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Is it Anger or is it Something Else?

8 August 2023:


One of my professors in college shared with our class how she believed that sexism and other crimes against women were a larger scale issue in the world than racism. She was a woman who spoke 11 languages, earned a Ph.D, a published author, was from South Africa, survived apartheid but witnessed her three year old son and husband murdered right in front of her. Her declaration confused me. I never understood her point of view as I saw issues surrounding race as the most prominent. This maintained my perspective until the day I found out that my dad had been cheating on my mom throughout my life.


Before I press on, I do want to say that infidelity and the devastation it brings does not only occur by just men. That belief would be sexist as women are offenders too. I believe it is in every way a human issue. That said, this is my story.


In October of 2022 during my second session with my new therapist (the Black woman officer with locs), I explained to her that I was extremely angry. I was angry at my dad for what he did to my mom. I was angry at the Air Force institution as a whole as some of my experiences left me feeling uncared for, neglected, used, and burnt out. I was angry with the deliberate and complicit institutionalization of racism in America, white supremacy and the daily impact it had and was having on me and others like me. I was angry at myself for not knowing how to cope with it all; for no longer knowing who I was.


"What is this anger doing for you? Is it serving you?" My therapist asked. " Probably not, but it's how I feel. I'm so angry all the time," I told her.


"Is it anger that you feel or something else?" She asked. I stared at her blankly. "It's anger. I am ANGRY...What else could it be?" I said.


"Is it anger that you are feeling or is it possible that what you feel is hurt?"


That was it. She said the word hurt and I instinctively felt my eyes swelling.


My therapist then broke out the white board and drew a volcano. She explained that I had been experiencing hurts all throughout my life and pushed through them but the events of last year created the catalyst for my volcano to erupt which had left me in the current state I was in. The hurts that I had pushed into my subconcious, had reached the surface of my counciousness and I was overwhelmed by it.


Leaving her office I thought about how I had been feeling or better understood my emotions to be anger for the majority of the year. Prior to this year, I considered myself to be a relatively happy, motivated, hopeful person but this pain foundationally changed me. I internally began to see myself as another "Angry Black woman," and started to understand why so many Black women were seen and categorized that way. This world makes us this way, were my thoughts. When I first learned of my fathers betrayal I felt my world flip upside down. I had felt betrayal from boys/men before in different ways and even though this technically was not a transgression against me, my heart broke for my mom, my whole family and the news was so out of allignment with who I had known my dad to be; the character I knew him to possess, it made me question every reality I had ever known. I wondered if my own dad could do this to my mom, than how can I trust that any man could be trusted? I lost all confidence in my ability to discern truth because what I had known to be true all my life, was now untrue. I wondered, how can any person to include my own self, really love me or see my worth?


My mind continued to replay events and agressions experienced in my own life as well as those I read about or observed in other Black women. My dad who I felt safe with, had so much trust in, who I never saw as perfect but was undeniably a person who inspired me, I now saw on the same plane as every man who told me I was ugly, betrayed me, lied to me, used me, compared me to White, Asian and Hispanic women and told me to my face that I was not their preference, and so on. When I asked my dad why he did what he did, in one of his responses he shared, "I believed your mom's place was to comfort me. I didn't realize that I had a responsibilty to comfort her too."


My mom's place?? Who is this person? I thought. I had never. EVER. Heard such misogyny and sexism come out of my dad's mouth before in my life. He never raised me or my sister to have a "place" below shooting for the stars. He literally bought me a book when I was a little girl, about a woman who went into space and encouraged me to become an astronaut. And I never heard him use words like that prior to describe my mom. "Daddy, who are you?" I thought. "This is not who I know you to be. Where did this mindset come from? You have daughters... Is that how you see us to be a comfort or object for men? Is this really who you are?"


It overwhelmingly began to feel, like this world took, used, abused, neglected, disrespected, dehumanized, gaslighted and continued to conjure up new ways to obliterate us women. ESPECIALLY us Black women. I've learned to expect this from the world but I didn't realize I had to watch out for this so closely within my own family.


Through my reflection I began to understand the sources of the "attitude" or "defensiveness" "hardened" "bitter" "extreme independence" "guarded" qualities that so many people (to include other Black people) associate Black women to possess. I lived the majority of my life believing and striving not to be a part of this stereotype but at the end of the day, I too was left to draw the same conclusions: my life experiences left me consumed in a persistent state of rage. A rage that I no longer desired to mask.


