Last week while driving home I saw a bumper sticker that set me off. It was spelled out on the tailgate of a rusty, man’s man, looking truck. A homemade decal with big stickers read, “Lifted cuz Fat Girls Can’t Jump”.
I made my eyes read it again.
I was shocked. Does his bumper sticker really say that? Is that his one message to the world?
I couldn’t help but think about all the little, chubby girls reading his public, hateful opinion while running errands with their parents. I thought about the little boys who might live on his street. Will they become desensitized? Will they grow up thinking it’s okay to make fun of fat kids at their school?
I was close to my house. This person lives in my neighborhood? What is wrong with people?
This is when my anger struck.
I wanted to follow the truck driver home. I wanted to stand outside of our cars with the sun fading behind the mountains and have a peaceful exchange of opposing viewpoints. I imagined telling him about the long-lasting effects of body shame and weight embarrassment. I romanticized the idea that we would at least agree to disagree, but perhaps I would open his eyes to a new perspective.
As my conflicted daydream continued, I saw this imaginary, impromptu conversation quickly turning south. He’s not going to listen to me. Guys like him are wounded too deep. I saw a pair of sagging balls hanging off of his hitch. I felt my wrath creep up, just below the surface. He might as well have a confederate flag flying from his self-constructed exhaust stack. It’s impossible to make people like him understand.
I signaled to turn right towards my street. He roared on past me in the left lane. Idiot.
I tried sinking into the familiarity of my neighborhood, but I was too fired up. I wanted to shake it off but my heart was still pounding. I noticed my breath had quickened. I breathed in a deep and slow inhalation. I slowly let it out. I did it again. And again. I felt the irritation release out of my pores.
I surprise myself when my thoughts are clouded with fury. It escalates so quickly. Wow. You really let yourself get pissed just then. During past moments of hypothetical heat, it was unusual for me to recognize how awful I felt afterwards. I started paying attention. My anger made me feel tense, irritated and anxious.
Eating disorder recovery has shifted my perception about being present. I have to question myself before I eat instead of after I’m stuffed. Not only do I have to be mindful around food, I have to be mindful about my emotions. I’ve learned that I also have to pay attention when my feelings are triggered and there’s not a speck of food in sight.
It’s simple. I practice being mindful in as many moments as possible. I’m practicing. Practicing doesn’t mean being perfect.
When I feel upset, I tend to take a quick inventory. How am I feeling right now? Why am I feeling like this? What’s the best way to handle this emotion right now? My interactions with most people and situations are now almost always peaceful. I’ve learned to talk through my feelings with family and friends so I’m no longer harboring unspoken grievances.
When my anger is sparked, I feel an immediate disruption to the tranquility of my day. I imagine on a bigger level, this sensation might feel like witnessing a serene beachfront being destroyed by a massive wave. It cuts to the quick. Yep, so that just happened. That’s what it feels like to be out of control.
Over a month ago, I specifically stopped by a Target to use two, $20 gift cards. The catch was that Target had emailed me the gift cards. I debated whether I should redeem them online or try to use them in-person at the store. I didn’t feel like their website would have the selection I needed and I didn’t know if I wanted to deal with a cashier trying to figure out an e-gift card.
We recently moved across town. I drove 25 minutes to my ‘old’ Target because I hadn’t yet realized how close I lived to another Target location. Strike one.
I shopped for close to an hour, mid-afternoon on a hot summer’s day. I was enjoying the chill of Target’s powerful air conditioner on my exposed arms. I took time to cross-reference home good prices with a few items what I had originally priced out at Cost Plus. I browsed the greeting card aisle and stocked up for a few upcoming events. I was in a zone. By the time I needed to check out, I had almost forgotten about my odd form of payment.
After I presented the cashier with the first e-gift card code on my phone, she told me I had to download the Target App. She explained in a monotone voice that her machine couldn’t register e-gift cards without the app. She put my purchase on hold and rang up two customers while I tried to remember a Target password that I set up close to 10 years ago. Strike two.
I felt the heat of embarrassment creeping up on my cheeks.
When I finally proclaimed defeat she said, “You’ll have to go talk to someone at customer service”. I looked across the store and saw a long line behind the red, belted customer service stanchions. Oh geez. Here we go.
The woman at customer service was just as unimpressed with my helplessness. She said she couldn’t ring me up. I explained to her that I had both target gift card numbers on my phone despite not knowing how to set up the app. No can do.
I reframed my miniature debacle and suggested that I write down the numbers for her on a piece of paper. As her temper escalated, so did mine. This is pointless. I gave my cart a minor shove and mumbled a hot, “Okay. I just won’t come back to this Target to shop then.” I marched towards the automatic doors and tried to become invisible. Strike three.
