I spent my birthday probably in the best way I could have here in sunny Afghanistan:
I had a bootleg copy of the Avengers and watched it with one of the chaplains, Dom, and his buddies. My buddies, I guess.
When I woke that morning, people Skyped me and said, “What are you doing for your birthday? Where are you going?”
I had to laugh because there is absolutely nowhere special you can go. We have one place to eat, a couple of shops and the post office. That’s my circuit. But at the DFAC I managed to eat with people each time.
People would ask:
“Can you go into town for your birthday?”
“Um, no. We don’t go into town. Ever.”
But it was nice to Skype and Facetime with people; it’s nice to hear their voices, see their faces. It’s been pretty boring here, so it’s hard to answer the question, “What’s new?” Also, because of my location I can’t get too specific.
Rules for Skype:
- Please don’t say, “We miss you.” I will cry.
- Don’t ask: “Do you want to come home?” (or any variation) The answer is yes. I will cry.
- Don’t make me cry. I live with 3 other guys and the walls are literally a piece of plywood 6 ft up.
So these buddies of mine, we watched a copy of Avengers and heard people cough in the audience. We heard people eating popcorn. And it was just great. We cheered and laughed. They asked me questions about the superheroes and I used my geek ability to explain that Wasp, Scarlet Witch and Vision were not in this movie. And where was Hawkeye’s purple costume?
I don’t remember many of my birthdays from ages 30-37. My 38th I spent with my church family. My 39th I spent with my Afghanistan friends. And my 40th I plan on getting on a flight home. I will remember that birthday. I never thought I’d look forward to being 40. Oh, no. Let’s do this.
(Spoiler alert if you haven’t seen the Avengers. It’s a line from the movie. It’s just a line and a scene.)
In one scene of the movie, the Avengers needs Dr. Banner to transform into the Hulk—quickly. There is a huge creature coming their way and it is only in the Hulk’s league. “We need you to get angry, Dr. Banner. Like now.”
Dr. Banner approaches the huge monster coming at them and says, “That’s my secret. I’m always angry.” He controls his metamorphosis into the Hulk and proceeds to smash.
You see, that’s my secret as well.
I’ve always struggled with anger. I’ve always been the one to either blow his lid or brood, bitter and raging. I think because I was bullied for most of my childhood and adolesence that I’ve been so sensitive to it that I either become completely passive-agressive or I just rage. My dial is either at a 1 or 10. That’s it. No number 5. No soothing number 3.
When someone is bullying or manipulating me, taking their power and using to wound me, I just flip out. And let me be clear, I am always fearful of letting my anger extinguish a friendship. I’m afraid I’ll blow my lid, in my heart end the friendship and never speak to the person again. When I’m in “rage mode” as my friend Steve calls it, I will cut a friendship from my life like a piece of string regardless of how long we have been friends. (Ironically when this has happened to me, where people seem to be pissed, drop me and not speak to me, it really hurts me. So let’s add hypocrisy to the list, shall we?)
I’ve been like since I can remember. And like the Hulk I will just smash and smash, not even thinking of the damage I’m causing or the words I’m saying. My tongue is lit from the fires of hell.
I have a ton of triggers, stuff that when it happens, my frontal lobe lights up like U2 stage and the rational part is cuffed in a chair. Now I almost listed hem here, but I’m afraid people would use them to get a rise out of me. (Another peeve, when I tell people that something bugs me and they do it to be “funny”. I think bloody noses are funny. So let’s team up.)
But I’ve gotten a handle on it. From ages 32-36, I was pretty much a rage-aholic. I needed it. It fueled me. I had to get a handle on it because I was starting to lose people. It was starting to alter me permanently. Instead of me just choosing to be angry, I was starting to do it day by day. But around 37 I started getting it under control. I learned how to use my anger to my advantage and let my rational brain start to have some control back.
Here’s how I got my anger problem managed:
- Diagnosed sleep apnea. I got tested and the nurse said, “Sir, you are one of the worst people we’ve seen in a long time.” Now I had a ton of people say, “You don’t have sleep apnea. You must be dreaming.” No, I wasn’t dreaming. That was the problem. Once I got my sleep under control and went back to dreaming, I was a lot better.
- Exercise. I’ve talked on and on about Crossfit and getting back into shape.
- Prayer and study. Going back to my spiritual disciplines has been monumental in helping in this way. I’ve basically mediated on “Love your enemies” for about 2 years.
- Community. Once I found a church, friends and a gym, everything was easier. I could talk about my struggles and face them either by doing 265 lb. back squat or getting a beer at Stone Brewery. Stone. . ..
- Stopped playing poker regularly. I used to play poker about 4 times a week and then I started playing about 4 times a year. I became a much better player, slept better and didn’t wake up with the “You lost a lot of money” hangover.
To crossover to another comic universe, friends have at times asked me what superhero I identify with, who would I be?
I hang my head at this point and say, “Red Lantern. He gets his power from rage. The more angry he is, the stronger, more powerful he is.”
When I get off that plane from Afghanistan, I hope that my ring isn’t red anymore. I hope it’s another color. One of hope or compassion, one of love and friendship.
That is my daily prayer.