Welcome back, warrior! You are reading part 3 of a 10-part series on how to heal and overcome incarceration as a family. You are going to make it – don’t give up! Trying to figure out how to get through the pain and loss of someone going to prison is really difficult without a roadmap and support. Unless you have been through it, you cannot imagine the crazy journey of life with your husband in prison. And unless you have gone through it and come out on the other side stronger, healthier, and happier, you cannot guide someone else. I have been through it, and now, my family is thriving. What I am sharing with you works!
The hardest part of the prison journey for me was the not knowing.
Not knowing what to expect or how to keep my family strong made Ron’s being in prison so much scarier. If you are looking at the sentence ahead of your family and feeling frightened, confused, and overwhelmed, I can help you find your way out, read more of my story. Since I lived it, I learned what to do and how to beat the odds. I KNOW what happens next and I can tell you how to make this an event in your family instead of a lifestyle.
In my previous blog posts, I talked about the first 2 zones you will experience following trauma (like someone going to prison)! The first zone was Shock, followed by Denial. The next phase you will enter is Anger. Before I go into detail about what occurs during this phase, there are a few really important things I need to tell you: 1. This is healthy and normal. 2. If you are not aware of what is happening, you can get stuck in any zone. 3. You do NOT want to get stuck in any of these zones. You must keep moving through the process to experience healing and success.
Now, let’s talk about Anger.
You have made it through Shock and Denial, but Anger is one of the most complicated levels. This is the zone that many people get stuck in. Anger swells up inside of each of you as you recognize all you have lost and all you no longer have any control over. Many people will become stuck in this zone. Anger is a healthy and normal phase of healing from wounds, disappointments, loss, and trauma. It allows us to come to terms with the loss we have experienced. Being angry when you have been hurt is a normal reaction. However, when anger moves to center stage in our lives, we lose our focus. Our other emotions are stuffed deep underneath this volatile emotion. If we don’t recognize and deal with the issues that are causing us pain and we allow anger to take over, then Anger is no longer a phase. It has become a lifestyle.
"People find themselves stuck and unable, or unwilling, to navigate through anger" - Catherine Tijerina
People find themselves stuck and unable, or unwilling, to navigate through anger and into the rest of the phases. They are stuck. You might not even realize that you are stuck in anger. You may have accepted this phase as your new normal. Anger is the zone where many get trapped, accepting anger as a part of their new identity. It is the zone where we wrestle with the “what if’s” in our lives.
Amid trying to manage all the trauma, our own poor choices are like whispers in another room. But the wrongs of others blare loudly in our minds and feed the anger and victimization we feel. We look at our children and see all that has been stolen from them – the loss of the life they deserved to live. The sense of helplessness that we begin to feel when we see the pain of a parent in prison reflected in our children’s eyes makes us look around for a scapegoat. All the wrongs ever done to us rise up as our greatest enemy. “If only……. If they would never have…..If she hadn’t….” and on and on the blame is placed. Anger boils inside of us. It is so easy to embrace anger because it keeps us safe from blame, regret, and the gigantic pit of pain. It becomes our self-defense mechanism.
At this stage, everything is personal.
When someone walks by without greeting us, they are judging us. If someone cuts us off to get in the check-out line before us, they think they are better than us. It feels like the entire universe is against us, so even the smallest act is fueling this burning emotion of Anger.
The truth is the anger is masking the huge pain in our hearts. It is easier to be angry and blame the world than it is to accept any responsibility for the current situation you are facing. I know. I have been there. We block thoughts of our own actions responsible for creating any of the chaos and suffering we are experiencing now. “It is their fault.” The tricky part here is that there is a LOT of injustice in this world. And you have most likely been treated unjustly, possibly even abused and hurt terribly. Your husband may have suffered a miscarriage of justice like mine. It is so, so, so easy to be mad at the world for tearing your family apart. And it is totally OK to feel angry. But you have to understand WHY you are angry and HOW to resolve it so you can be free. If you let yourself get stuck in this phase, the cycle of self-destruction will continue in your life and your children will be even more adversely affected, your family will continue to fall apart, and you will never live the life you dream of having.
Anger kills dreams.
For children of incarcerated fathers, feeling angry is a significant and important phase to journey through.
Anger is a powerful emotion that, unless processed, can cause children to move into an extremely reactive state. This stage, however, is often the most difficult for a child to navigate. Moving on requires a level of self-awareness that most parents do not often have, and even fewer children possess. Unprocessed anger can lead to many unhealthy habits and expressions. Adults and children alike typically fall into one of two unhealthy expressions of their anger – outbursts or internalization (shutting down). These reactions can produce conditions that generate poor work or school performance, physical health challenges (such as asthma), and may result in difficulties building healthy relationships and connections necessary for transitioning into healthy and productive lives.
You absolutely must not live with anger for a long time. You have to process it and work through it to find happiness and fulfillment. And yes, you are allowed to have happiness and fulfilment in your life even while your husband is in prison. In fact, if you want to make it through this, you must learn to be content (happy) in the midst of it. If you are feeling agitated and frustrated as you read this, you are probably still working through anger.
Here are some signs that you are in the Anger Zone:
- You take observations as value statements. For example: if someone comments that your window needs cleaned, you take it as an insult to your ability to keep your home clean or hear it as their way of calling you lazy and dirty.
- You don’t feel joy anymore.
- You hate those people who have it easy.
- You lose your temper and raise your voice easily.
- You can’t stand to be told what to do.
If 2 or more of these sound like you, we have some work to do!
You cannot allow anger to rob you of your future! There are some super simple things you can do to help you recognize and manage your anger. Here are some things that helped me:
- Take a break. Find a time and place that you can unwind and feel safe in the quiet.
- Get it out. Start a journal (this is what I did). If you don’t like to write, find someone safe to talk to about how you feel. A friend, a pastor/minister, or a counselor are all good choices.
- Take some big, slow breaths and ask yourself why you are feeling so upset. I am pretty sure it will go back to the pain you are experiencing.
- Get help. If you find that you cannot manage your emotions on your own, find a counselor to help you.
- It is ok to cry and it is even ok to be angry as long as anger doesn’t control you.
The Anger Zone can be the most difficult to move through successfully without intervention or support.
It is easier to feel angry than to deal with the pain. However, as the anger begins to subside, the pain is no longer easy to ignore, and it becomes evident that the anger is simply masking extraordinary pain.
I remember the day I became aware that I was living my life in Anger. We had just gotten back from a prison visit and my 4-year old son snuggled up in a recliner with a blanket wrapped around him. He was talking to the chair and laughing and smiling. “What are you doing, Brandon?” I asked him. He turned, looked at me, and said, “I am pretending Daddy is home, Mommy. And do you know what? We are so busy being happy that we don’t have time to be mad anymore.” Ouch!! I stood there struck by his words.
I had been so busy being angry that I didn’t have time to be happy anymore.
And my children were being affected by my anger. I knew then that I had to do something differently. That night, I went to bed and let myself feel the gigantic waves of pain. I cried and cried and cried. It was more than I had cried in a very long time. I will never forget the extraordinary pain I felt, nor will I ever forget the massive release of pressure in my heart and mind. The relief I felt at getting it out was amazing. I started the journey into the next zone that night.
You do not have to make this journey alone. We can help you – I can help you. As Christopher Robin often reminded Pooh, “You’re braver than you know and stronger than you think.”
I am rooting for you!