But my therapists words caused me to question this worldview. I then asked myself, "What if I replaced the word 'Angry' in 'Angry Black Woman' to 'Hurt'. 'Hurt Black Woman.' I began to see each of us Black women differently. I began to see myself differently. I saw our humanity.


In the first year of learning the news about my parents I chose to confide in some of my close friends for support. The thing about hurt, while I wouldn't wish this pain on anyone, is that it can create an opportunity for connection with people in ways you may have never been able to before. "My dad cheated on my mom back in high school and our relationship has never been the same since...I tried to make it work with him but we no longer speak. He is pretty sexist...When I get married I guess I'll walk my own ass down the aisle...the situation does make me sad because I don't have that part of my life. But I choose to focus on the healthy relationships I do have," said one friend. Five months after I had learned the news about my dad's actions and I was struggling with accepting my reality just weeks before my own wedding, another friend shared, "Did I ever tell you about my dad? How he created an entirely new family while married to my mom? I don't have a relationship with him today because he wasn't very involved in my life and was a shitty dad." Or "I went through the same thing with my dad. He cheated on my mom too." Another person shared how her father refuses to claim her as he says, "she is too dark skin" and all his "other kids are light." Another friend shared how her father lived states away from her for the majority of her life and "hid" her from his family. He kept her as a "secret" and only wanted to acknowledge her as his daughter after she was a grown adult and it convenienced him. She feels abandoned by him.


I looked at my friends in astonishment as none of them had EVER shared those stories with me. Just as the little girl in me was grieving the loss of who she believed her dad was and was in mourning for this relationship, I saw the little girl in each of my adult friends and saw they too harbored the scar of a daddy wound. Each of us had an immersion lesson in living with a broken heart. There also was no exclusivity to this primal wound as each one of my friends varied on the color scale from Black, White, Asian, multicultural-biracial, the list goes on.


In March of 2023, I felt a restlessness in me. I needed to get out. Get away from my day-to-day life. Get out of the country. Get out of my own head. I needed some direction for where to take my career and life, or reassurance that the path I'm on in my approach to seeking healing for myself is safe for me to trust. So I decided to book a ticket for a healing retreat to Belize that was led by the author of one of the books I'm reading. The retreat would begin in June.


In the months leading up to the retreat I started experiencing what I believed to be illogical thoughts. I started re-examining every memory from my childhood on my parents relationship. I reflected on their arguments and my responses to them. "Were there signs of the betrayal?" I asked myself. "Did my mom ever know?" I started to become convinced that maybe she did know at some point. This mentality made me angry as the fallout from this betrayal not only impacted me but was impacting my own marriage.


By the time June arrived while enroute to Belize I decided to have a lengthy layover stateside so that I could visit with my parents and siblings. They picked me up at the Airport and we then went to a local Cafe, to lounge and catch up. I tried to be civil because I did miss them. I missed and loved each of them so much. By this point I had forgiven my dad and was on speaking terms with him but seeing my mom and dad together, still being a couple, made me feel enraged.


Despite internally believing that my feelings were not facts. Despite me knowing better that the actions of my father were not my mothers fault, I took it all out on my mom. My own internalized sexism.


"Why are you staying with him?! I don't believe that you didn't know, how could you not know?!?!.... Why did you accept this?!?"

We moved the conversation from inside the coffee shop to outside where the conversation could be more discrete (a concern of my dad) but I didn't care. I spent so much of my life living, respecting, and honoring the images of other people. My parents, especially my dad, were ring leaders in how to do this. I was tired of always concerning myself with how others could view me. No more. "I feel guarded around you two." I told them." I feel like our whole family is fake!"


My mom took offense to my words and shared how she didn't know anything about my Dad's behaviour and she never looked the other way. My dad jumped in to her defense, "There was no way she would have known, Kristin." My brother retaliated by sharing similar feelings as me in feeling guarded and fake. My sister ultimately chimed in with words of wisdom in how she has boundaries with our parents for her own health and marriage and encouraged me to do similarly.


By the time I made it to Belize my head was in a mess of confusion. My goals for the retreat were not to revisit the situation with my parents but to find clarity in the direction I go in my career. Yet that emotional encounter was on my mind and I began to feel like I had regressed in my healing journey.


By day two of the retreat we visited the ancient Mayan site Xunantunich which once was home to over 2,000 Mayan residents. We hiked to the top of the pyramid known as El Castillo. Unlike other Mayan pyramids like Chichen Itza in Mexico, El Castillo is one that visitors can climb. While on the top I felt accomplished and caught views of Guatemala and the surrounding Belizean jungle. The sky was sunny and the light from the sun cascaded through the clouds as if the light was ready to ascend any one of us into heaven. I let the light hit me and soaked under it.


