A Lesson in Anger Management

by Bill Brenner on August 4, 2010

As I’ve told readers before, I used to have a vicious anger streak. A big trigger used to be getting stuck in traffic. So I was surprised by my reaction yesterday when a sinkhole on I-93 North turned a 45-minute ride into a nearly 3-hour ordeal.

I left the SANS Boston conference at 1:30 p.m., planning to finish up some work projects from home for the rest of the afternoon. I hit the traffic jam and heard about the sinkhole on the radio. It was at Roosevelt Circle and the two right lanes were shut down.

Photo by Jim Davis, Boston Globe

Let’s rewind to about 21 years ago. It was registration day at North Shore Community College, where I was enrolled for the fall semester. I was just out of high school and angry at the world for a variety of reasons. I had been working long hours in my father’s warehouse in Saugus and was rubbed raw. I was frustrated because a girl I liked was getting cold feet about the idea of hooking up with a loose cannon like me. It didn’t take much to trigger a temper tantrum.

That day I was rattled hard by the long lines of college registration. I wasn’t expecting it and was full of fear that I wouldn’t get the classes I needed. Not that it really mattered, since my major was liberal arts.

Two hours in, I realized I had to give them a check for the courses I was taking. I had no money and panicked. They allowed me to drive to Saugus to get a check from my father. I was in full road rage mode on the drive there and back.

By day’s end, I was in supernova mode and breathing into a bag between the chain of cigarettes I was smoking.

There are many more colorful examples of my temper back then:

– Hurling a fork or steak knife at my brother in a restaurant on New Years Eve 1979 because he made a joke I didn’t like. The more dramatic among my family members say it was a steak knife, though I’m pretty sure it was a fork.

– Lighting things on fire out of anger, including a collection of Star Wars action figures that would probably be worth a fortune today. I would pretend they were kids in school who were bullying me. Never mind that I bullied as much as I got bullied.

–Throwing rocks through windows, especially the condominium building that was built behind my house in the late 1980s.

–Yelling “mood swing!” before throwing things around the room at parties in my basement. It came off as comical, as I intended, and nobody got hurt. But there was definitely an underlying anger to it. I was acting out.

– Road rage. Tons of it. I was a very angry driver. I would tailgate. I would speed. In the winters I would intentionally spin out my putrid-green 1983 Ford LTD station wagon in parking lots during snowstorms. While in college, I nearly hit another car and flipped off the other driver while my future in-laws sat in the back. Traffic jams would infuriate me. Getting lost would fill me with fear and, in turn, more anger.

There were a lot of legitimate causes of rage for me. The drug I took for Chron’s Disease had a lot of nasty side effects, including violent mood swings. A brother and two close friends dying — one by suicide — gave me a lot of anger. Being stuck in the middle of turf wars and working late nights while at The Eagle-Tribune certainly made me a a walking ball of fire.

I’m also sure the fear and anxiety that came with my OCD contributed to more anger.

So it was an absolute blessing for me that after three hours in traffic, my sanity was in check. Not once did I punch the steering wheel in anger or flip off someone in the car next to me or in front of me.

I don’t even think I dropped an F-bomb. I don’t remember doing so, anyway.

I got home, went upstairs and was just happy to see the kids. I emptied the dishwasher, folded some laundry and set the table for dinner. I was in OCD mode for sure. But sometimes it’s best to just let the OCD run hot. It always passes.

Just another example of how I’m not the same person I used to be.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Victoria Seavey August 4, 2010 at 2:51 am

Hi Bill,
Just got notification that that pothole just “reappeared” on 93 in Medford.

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