Am I angry at my illness? This was a question recently posed by a friend who remarked, “I know I would if I were you.” And it’s given me pause. I certainly have been angry at my illness in the past, or more accurately, at the doctors who ineptly handled my illness resulting in near-death effects. Holding on to the resentment aimed at these negligent doctors gave me a false sense of power in a situation where I was entirely powerless. If I could focus my energy on them; I wouldn’t have to face the reality of my physical
When I sit quietly with this question today, I stay deeply aware of all the emotional currents running beneath the surface. And none of them resonate with anger; not any more. Is that even possible?, I wonder. Yet, it is. Time heals; if you let it. Somewhere during my medical journey, I realized the only one I was hurting by holding onto this red hot coal of anger was me. I waited years to lob that coal at the ones I resented. In the end I was left standing with the hot coal in my hand; the only one burned by this “righteous fury.” I got tired of burning myself. I finally had the insight to see that by holding onto this on-going anger, I thought I was giving myself back power. But in truth, I was giving these doctors the power, by constantly bringing their negative energy into my life over and over again.
Anger and resentments are tricky things. Many of us are afraid to let go of anger, because then it will signify that the other side has “won.” That you are giving in. But, it’s the exact opposite. Just because you forgive, doesn’t mean you forget. We often associate the word “forgive” with excusing someone for their behavior or mistake. And this can be true. But, in this circumstance, forgive falls under the alternate definition: “to stop being angry about or resenting somebody or somebody’s behavior” (Encarta Dictionary). That’s all. I decided to stop being angry; to put down the hot coal and start living my own life again. I have not forgotten what the doctors did; I could never forget that. But, by forgiving, this experience became an extremely unpleasant memory. It taught me how not to act in the future. In this case, I no longer implicitly trust doctors just because they have a medical degree on the wall. If they are not responding to the needs of my body, I go elsewhere. Because that’s the key, it is my body. Therefore I am the only one truly qualified to know when something is awry with it. In this case, by processing my anger into forgiveness, I’ve gained valuable tools in which to address my physical needs. If I was putting all my energy and effort into hating these people, I would miss the experiences that are happening in the now.
Holding onto to anger is living in the past. I have already lost chunks of my life to illness, I am not about to sacrifice anymore by reliving the resentment I feel at my physical condition. That’s not to say I don’t get frustrated with my body and its limitations (see yesterday’s post as a fine example of this!). I just choose to fully embrace these feelings when they come, validate myself, share them with others, and then let them go. For me, dwelling in a place of anger only creates a septic environment filled with fear.
So what is the opposite of living a life of anger? It’s living a life of acceptance. Again, acceptance doesn’t mean that I have to feel joyful about my situation, it just means that I have come to terms with life’s circumstances; it’s “the realization of a fact or truth and the process of coming to terms with it” (Encarta Dictionary). The truth is I have a chronic illness; actually several chronic illness. They are all autoimmune in nature; my body has decided that my organs, cells, blood vessels, bones, and connective tissues are the enemy and will attack them at no cost. Those are the facts. It is also my truth that my disease cannot “attack” my spirit unless I let it. I choose to accept the facts of my situation and to live in what I know to be true. Holding onto to anger at my body only creates another invasive disease. It makes me stay stuck in the past, in the “what if’s” and “if onlys.” If only my life had turned out differently. Well, it didn’t. So instead of constantly fuming over my situation and asking (wailing), “Why me?!,” I’ve decided to bury my anger, plant a garden of acceptance, love and hope and face each day with “What’s next.” These are my circumstances; it’s up to me what I do with them!