If Only…

A monster lives inside of me. It is ugly. It is powerful. It is a wall. A wall with claws and teeth. It protects me and hurts me at the same time. I have spent most of my life trying to tame, cage, or hide it.

My monster’s name is Rage.

Tuesday night I stood on a pickleball court facing the one person I promised myself never to play with – or against – again. This person spends her court time berating her partner for errors. Even if her opponent hits a winner, in her mind it is her partner’s fault. If she thinks her partner is not listening, she assumes an exasperated stance, often delaying the game in order to make her point. Her exasperation looks very near this:

exasperated

I was her partner twice. I have played against her a handful of times. But whether I am the partner being berated or the opponent watching her abuse someone else, my reaction is the same.

the_incredible_hulk_by_uncannyknack-d7s9zlt

I grew up playing tennis on a grass court in my side yard. As early as I can remember I heard the axiom “tennis is a gentleman’s game”. Grace, poise, and good sportsmanship were ingrained in me long before I ever picked up a racket. Over the years I have run into many people who did not learn any of those things. I have at times been frustrated by opponents who cheated or displayed other unsportsmanlike conduct. But I have never been triggered like I was on Tuesday night. The woman’s partner took the incessant abuse without so much as a word. This should have alerted me to an important truth: my issue with this woman is my issue, the pain I feel is inside me. She is not the cause of my anger. Her words and actions only provide the spotlight that exposes the monster already living inside.

Because I have encountered this monster over and over throughout my life, I have become fairly good at containing it – at least from the outside world. Inside me, the monster rages whether I let it out or not. The first indication of its arrival is a wall – an emotional barrier originally intended to ward against verbal attacks. I learned over time that all a wall really does is keep ME trapped inside. It only silences my voice. But building walls must have worked for me at some point because people only do what pays them. As a child I must have learned that letting my angry, defensive words escape would only escalate the verbal attack. I learned to keep my words contained. It seemed safer that way somehow. But walls are indiscriminate animals. They do not know the difference between friend or foe. At some point connection became more important to me, and marked the beginning of the end of my wall’s effectiveness.

I may as well tell you the rest of what happened on Tuesday. After the second bad call, I lost it – a flurry of curses escaped with everyone on every court watching. How could they not? A monster was loose. That’s the danger of caging the beast – left to fester, it grows out of proportion. At that moment I wanted nothing more than to be off the court as quickly as possible. I considered forfeiting, something I have never done in simple consideration for my partner. Mercifully, we lost the game two points later and I made a beeline for another court without a backward glance. For the first time ever in my life, I did not approach the net to thank my partner or hers (he probably could have used a hug). She confronted my back, but that didn’t stop me. I simply reminded her that I really couldn’t care less what people think of me (a bald-faced lie).

The ugliness of the beast that escaped on Tuesday still gives me physical pain two days later. But what really bothers me is that the scene I lived out that night could have been avoided altogether.

If only…

… I would honor my body. I might have felt the wall beginning to rise weeks before, the first time she criticized me on court.

… I was not afraid of conflict. I might have quietly encouraged her not to speak to me in that way and then remembered that not everyone is the same – her other partner clearly did not interpret her words the way I did.

… I was not concerned with other peoples’ opinion of me. I might have told her that I will not be the butt of her abuse the first time we played together. If she continued, I could have simply walked off the court and let her find another partner.

If only… any of the above, the wall would not have risen. The monster would not have been given a chance to grow. It would not have escaped to infect other relationships I have within the league.

This week I am spending some time with my monster. It is out in the open so I may as well look at it. We have been having chats. Painful ones. My inner child hides behind that wall, afraid of what might happen to her if she came out. I see her glaring at me with the monster’s smoldering eyes. They tell me to get my shit together.

I look back at her sadly and shrug. If only.

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5 thoughts on “If Only…

  1. This is my first visit to your blog. I like it. We all live with “if only’s” and some of us try to learn from them. I am happy to see that you are one of them because I like you and want you to continue to be in our lives.

    While I did not witness the scene you described so well, I can understand how it could happen. And, yes, I heard about it but I always try to let adults work things out for themselves or I would have to be monitoring the playground all the time.

    I like your introspection and not just “blaming the other” as we can never learn and grow that way. I like that you can turn those “what if’s” into a plan as to how you will respond when the wall ‘starts’ to form, again, as that is your cue. It will happen and not just on a pickleball court. We can choose to walk away (and that is an option and perhaps a good one in dangerous situations) or we can choose to speak up early and set parameters of how we will allow ourselves to be treated, then we do not feed our monster and she can stay in place as she will always be with us.

    If we speak up for others who are being poorly treated, they may not appreciate it but if we stand up for ourselves and they see how it works, they may be empowered to do so as well. I may an exception for those who cannot speak up for themselves.

    As a former elementary school teacher, helping my students learn to use “I messages” was very important to me and I hope they still use them today when confronted with bullying behavior in their lives. Bullies do not like to be confronted even with something as simple as an I message as it calls attention to their bad behavior.

    I think most of us learned as children it was safer that way….to keep quiet and find other ways to act out our frustration. Sometimes it was in positive ways like playing sports or my studying and being the best one in our class (at least our family….:-) Sometimes it was in negative ways like being overly aggressive/cheating in sports and other inappropriate ways. And sometimes it can be holding our hurt inside as long as we can until we can hold it no longer and our monster appears for the world to see.

    This is something we all need to work on….and you have brought it to our attention. Thank you. By working on ourselves, we can help others.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting, Linda! I suppose we all continue to face our monsters and grow if we want to. It has helped me to remember the pain the other person is in when they lash out as well. Perhaps one day we will ‘arrive’, at least a little closer to the mark.

      Love and light, and see you on the courts!
      ~C ❤

      Like

  2. I’ve lived with the anger inside of me and write about it too. Kudos for you for acknowledging it. It’s not easy and you’re on the right track. Your post resonated in me. Thanks for sharing your honesty.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Jason, for stopping by and for the encouragement! I think knowing that I am not alone (there are so many now who struggle with rage) is what inspires me to get this out there. Change in the area is necessary, but fighting who we are inside only fuels the fire. Acceptance of our whole selves is the only path to healing.

      Much love and light to you and thanks for following. ~C ❤

      Liked by 1 person

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