I never want this blog to feel like a diary or confessional. But I had an episode that happened this week that I just feel compelled to share. I felt there was opportunity for learning and growth for me personally, and hopefully someone else can get something from it too. Here goes.
I have a job where I meet and interact with strangers on a daily basis. I have always thought that I have more than my share of empathy and being able to connect with people and put them at ease has always been a strong suit of mine. That being said, you can’t please everyone.
Earlier this week I dealt with an older lady and her son. She was agitated and nervous, but I was able to make a connection with her and get her to a comfortable place. By the end of the interaction, she was clearly comfortable that she would be taken care of. Her son was another matter entirely.
He was hostile from the first glance. He clearly thought I wasn’t taking his mother seriously enough despite the fact that I was actively trying to take care of her. He peppered me with insinuating questions and derogatory statements about how I conducted my business. He was insulting, and I continually had to bite back anger to try to carry out my business with his mother.
We got through the interview, and I was ready to send them on their way with a plan in hand, however I felt I had to say something to the son. The man, 30 years my senior, clearly felt he was superior to me in some way and appeared to have a seriously negative opinion of me. I couldn’t see how we could continue to work together under these circumstances.
I kept my voice calm, despite the tremors of anger running through my gut and chest, and I purposefully unclenched my fists. I told him that if he wanted a good attitude from my staff and me, he really needed to work on his attitude towards us. More flies with honey, so to speak.
He looked at me with clear disgust. He told me that I should realize that people in situations of distress such as his were not going to be their best selves. Essentially, he said I should know better how to deal with his abuse. Then he told me that I clearly never got spankings as a boy when I needed them. His eyes said that he’d like to spank me right then.
I returned to my office for a few deep breaths. As someone who grew up in a house with a lot of anger and frequent corporal punishment, his last comment in particular struck a nerve. I was shaking with rage by that point and tried to gain some equanimity. I just wanted to get back work and continue my day.
But then I thought about it. I was in no way obligated to deal with him or his mother. And if that was his opinion of me, there was no way we could work together effectively. Despite some people’s idea of what is expected, I don’t have to take abuse or mistreatment from anyone.
So I came back out of my office and told them that they needed to take their business elsewhere. I didn’t scream or shout. I didn’t curse. I just let them know that I wouldn’t be working with them.
At that point he wanted to apologize, but I felt the well had already been poisoned. He refused to leave for a few minutes as if he could force us to take his business. In the end, he left, mouthing to my staff that I was a “prick.”
Now I did feel some satisfaction in firing them. Taking control of the situation gave me some of my power and agency back. But I still felt hurt and very, very angry. More angry than I’ve felt in a long time.
On the drive home I was still shaking with it. Stress hormones were coursing and my knuckles were white on the steering wheel. I found myself longing for a drink. A nice, tall glass of whiskey would do nicely.
Now this was a problem. I have been completely alcohol free for about three weeks now. At the advice of my doctor and my therapist and my own good sense, I had completely cut out alcohol as it was clearly exacerbating my depression. I hadn’t been drinking every day, but it was frequent. And I was drinking more than I would like, more than I should. I had been self-medicating in an attempt to numb out bad feelings and negative emotions. Emotions such as this one.
So instead of turning off course and heading for the closest liquor store, I tried mindfulness and sat with my emotions. I leaned into the anger and really felt what my body was feeling. There were tremors in my gut and a vague queasiness. My chest felt tight and my breath was shallow. My hands and feet were cold, and my knuckles ached from the tension in them. I felt a tightness at my brow and could feel my face knotted up.
I didn’t try to think about it, or rehash the conversation, or make sense of it in a logical framework. I just felt and didn’t run away.
It was fucking uncomfortable. I do not like strong emotions. Negative emotions particularly, but I don’t even feel comfortable with overly strong positive emotions. It’s a character trait of mine. I really only feel comfortable when things are calm. This inclination is what drew me to meditation in the first place. It also ran me off course on that journey for a good long while. Numbing out is still numbing out, whether you use drugs, alcohol, or an ancient tradition of mind training.
So, yeah, it was uncomfortable. But I sat with my anger. And what I found (I’ve learned this lesson before, but it never gets old) was that it didn’t kill me. I’m strong enough to feel those big emotions, negative or otherwise. And through the sitting, I was able to process it and pass through. I ended up feeling better for it in a way I never would have if I had just drowned it in a liter of alcohol.
And you know what? Within just a few hours I felt better. The anger wasn’t me, and it did pass. I had let myself feel it and then could be done with it. I was able to return to that calm, easy equilibrium that I so crave.
The next morning I even awoke with forgiveness and love in my heart. I really feel bad for the guy and his mother. His negative attitude is bringing so much suffering onto himself and his mother. I still won’t work with them, and that’s okay too. I just wish them the best.
So what do you think, Bros?
Was I wrong for firing the angry guy and his mom?
Anyone else have experience with leaning into strong emotions, particularly negative ones?
Anyone else use alcohol or other substances to numb out and avoid strong emotions?
Let me know your thoughts down below and share with anyone you think might be interested!