I Was Angry—Now I’m Not: Here’s What Changed
After a tumultuous marriage, one woman turned to therapy to get her through dark times. Here's how she's working through her anger issues.
Kelly Stilwell/Courtesy Melissa Corbin
Melissa Corbin, a food and travel writer in Tennessee, spent nearly a decade in a tumultuous marriage characterized by alcohol abuse. Though Corbin has a degree in social work and was a foster care and adoption worker, it wasn’t until she battled through alcohol dependency and extricated herself from an unhealthy marriage that she fully embraced therapy for herself. Here, she shares her story and explains why she’ll always be a work in progress.
Living in a codependent marriage
I was 38 when I married. Thank God we never had children.
My husband had struggled with alcohol issues even before we married, and at times it was one of those things: If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
Alcohol was at the center of our relationship, so I partook. Luckily, I escaped the addiction part of it. But I was very much in a codependent relationship.
Recognizing anger issues
Back then, if you had told me I had anger issues, I would probably have laughed at you and said you don’t know what you’re talking about. There are different types of anger and it can show up in different ways. It’s not always somebody who spouts off.
For me, I didn’t realize that anger is a very positive emotion if channeled correctly. Every time I would come up against angry feelings, I’d try to tie them up in a nice, tidy little bow. I don’t think I started to realize I was in an abusive marriage until I got in therapy.
Let me be clear, my husband never threw a punch at me; it might have been easier if he had. The abuse was more in the realm of humiliation and isolation. It was never like he left a mark, it was never like you see in the movies. Police were called to the house. But prior to the police coming, I began seeing a therapist.
Losing touch with my body
Cortisol levels can really do a number on your body. I look at pictures of myself and I don’t recognize that woman. I was never treated for “anger issues.” I was treated for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and codependency issues.
Those were the angers we were tackling. You don’t get rid of those kinds of things. As an emotionally intelligent human being, you learn when those kinds of things are being triggered and how to address them effectively.
Starting therapy and recognizing my feelings
When I first started seeing my therapist, she said, “You have avoided this moment all your life, because it hurts.” She was right. It’s traumatizing to uncover all the stuff you’ve packed down for years. The second thing she warned me about: The healthier you get, the angrier your abuser will get—and damned if she wasn’t right.
Very early on I became well acquainted with the feelings chart. I had used it throughout my career as a social worker. I’m a pretty happy individual. I always prided myself on loving myself. Even as a little girl my parents tell the joke I would throw my arms around myself and go, “Ooh, I love myself!”
I never identified with anger. I would be sitting in my therapist’s office just in a pool of tears. I’d look at that feelings chart and point to Sad and Lonely and Hurt. She was, like, “Melissa, I want you to take a look at anger.” I said, “I’m not angry.”
She helped me address the fact that things like sadness and loneliness are distant cousins to anger. Those happen when you don’t answer the call of anger in your heart over whatever the situation may be. [Read more on what science knows about anger.]
A healthy relationship with anger
Now that I’m on the other side, here I am a single woman going through the Covid-19 pandemic. There’s some anger because I had built this life that obviously was not meant to be. So I had to grieve the life I thought I wanted.
There’s this grief of losing something that you had hoped to have and it didn’t pan out. I have channeled that anger to build this new life. Anger is very much a precipitating event: it’s the unraveling, the denouement.
When you’re reading a story and the main character has that aha moment and the piece of the puzzle falls into place, that’s where I am now in my healthy relationship with anger.
It took a long time to educate my mother that therapy’s a continuum. It’s not like, “Hey, I have this broken thing and today it gets fixed.”
This is something I think I’ll take to the grave. You learn to deal.
Going to a therapist is like going to get your annual physical or yearly mammogram. Sure, I turned the tassel on my graduation cap. But in the same way you take your car in for regular tune-ups, I’ll see my therapist for a tune-up every now and then.
Journaling has definitely helped during the Covid pandemic, especially during the past couple of months with all the political unrest. [Check out these other anger management products that can also help you control your anger.]
I’m still a work in progress. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s this: We all have anger issues. It’s how we deal with them that creates a healthy environment to flourish in.
—As told to Nadine Jolie Courtney
- Melissa Corbin, food and travel writer, Tennessee