Eric Robillard has stopped naming his anger “passion” and has come to grapple with his verbally abusive Dark Passenger.
Game night was around charades. We would imitate each other’s idiosyncrasies, and the winner would play next: my brother would portray my sister by making out with his hand, my mother would impersonate me by reading an imaginary book, and we would all imitate my father by pretending to scream loud and be very, very angry. Infallibly:
“Heck! Darn! Shoot! Fudge!”
“Oh! You’re daddy, you’re daddy! I win, I’m next!” He would sit silently, and smile with defeat.
Later on in life, I met a first generation Italian woman. We lived together for eight years. We were both hot-tempered. When we would fight and the neighbours would threaten to call the police, we would tell them to fuck off. We would justify our fiery temperament on racial stereotypes: Italians and French Quebeckers were passionate people.
I lost my temper two days into my relationship with my wife, over the phone. I recall thinking nothing more of the discussion than a heated affair. She would later admit feeling ill because of the fury in my voice, and being unsure about seeing me again.
One night after a phone conversation with my mother, my wife asked me why my mom and I screamed at one another, that it was no way to talk to a loved one. I was genuinely puzzled by her statement, as my father spoke this way to my mom, and my mom spoke this way to me, and I was already speaking this way to my wife. Once the fear established itself between us, because of my anger, because anger would manifest itself as rage, because I would scream the rage out, and I normalized my tantrums, and because alcohol was added to the equation, my wife confronted me: I was like my father; I was echoing his violence.
There was no humour behind my father’s outbursts; he knew it, we all knew it, and we indulged in one long charade to survive. There was nothing funny about exonerating my then-dysfunctional French Canadian-Italian couple on our “Latin blood”: hands down, we were verbally abusive to one another. There were only tears and fear when my wife risked my rage and told me there was nothing “normal” about my shouting. There was no escaping my dark passenger this time around.
It took days to digest, weeks to process, months to face, and years to admit: I was a perpetrator of domestic violence.
Where there is a lopsided power dynamic, there is abuse. Where there is disrespect, there is abuse. Where there is a six-foot-tall-two-hundred-pound man with a pattern of shouting, there is abuse. Violence—and shouting is a form of violence—nonobstant of the size and shape and colour of who it is in any situation—is abuse.
No matter what the intent is or what lies beneath the anger, the impact remains one of disquietude and disrespect, hurt and fear, and will leave emotional scars. We tend to absolve anger by tagging it passion, at least I did before therapy. It was the only way I knew how to communicate. I used my physical largeness to impose myself. By seeking help I was able to recognize the roots of my rage, and learn tools to perceive my triggers before they reach the point of no return.
Through therapy, I discovered that destabilizing my partner through violence in order to obtain and retain a position of power/superiority isn’t what was happening with my anger, though my anger still resulted in an atmosphere of fear and that it was important to me to relinquish the shouting to remove the resulting fear.
That change in me was because I decided to make the change. My spouse confronted me and I listened. I could very well have dismissed her and kept with the shouting until the demise of my couple. It was the desire to change through therapy that facilitated the change.
I come from a long history of violence: men around me from my father’s generation were taught they were the dominant ones, and encouraged to take control of the relationship. I was chiseled around patriarchal models, and slowly adopted my father’s oppressive behaviours, such as bullying and verbal attacks. And then there are my own demons, my inner darkness.
My dark passenger has been riding along by my side since early childhood, yet I have denied his existence most of my life. I don’t think we will ever separate from one another; he may never disembark, but he can be put in the trunk. I would like my voice to be one of comfort and composure, and in moments of distress and frustrations, one that might promote an open dialogue. But this will take time, and will probably be a work-in-progress for the rest of my days. In the process, I need to confront his existence to continue to ensure that my loved ones are safe, myself included.
The title of the post is borrowed from the television series Dexter.
This post originally appeared at A Clown on Fire.
Photo: Capt’ Gorgeous/flickr