Take A Deep Breath And Count To Ten

I’ve made it my life’s work not to get angry. I’ve got all sorts of techniques that work. I play mind games with myself. Usually, they work. Not today.

Today I was mad.

We had ordered flooring for our basement a while ago. We were very clear that we needed it near the beginning of this week.

The salesperson assured us that this wouldn’t be a problem. It it’s in Calgary, it’s three days. If we need to get it from Quebec, you’re looking at a nine day turn around.

He checked his computer. Well, nothing in  Calgary, but plenty of stock in Quebec. It will possibly be here by the 19th, but you can count on the 20th.

OK, we said. We like the product, the time line will work … so, here’s our deposit.

Today is the 20th.

I called to figure out when I could pick up the stuff.

Silence.

Huston, we have a problem. There were a few false starts. The salesman told a few different stories. You know … the worst kinds of stories.

Likely ones.

Then he mentioned that he had no control over when the ship would dock. Ship? I’m no geography whiz, but I do know that there is no way, by ship, to send flooring from anywhere in Quebec to Saskatchewan.

I began to get just the teensiest bit miffed. Now, I know all the signs of anger coming on. Anger has been my constant companion since I can remember. So, calmly, I asked when I could expect the flooring.

No later than Friday, he said.

Actually on Friday, or possibly some time next week, I asked. Or next year.

Silence.

I thanked him and hung up the phone. Well, clicked End. No one hangs up a phone anymore.

Fortunately, I was doing some painting. I got a lot of painting done in a very short period of time … after I called my wife to let her know.

My wife also has a fuse. When I related the tale of woe, she said “That’s unacceptable.”

Unlike passive-aggressive me, she is more the opposite: active aggressive.

In a few minutes, she had driven down to the store, talked to the salesman and worked out a deal to purchase something in stock in Edmonton. This will be delivered tomorrow.

To my house. To the basement.

They will also do the installation for half price.

This all took about 30 minutes. She said she never even raised her voice, although all the other men in the room suddenly had things to do in the back. She had simply asked what they could do to make this work.

If you use it the right way, anger can be your friend.It can motivate you to deal with injustices you may feel or see around you. I have yet to figure that part out.

Don’t get me wrong; there is something very powerful about my anger. I feel like I’m invincible and completely in the right. I think very clearly. My brain – and my tongue – are much sharper.

It’s just that I am out of control.

As I said, I have a long association with anger. To be fair to myself, I do have an older sister, so there is a lot of justification. I don’t know how many times I kicked in the screen door when it was mysteriously locked. Thanks, sis.

As a fairly helpless kid, I found that anger made me a formidable foe. It gave me power. It kept me safe.

I just didn’t like the way it happened.

I tried in vain to control it. Count to ten. Can’t, too mad to count. Take deep breaths. Can’t take any deep ones. Just shallow. Talk to someone about it.

Yeah. Right.

The point of change, for me, happened in Grade 10. A bully was bugging a friend of mine. I went to intervene. I hit the bully in the fist with my nose and sat down.

Everything went red, for a moment. Yes, I actually see red, sometimes. I saw red, and then everything went cold and icy. It was like I wandered into my brain, found the switch labeled “Humanity”, and turned it off.

I felt capable of anything.

I remember asking the guy to stay there. That I would be back. Then I walked over to the baseball field, asked to borrow a bat, and started walking back.

Luckily for all concerned, a young intern decided to walk with me to find out what I was going to do with the bat. When the bully saw me, his eyes went wide, and he ran away.

I am convinced that I would have done serious bodily harm to the person. I realized then that I had a real problem and needed to figure out how to deal with it.

Over the years, I have learned to control it. It’s never far away from me, though, and I work on it a lot. So much so that when I mention that I have a problem, people don’t believe it.

That’s because I put up with a lot of shit.

Where my wife uses her anger in a positive way, I just let mine fester. I push it down and put on a smile. If you do this often enough, you get good at hiding it. Still, it takes constant vigilance.

Plus it rots me from the inside.

So I struggle to find responsible outlets. I employ many tricks to actually calm myself. I can usually breathe, these days.

I’m getting there, but old habits are hard to change.

It’s important to me, because that’s not the person I want to be. I have no desire to be the angry old guy. Even though he’s fun to trot out, once in a while, he is like your drunk Uncle Albert at the family gathering; he says or does something that is very hard to take back.

I work at it. I can’t always control the circumstances in my life. Sometimes flooring doesn’t come in, and it feels like the salesman is lying to me (he wasn’t). Sometimes people take advantage of your good nature. Sometimes they spread gossip behind your back.

Sometimes people are jerks.

As with all things, I’m the one who gets to decide how I will react. While getting angry is my habit, I am slowly trying to replace it with patience and understanding.

Now, breathe deep. Count to ten. Oh yeah … don’t keep it inside. It will rot you if you let it.

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