My anger raced and my shame was soon to follow. I zipped through the parking lot to my car. Oh Whitney! You literally just threw a tantrum. Yes, Target is a big corporation, and no she probably couldn’t help you unless you downloaded the app.
I ran through three of Miguel Ruiz’s Four Agreements: Why are you assuming she was lying to you? Why do you think she’s out to get you? Why are you making this personal? Why do you think she just didn’t want to help a woman like you?
I became embarrassed with myself. I had acted out of anger, that sudden-rage that sits right below the surface when I’m not paying attention. You weren’t impeccable with your words. Is that how you want to present yourself to the world?
Late last week I went to Target to buy a baby shower gift for my expecting friend. Once again I drove out to my previous neighborhood store because I had to run by our old post office. Upon arrival, I snuck into the customer service section. I tried to be incognito while I printed off my girlfriend’s baby registry. Whew! I hope I don’t see that lady here today.
I made this shopping trip quick. While standing in line to check-out, I realized I must have set down the registry list when I was rummaging through the baby clothing aisle. If I didn’t have the cashier scan the registry, I might be identified as the lazy gift-giving culprit when my friend unwrapped two singing crab pillows.
I told the cashier my, ‘misplaced registry’ situation and she suggested I just head over to the customer service counter, “they can help you, Ma’am.”
I begin my trek to the familiar line behind the customer service counter when I spotted the woman who had told me, “no” about the e-gift cards. She had seen my anger make me look like a fool. Karma is real, Whitney. You get what you deserve. I chickened out and made a beeline for the main doors.
As I walked to my car, I made a hasty decision to call that Target store on the drive home. I can simply read her the receipt number over the phone. I knew my nemesis might be the one to answer the phone but I couldn’t face her again after my original eruption. What if she remembers me?
Surely she can run the receipt number manually. I was certain it could be done.
“It can’t be done”, my opponent said on the other end of the line. “You’re going to have to call our corporate office”. No she didn’t. I was fired up but I remained cool on the line. I didn’t want a second outburst to scar my fantasized, squeaky-clean perception of myself.
I called the 800-number for overseas customer service. I spent close to 30 minutes on the call, restating long item numbers with consecutive zeros. The young gentleman on the call sounded like he was irritated that I couldn’t just drive back to the store and have the customer service counter scan my receipt.
He placed me on hold for over ten minutes. During this time my anger continued to simmer. I decided that my phone representative was most likely talking to his office mates and betting on how long a dummy like me would stay on the call, holding like an moron. He’s out to get me. I felt my blood start to boil, just below the surface.
I wanted to ask him, ask anybody who worked at Target, if my customer service nemesis could have actually helped me over the phone with manually matching up my receipt to the baby registry. What is it with these people? Why are they so rude?
When my rep got back on the phone he was kind and apologetic. He had misjudged his own handwriting with some of the numbers I had rattled off at the beginning of our call. We laughed together and I felt the tension melt away. I was so happy to catch myself red-handed before making an ass of myself like I had about the e-gift cards.
I ran through Miguel Ruiz’s fourth agreement. Always do your best Whitney.
Now that my anger had subsided, I couldn’t resist the temptation to ask about my nemesis. It’s almost like I needed to prove to myself that my anger could be blinding. I bit the bullet and asked my phone helper, “Hypothetically speaking, if I called the store instead of calling you first, could I have just given the local Target staff member my receipt number over the phone? Could she have matched my receipt to the registry that way?”
“No, unfortunately not.” He replied. “Target stores don’t have the ability access online registries.”
Oh wow. I really had made an ass of myself twice. She hadn’t just been too lazy to do it. I had assumed the worst from the beginning with the e-gift cards and now with the baby registry. What is wrong with me?
I notice I heat up when I feel wronged or when I feel like someone I care about has been wronged. I hear myself say, “Uh, thank you” with a snarky tone after a driver cuts me off. Who am I to be a bitch in private when no one can hear me or see me? That energy still affects my mood.
Pre-eating disorder recovery, I had a highway road rager scream at me during one of my secret car binges. I watched his mouth contort through our windows as he tore past my little, compact car. He took note of me eating and quickly pretended to stuff his face. He flipped me off and drove away. Anger to shame. Shame to anger.
In the past, I stuffed down all of those unwanted emotions before I even had time to register why I was upset in the first place. I was desperate to make my feelings disappear.
I used to chalk up these run-ins with uncontrolled emotions as “bad days”. Now I recognize that those types of days only happen when I chose to let my anger get the best of me. I try to rationalize that there are always two sides to every story so my emotions stay balanced.
When I have ‘a moment’ I remind myself that it doesn’t happen often, that I’m wiser now, that I no longer set my personal expectations to “perfect”, instead I set them to “human”. Recovering from bulimia has taught me to work through my emotions, especially stuff I used to be afraid to touch, normal human emotions, stuff like anger.