There were a little over 12 of us on the retreat. Each of us were Black women ranging in ages from 30 to 65 and all of us were on our own individual quest for healing and we all were connected by seeking healing through getting more connected to our African culture (before slavery). By the time we each returned to the bottom of El Castillo it surprisingly started to rain and thunder. Abiola Abrams, the leader of the retreat, encouraged us to hold our hands up to the sky, close our eyes and call out to the ancestors.


I didn't have an ancestor that I felt comfortable calling out to (this practice was also something new to me as I hadn't done it before) so I held up my hands to the sky, closed my eyes, centered myself while dually listening to the other women on the retreat. I heard several names I didn't recognize but then I heard one I did. "Mommy!" One woman said. Her mother was an ancestor, meaning that her mother was deceased.


The call for "mommy" brought tears to my eyes. This woman no longer has her mom here, while I am angry at my mom for things that are not even her fault. My mom is still here. What is wrong with me?


When I made it back to my villa that night I immediately called my mom and apologized. "Mommy, you didn't deserve the things I said to you, I'm so sorry."


"Kristin, you don't need to apologize for how you feel. That's how you feel and that's OK." My mom explained to me. She then went on to say, "I did feel attacked by what you said and I didnt feel it was fair. But I understand what you were feeling because I felt the same way earlier in this process. I kept asking myself and the therapist, what signs did I miss, what did I do, I had to have seen something! But then I realized that all I did was trust my husband. And as a wife, there is nothing wrong with that. That is what you are supposed to do. There is nothing wrong with trusting your husband."


I listened to my mom and saw the truth in what she said. Just because you are on the receiving end of betrayal does not mean that there is something wrong with you or that you could have done something to prevent the betrayal. The truth is, sometimes the bad things that happen to us have absolutely nothing to do with us. This realization is recognizing that there are some things, many things actually, that are out of our control. And while it doesn't make sense, it is unfair, and can sometimes be inconceivably painful, while breath remains in us we will get through it. That our purpose is simply to live, and our joy will come by living authentically.


I continued to express my regret for spending what little time we had together during our layover, angry. My mom then went on to share, "I think there is just a lot of hurt. There is so much hurt and it's coming out as anger. But Kristin this hurt that you feel is because you love so deeply. This is a process and you will find what you are looking for because you are seeking it."


At the end of the conversation with my mom I went out into the ocean, let the waves hit my feet, looked out into the moonlit sky and cried. I did that for me but I also did it for my mom. She loves the ocean and I was getting an experience on this retreat that she and so many other members from my family have never had before. I immeasurably love my mom and my dad and this entire situation continues to expose new layers of hurt in me even though I am actively working on my own healing. My mom told me that she does not know what our family will look like at the end of this process but she does have faith and knows that at the end of this something beautiful is awaiting for her and that she will be ok. She encouraged me to enjoy my life and that she is comforted and stregnthed by knowing that her children are ok.


I stopped judging my mom and every woman; every person who has experienced betrayal and has chosen to work through it in a way that I do not understand. I learned that not everything is for me to understand and thats ok; that the only people who really know what goes on within a marriage are those who are in it and there truly is not always a "right" or "wrong" response for how to react to betrayal or any experience you are confronted with in marriage (or in life for that matter); there is only TRUTH. And with truth can come inconceivable pain, hurt, confusion, grief, but it can also bring connection, liberation, evolution, and growth. For me it continues to bring all of these things. And instead of thinking my hurt is something I need to avoid, overcome, or that there is some kind of a "finished state," I now accept that because of how deep I love, it will always be something I will need to allow space for the hurt to process through me. My process will not always be linear but a wave; sometimes maybe even a circle or a hexagon. Each time I let myself feel it all and accept the variety of layers of self that come with it, I become more attuned and in allignment with who I really am and I am no longer afraid to discover this evolution of who that woman really is.


So those who are feeling consumed by what you recognize to be anger, or those who bare witness to it in others, I would encourage you to ask the question, "Is it anger or is it something else?" Asking that question might just create space for a breakthrough and be a step forward in stopping the cycle of hurt people, hurting people.


ART WORK: The illustrations below were created by my younger brother immediately after he learned the news with our mom and dad. You can follow or see more of his art on Instagram at: @theartofaerick

Drawing by: @theartofAerick

Drawing by: @theartofAerick

Drawing by: @theartofAerick

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