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15/31 Rage, contempt and green ice cream

I only met my paternal grandfather twice. The first time, I was about three. He took me for ice cream. I wanted “green” which, to my West Coast and three-year-old mind was self-evidently lime sherbet. To his East Coast sensibilities, it meant pistachio. I cried all the way home. He said, “Damn kid” and “How the hell am I supposed to know what green ice cream is?” (This is a famous family story, often repeated--I doubt whether I actually remember it directly.)

It was barely a thing. It was a toddler crying over ice cream. Boo-hoo little special snowflake. But it was also a grown man normalizing rage and contempt for a grandchild he would only meet once again in his life. I must have deserved it. I was stupid. I should have known better. People will get mad and say bad things, and maybe shake me a little, if I don’t “learn to like it.” These are the preconscious proto-reactions of a three-year-old child.

My grandfather, by all accounts, was an angry, abusive, violent father. I don't know how he got that way, but let's take it as read that he inherited it somehow. He was a gifted metalsmith who couldn't make a living as a craftsman and had to work for The Man. He was contemptuous of his socioeconomic superiors, enraged by his own powerlessness and by his status as a working-class Joe. He directed a lot of it at his children, and internalized the rest. Though he never smoked, he died of emphysema. I can just feel that frantic gasping for breath that comes with rage. I have recurring nightmares of it myself.

My father did better. Though I’m sure he was a walking trauma case, he married a loving woman and raised a fairly successful family. His abusiveness, to the extent that he demonstrated any, took the form of distancing rather than violence. He treated my mistakes and follies with contempt and ridicule, so that I got rid of them as fast I could. I think he raged internally all the time, and lived in constant fear of invoking the rage or the contempt of more powerful people.

He, too, died of emphysema.

Me, I have pretty good lungs, but shortness of breath is always a sign that I’m stressed out. And nothing stresses me out like that gasping, powerless feeling of rage, imploding: LISTEN TO ME (you idiot, you moron, you contemptible person)! I’m right (and you’re wrong and everyone hates you). Aren’t you just so special (damn kid). Stupid asshole, learn to drive.

In the past couple of weeks I've done a fair amount of tapping on the name-calling grandpa, the unloving father, and my own really vile moments of rage and contempt (and the shame and horror of them). I breathe a little easier, a little more often, now. My bike commute has been more peaceful.

I wish some of this self-knowledge and healing could have come earlier in life, but at least I didn't perpetuate the cycle on yet another generation. The buck stopped here.

I bought some lime sherbet last night at Whole Foods. It was wonderful. I still don't like pistachio.

Crossposted from Dreamwidth, where there are comment count unavailable comments.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 19th, 2013 08:46 am (UTC)
When I'm in a rage like that unfortunately I tend to cry with frustration, which is so detrimental to making my point of view and having it listened to that I feel even angrier. I'm glad you've found a method which helps you breath easier. I had not heard of tapping before.

It is scary how one can see behaviour patterns repeated from parent to child, and I suspect it's one reason why I never wanted children.

On a lighter note, I don't think I've ever had lime sorbet. I love pistachio ice-cream, though!
Oct. 19th, 2013 07:49 pm (UTC)
Emotional Freedom Technique, aka "tapping", has been a transformative tool for me for ten or twelve years. In the last year or so it has really taken off, and now there's a bestselling book on the subject. It's simple, and super-effective for defusing the activated, fight-or-flight state so common in PTSD.

Like you, I never wanted children--I was actively disturbed by the very idea. Naturally at age six it wasn't a conscious ethical decision, though it turned out that I could account for it ethically later in life. I think it was just a cellular-level certainty that children were a problem, based on the way I perceived myself.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )



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