When I began counseling for childhood physical and sexual abuse, I was broken. A broken heart, a broken spirit. I had carried the guilt and shame of my childhood abuse for so long that it was like an old winter coat. So heavy to carry around each day. So hot that some days it was stifling. And yet it had the comfort of the known. It was scary to throw off that old heavy coat of guilt and shame and face what else was under there.
I thought we would begin slowly. I thought I would share just a bit at a time. My counselor agreed to go at the pace I set. But once I began talking, I kept right on talking. I told her EVERYTHING I could think of. If I thought of something in between sessions, I wrote them down so I could tell her next time. It seems that once I felt a crack in the dam that I’d built to protect myself, the floodwaters couldn’t run fast enough.
I let it ALL out.
It was scary. I shook like a leaf in a hurricane the first session and sometimes after that. But the overwhelming feeling was relief. My need to let it all out was greater than my fear of what my counselor would think of me (of course, that was my insecurities and had nothing to do with my counselor). It was such a RELIEF to release all the secrets I had been carrying.
Once the rush of information was over, we started working on issue after issue.
At some point in counseling, my shame and guilt turned into anger.
ANGER that the abuse occurred. ANGER at those adults who knew and did nothing to protect the little freckled girl with long braids that I had been. ANGER that I carried the guilt and shame of the abuse for so long. ANGER that my stepfather never was held accountable for his actions. ANGER at the days and nights of fear and pain and abuse I endured as a child unable to protect herself. ANGER at the bruises, welts and blisters I had to hide outside of our house. ANGER. ANGER. ANGER.
My counselor encouraged me to feel the anger, but I was terrified of the anger. I remember one conversation where my counselor asked my what about the anger made me so afraid. My reply was “I am afraid that the anger is so huge and so overwhelming that if I tap into it I won’t be able to control it.”
She asked me what I thought losing control of the anger would look like.
I told her I was afraid that the anger would take over and I would just scream and scream and scream until my throat was so raw I wouldn’t be able to scream anymore or that the anger would take over and I would break every single thing in my house. I truly was afraid to let myself feel the level of anger that I knew was raging inside of me.
Then she told me she had a plan, if I was willing. She took me out to her car in the parking lot. She opened the trunk. There in her trunk and in her back seat were huge plastic garbage bags of glass bottles. She had been saving glass bottles for a month or so. Not just hers, she had also asked friends, relatives, and neighbors to save their glass bottles for her.
Her idea was for me to find a place and time where I could be alone (or have a trusted person with me if I chose) and break the bottles. I could scream, cry, or “talk to” the people who I was angry at with each bottle I threw.
Her only “warning” – wear safety glasses.
I won’t lie. It sounded kind of corny to me. But I really trusted her by this point and I was aware that I really needed to deal with this anger before it exploded in some uncontrolled way.
My husband took the kids for a Saturday to go to a park, out to lunch, etc. I went into our basement and set the stage for a safe anger experiment.
I wanted to be able to contain the flying glass so I could avoid anyone being cut later on an overlooked shard. I hung up some plastic sheets so the glass would stay in one area of the basement. I lugged bag after bag of glass bottles to the basement, knowing there was no way I could break all of these bottles at once. I put on long sleeves to reduce the chance of me being hurt by flying glass and donned the ever-so-lovely safety glasses.
I felt stupid. I felt ridiculous setting all of this up. Do “normal” people have to go through all of this just to deal with some anger? But I soldiered on. I wanted to at least be able to say that I tried.
I threw the first bottle. It shattered, but I felt nothing. I threw the second bottle. Again, nothing. I threw the third bottle with some real gusto. Oooh, that felt GOOD! I started throwing the bottles as hard as I could. I eventually started yelling things like “THIS IS FOR NOT PROTECTING ME” or “YOU BASTARD, ROT IN HELL” or “YOU SHOULD CARRY THE GUILT AND SHAME” as I threw the bottles. IT. FELT. AWESOME.
Oh, I was ANGRY. REALLY, REALLY ANGRY.
But I can’t even describe how it felt to have an outlet for that anger.
Bottles were flying fast and furious! There were clear bottles, green bottles, amber bottles and blue bottles (the blue ones had the most spectacular shatter for some reason).
When I had thrown EVERY. SINGLE. BOTTLE. I was breathing hard and exhausted. But I realized I had felt my rage, really felt my RAGE, and the world had not stopped turning. My house was still standing. My family was fine. All was well. Better than well. Not only had I started my anger work in a very satisfying way (I can not describe the satisfaction of yelling out “YOU ARE A SICK FUCK WHO TOOK ADVANTAGE OF A LITTLE GIRL ” and then hearing the shattering of the bottle) but I had also proved to myself that I could handle the anger without losing control.
I know it sounds a little “nuts.” I know it sounds kind of corny. But I am here to tell you – this exercise opened the door for me. It helped me get past my fear of the anger and bring it out in the open so I could work on it.
So thank you SR for being such an awesome therapist that you collected bottles from far and wide for me. Thank you for showing me a way to tap into that anger safely.
I saved a little glass jar of the multi-colored shards of glass. Blue, green, amber, clear. I smile when I walk past it now. Beautiful reminders of my righteous anger and SR’s lesson that helped me release it.