The Angry Dog

Once I went to confession and the priest told me that my anger was like a wild dog that was chained to a tree and barked wildly at anyone who got near it. At the time I sat there looking at Father with a blank stare because I had no idea what to even do with that statement.

The day of my Tio’s funeral in my hometown I decided that I would walk from the Church where we had our family meal after the Mass and graveside services since it was only a block away from my Tio’s house where I was staying. I had walked this entire town for most of my childhood and wanted the fresh air. As I took off down a back road a crazy dog showing his teeth came running up on me barking only to be jerked back by his chain. This made me think of what Father had said to me about my anger and gave me a visual to attach to what he said but still, I didn’t quite get it.

Today, I get it. I am so mad. At the root of that anger is pain. The pain of my childhood, of my broken relationship with my mother, of the lies that people tell themselves and others about me to make themselves look and feel better about the awful things they did to me (and to Anthony as in the case with his biological father) and for always being left to take care of myself. I am also angry at how all of my own hurts caused the death of my son.

That anger makes me run up on people who are just walking by like that dog did to me on my walk after Tio’s funeral. Or even worse, my anger lashes out at people who are just trying to help me, even if they are fumbling at doing it.

Grief is an asshole. There is no right thing to say to me. And saying something or not saying something hurts because life hurts. Talking about Anthony hurts and not talking about him hurts. Waking up hurts. And pain makes my anger worse and then the anger makes my pain worse. It’s a horrible cycle.

During that confession Father said to me that it was time for me to take the wild dog that is my anger. Since I had no real idea what he meant by that, I just shrugged it off. A few weeks ago I spoke to the same priest about my grief and he gave me solid advice on real concrete things to do.

One of them was to find an outlet for my anger like exercise. So I started working out and it is helping so much. I have nothing to lose so i don’t even care if I look horrible in front of everyone. I just need to let out steam and I do!

Second is to spend 5 minutes in prayer even if it is to tell God off or to say nothing at all to him. I have been doing that too. In the middle of rage cleaning, I ended up with a prayer closet. An extra desk ended up fitting in there perfectly and I out my extra Catechism, Divine Office and white board in there and suddenly I had a prayer closet. God is hilarious.

Third is to find a support group. This is my least favorite piece of advice. But I’m going to try it anyway and begin next Thursday. It just so happens that a support group for suicide loss began in the town north of me where Anthony is buried. Just deciding to go has helped.

All three of these things plus going to confession and Mass this past week have lifted a huge weight off me and I feel as if the wild dog that is my anger is a bit tamer and calmer.

Yesterday someone who I have had an ongoing issue with sent me harassing messages online and I stayed calm, didn’t lash out and didn’t insult her back and I just walked away from the whole thing rather than argue and exchange hurtful words. I also allowed myself to admit that her insults hurt me. I never would have done that before. I would have let my anger rule my actions. Instead i realized that something awful had to have happened to her for her to treat another person that way, the same as something awful happened to me that has me treating people that way. That made me feel compassion for her and also gave me the wisdom to walk away from it entirely.

I can only control myself, my words, my actions. What I am choosing to control today is that angry dog.

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You are My Sunshine

I am kind of in denial that this is Anthony’s birthday week. As long as I don’t look at the date, I’m fine but today I did for some reason and it sucks.

He should be here, he should be getting on my nerves, Ariana and I should be passive aggressively fighting over who gets to love him more on his bday and Stacey should be complaining about how much the bar tab is gonna be. Those are the things that should be happening today. Instead I’m avoiding everything and trying to figure out what is for dinner and reading book after book that tells me I need to move out of my grief as fast as possible.

The truth is that I do not want to move out of it. I feel like Anthony deserves to be mourned and moving out of it means that life is fine without him, and there is nothing fine about the gaping hole in my life where Anthony lived for 22 years. I think 22 years of life deserves more than 17 months of grief. But there is a difference between where I am right now and where I was a month ago.

A month ago, I was not just grieving but I was in a dark cave with no way out. Well, there was a way out but I didn’t want to take it because it was God’s way and I was so angry with Him that I didn’t want His help. I felt like God had let me down and then to top it all off the Church let me down. It’s a very long story but that is when I lost my shit and deleted all my public social media. In that cave though, there was no hope, no light and no air. I felt like I fell in that cave when the shock of everything that happened wore off. I was just walking along and suddenly I fell in a hole and was trapped in a cave of despair. I never saw it coming.

Shock is a weird thing and when it’s gone life hurts more than you imagined. For me it did anyway. My pain always manifests as anger and I was angry on top of angry and getting angrier. I needed a break so I took one. When I did, I finally looked at my life and saw the total devastation left by Anthony’s suicide. I saw the state of my house, the state of my health and the state of my own soul. It was not pretty. I needed to do something to clean things up and to get back to a place where I could be well.

It isn’t anyone’s fault. I didn’t “do too much” or talk about Anthony too soon after his suicide, it is just how grief goes. It is how loss is. I can talk about Anthony all day, every day and be fine, it isn’t the talking that is difficult, it is the living that sucks. And I have not been living since the moment I knew my son was dead. I didn’t even know how to live beyond that and I am having to learn what living is in the aftermath of the worst day of my life.

