneath. In these instances, it’s a combination of fear and anticipatory loss that can fuel the anger. Uncertainty – when you lack ample information and things feel amorphous – can also trigger anger. Why? Because uncertainty touches upon the “unknown,” which tends to be scary for most people. Even boredom can generate anger or irritation because there can be a subtle sense of loss or fear associated with the experience of not engaging in something stimulating or productive.
While having some “sense of control” is correlated with greater emotional wellbeing, excessive desire for control only leads to suffering, as it’s impossible to always be in control, especially of other people’s behavior. (healthpsych.com)
So, here we sit in my office with Blue Eyes exhibiting obvious anger, but he is unable to put it all into perspective. He is stunted. He was a lonely, emotionally starved child who felt like he wasn’t good enough, that he wasn’t lovable. He lived with fear and anxiety every day. His parents did and said cruel things and Blue Eyes felt bad about his body, and bad about himself. This all spiraled into addictive behaviors that have been with him since he was a child. WE KNOW ALL THIS ALREADY FOR FUCK’S SAKE. This is when I start to lose it. It is so fucking difficult to keep going back over and over and over this shit without a big huge fucking lightbulb going off above Blue Eyes’ head. How can he not get this already? How can he not understand what happened to him? How can he not heal from it? I know it all takes time, but I am growing impatient. I continue to ask him if he understands the point of the exercise he has been given by his therapist. I mean not only has he procrastinated on completing the assignment until the night before therapy, but he seems to have lost track of the “why.” Blue Eyes can see that I have had enough and he leaves my office. We abandon the conversation there.
Later that night, The Peacemaker and I make the mistake of getting caught up in a men’s singles Australian Open tennis match and stayed up way too late. Finally when the outcome of the match is an obvious inevitability, I stop watching and decide to call it a night. It is about 1:30am and I need to be somewhere in the morning. Blue Eyes has been dozing for an hour or so. As I commence my bedtime ritual, Blue Eyes wakes up. He wants to talk. We talk about how he has been feeling unsettled since he found out the severity of his hip situation and since he decided to have surgery. He says he knows he has not been doing well in his addiction recovery since this time. That his progress has stagnated because of his fear about the surgery, and his anger post surgery due to the physical pain. He said he has been discussing this with his therapist and thus the assignment to go back and visit his feelings from childhood. My instincts were correct, there has been something going on for the past two months, something that Blue Eyes kept inside himself, except when he decided to share with his therapist. As we struggle as a couple, in my mind, it is once again because Blue Eyes is hiding what is really going on inside and exhibiting behaviors that frankly, turn me off.
My instincts tell me to ask him if during all this time, since finding out there is no cartilage left in his hip, finding out he would need surgery and that in fact the surgery would happen within the month, during his obsessive researching of how the surgery would be performed and what the recuperation would be, while attending numerous pre-operative appointments, and then finally during his hospital stay and after, did he think about calling the other woman. I know he was scared of surgery. He has this horrible childhood history and lingering feelings associated with it. I know he didn’t want to have the replacement. I know he probably felt alone, lonely, and anxious and because he hasn’t really mastered his addiction yet, he is not recovered yet, he needed something to help him cope.
You see, I know Blue Eyes used the other woman. He used the thought of the other woman and the sex with the other woman to ease his own feelings of fear and anxiety. He used this fantasy version of her to cope with life. He pretended in his mind that she was that loving mother figure he never had. She wasn’t really. The way I have described her is accurate to everything I know about her including her stalking and bullying behaviors towards me, but he lived in a deep dark world lacking any resemblance to reality. He exhibited a long drawn out pattern exacerbated by the fact that he was unable to share his true feelings with anyone real in his life. DOES ANYONE ELSE SEE WHERE I AM GOING WITH THIS???
So, as we sat there talking at 3:30-ish in the morning, Blue Eyes said he had struggled and he did have those feelings that in the past had prompted him to call the other woman. As recently as July, 2013 Blue Eyes called and texted obsessively, met up with, and had sex with the other woman all because he had been hospitalized for intestinal blockage and due to a botched procedure at the hospital, he had had to stay there for seven days. I was at home taking care of his 10 week old puppy. If I had known he was an addict and couldn’t be left alone for fear of his loneliness and anxiety taking over the rational part of him and leading him into an addictive state, I would have scheduled round the clock visitors. He wouldn’t have spent one minute alone, and he wouldn’t have spent one second with that horrifying other woman. But I didn’t know, and the rest is history. This time, however, I was by his side. I was right there after the x-ray of his hip. I was right there when the doc gave the prognosis. I was there for every appointment. I listened to him over and over describe what would happen during the surgery. I was at the hospital EVERY SINGLE SECOND of the time he was there. I brought him home. I took care of his every need. I WAS THERE AND I WAS NURTURING AND LOVING AND KIND AND GENTLE. I made him all his meals and doled out meds, brought him drinks, and ice packs. I helped him in and out of bed and took on and off those damn compressive stockings. I brought him books, and electronics. I watched movies with him and I loved him to the extent humanly possible, and, and, and, IT JUST WASN’T ENOUGH.
He did not call the other woman. He did not do anything to threaten his beloved sobriety, but he did struggle. And he still struggles. The pain of his childhood is etched into every fiber of his being. When he can’t cope, he hides. When he hides, anxiety and fear turn into anger and resentment and without his traditional coping drug, guess who the resentment is directed at. Yeah. Life ain’t fair is probably the greatest understatement ever spoken. I told him I understood how difficult it is for him to manage those demons but that he needed to be honest and open with me when he is struggling. I need to know why those angry emotions are seeping through the surface. I need to be able to put things into perspective. Harboring secret feelings is destructive to both of us. I had no idea his hip surgery had conjured so many negative memories and emotions from his childhood or frankly that he is STILL unable to manage those emotions.
Yesterday morning we dragged ourselves out of bed with maybe five hours of sleep to work with. I had to be somewhere. Blue Eyes offered to make me breakfast and I accepted, and then he did. Since we started the Whole30, I have prepared 90% of the meals for the three of us. I welcomed the offer of food that I didn’t have to prepare. During breakfast he was quiet. He was running up against his therapy appointment and he was running out of time to take a shower. Before leaving the house, I headed downstairs to wish him a good day and that I hoped he was able to work some things out in therapy. We met on the stairway and he just looked at me resentfully, most likely blaming me for his not having time to shower. He said nothing to me. I was running 20 minutes late, but I didn’t want to leave on a stressed note. Turns out I didn’t get my wish. Truth be told, I have given him plenty of resentful looks and exerted a lot of anger his way both pre- and post-dday, but I have never betrayed him in the name of anything and I still get those little hits of trauma that scare me. The look he gave me at that moment was one of pure disdain. If he had been honest at that exact point in time, I mean truly honest, I think he would have said “just stop talking you fucking bitch, you have already cost me my shower. I don’t care what you think or say right now” (he would never of course say those words… he has never called me a name, but if there were no filters and he was really being honest, well). I turned around and walked up the stairs and left the house with that look stuck in my head. It seems, I just can’t win.
To be continued…