I have spent my time reading, writing, getting my kids set up for the fall. My two middle sons are starting community college in August, Dan starts a new job today and Gabe got is driver’s license. So we are moving forward but in no way does that mean we aren’t still terribly heartbroken and in a lot of emotional pain. Moving forward is almost as painful as staying still. Moving forward without Anthony is unfair and we all talk about that every day.

In two days Anthony should have been 24 years old. Last year I had all these intentions to honor him and celebrate his life like I had done since the day he was born, but this year I am just leaning into the suck of it all. It hurts like hell and I hate every second of it, but this year that is how I honor Anthony, by acknowledging that life without him is devastating.

The thing is that in doing that, God has shown me hope, light and given me air to breathe. I keep trying to give up on Him, but He refuses to give up on me.

Happy Birthday Anthony. You are my sunshine.

Disconnected Online

For the past few weeks I have been on my personal Facebook only a handful of times. I deleted all my public social media accounts and reduced my Facebook friends list tremendously. I deleted about 3/4 of my friends list.

A lot of things happened at once that caused me to make the choice to get off everything. The suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain set it off. Everyone was talking about suicide and a lot of the people talking have no idea what it is like to deal with a mentally ill person or what it is like being the mother of someone who dies by suicide, specifically, what it is like to be me. I know people have good intentions, but what really helps suicide survivors and people dealing with mental illness is to not be treated like we are all the same and to listen to us and our lived experiences instead of talking to “experts” or blogging your opinion on the subject if you have no personal experience with suicide loss. And even if you do have experience, do not speak for my experience.

Then there was the brutal murder of a young man in the Bronx that was captured on video. I was just scrolling through my Instagram when I came across the video. The entire thing shook me to my core even more than seeing my own son’s lifeless body in my garage. People literally just walked by and did nothing to help a boy yelling for his life. Men in the bodega just watched as he was dragged out of there by his jacket. He looked a lot like Anthony to me and watching that video fucked me up. After seeing it, I decided that I was done with social media.

In the weeks since I feel better in a lot of ways. I am not angry all the time, I don’t know what Trump had for breakfast today and why we are so pissed about it and I do not wonder why so and so comments on everyone’s status but mine and who has me hidden from their feed. I just live my life.

My brain isn’t used to it though and I have to stop myself from seeing every moment as a social media moment. I don’t have to take pictures of everything and come up with the perfect caption but my brain still does it because it thinks that is what we do. Also, I don’t have to type up every single thought in my head which actually helps me think more instead of just vomiting my thoughts on Facebook or Twitter. I am actually just existing and not working towards likes, zingers, retweets or getting more followers. I don’t know about anyone else, but for me, all of those things fed my pride, insecurities and my constant feeling of not being good enough. I didn’t even realize that until I logged out.

Another thing I’ve figured out in the last few weeks of social media withdrawal is how hard it is to maintain friendships without it. First of all, people get seriously mad when you delete them from Facebook. Which is weird. When did we all sign a social contract saying if we aren’t Facebook friends then we aren’t friends at all? Secondly, it is a lot of work to text, email and meet for lunch or coffee to maintain that friendship. More work than clicking a quick “like” or leaving an emoji on a picture.

It’s also a lot more work to maintain vulnerability without social media and to be authentically vulnerable. It is much easier to throw out one vulnerable status or tweet or IG caption and see who of your friends responds with love rather than reach out to one person and not have them respond. I have been left hanging in texts & emails a lot of times these past few weeks and that never happens on my social media. Someone will always respond to whatever I post, so it’s “safe”. No risk of feelings of rejection or abandonment that may or may not even be anywhere other than my own mind.

We make time for what we care for and I think that social media has made us all feel connected and made us think that we are building all these friendships but the truth is that we are actually more disconnected than ever. How many times have I told my kids “hang on” while I type away at my phone in some heated argument on social media? How many times have I swatted away real life and real connections so that i could make a perfect IG post with filters and pictures of moments to make it seem like I am living life with connections? Too many to count.

Now that I’m texting one person at a time, making one lunch/coffee date at a time and building one friendship at a time, I see how much time and energy it takes. And I also see how some people don’t think I am worth their time and energy. Which is ok because I don’t think we are made to have 100 close friends. Jesus only had 12. You can love someone, want the best for them, catch up with them here and there and pray for them without being their close friend. Social media has killed our ability to do that in real and authentic ways and instead we just reduce every relationship down to likes and retweets.

This has also taught me a lot about my relationship with God. How lazy I’ve been in it. How much I fail to cultivate and maintain it. I find it frustrating to spend time building my relationship with Him because I don’t take the time to build one with anybody. I don’t know how. And if I don’t know how to build one with God, I certainly do not know how to with anyone else which really explains so much about my life.

So that’s what I’m doing. Building relationships. First with God and then with everyone else around me. My husband, my kids and those who build me up because they truly love me and want the best for me. Whose friendships help me heal instead of feed the worst of me. I feel as if Anthony’s suicide was a fire that burnt my entire life down and now it is time to rebuild it one relationship at a time.