4 Examination

What are your most common emotions? The ladies at the Lighthouse, a fifteen-month, faith-based, residential treatment program for substance abuse recovery, had no problem pop-corning their common responses – anger, anxiety, frustration, disappointment, depression, loneliness, grief, feelings of numbness and being overwhelmed, and more. Drugs and alcohol had been their preferred means of numbing/controlling the chaos and pain in their lives, but now they are learning to live soberly. Consequently all manner of unpleasant emotions bubble to the surface where new coping strategies have to be learned.

So, as part of that learning curve, we invited the women to draw three pictures of their anger – what it looked like in the past, what it looks like now, and what they hope it will look like in the future.  No problem getting started on this therapeutic art project. All the women were pretty clear about what their anger looked like in the past. It ranged  from raging storm clouds with lightening bolts to the searing flames of Hell.

Anger is often considered a secondary emotion that rears its head when we are feeling threatened in some other more primary way. It often has two functions: to recover that which is lost, or to give us energy to move on. Anger for these women has helped them deal with depression, fear, anxiety, loss of control, and feeling overwhelmed, among other things. But their expressions of anger have been destructive as well. Now they’re learning more appropriate ways to address and deal with their anger. Their second pictures revealed that. Reyna’s elegantly drawn barbed wire entitled “Contained Anger 4 Examination” was an eloquent illustration of the progress she’s making in dealing with her anger. Once a consuming fire, now her anger is more assertively contained “4 examination.” She is learning to examine what’s going on with her rather than just react. She’s asking questions of her anger. She’s allowing her initial anger to inform her about other underlying issues  and emotions. Through examining her anger, she is being proactive rather than reactive.

As the women began to tape their pictures on the walls around the room, Teri had only two pictures to display. She readily volunteered, “I don’t have a past picture. It was terrible. I threw it in the trash.” Knowing that these are often extremely important pieces, I asked her to fish it out. She brought me a large crumbled wad of paper. As I reverently opened it, Teri continued to tell me what a worthless picture of anger it was. Her “past” picture showed a drab bedroom and several pets her parents had disposed of during her childhood. Through tears she shared how angry she becomes when “bad things happened to those that have no voice.” From what little I know of her story, that seemed an apt description of some aspects of her childhood. Sometimes it is easier to be angry on another’s behalf than for ourselves. Perhaps is seems less engulfing and more righteous. Whatever the reason, through her wadded up picture  Teri’s anger began the hard work of embracing her ancient griefs.  

Curiously, a series of three flowers represented Lisa’s anger – past, present and future. The final one, a long-stem red rose, captured my attention as she explained that roses are delicate and need to be groomed. Having recently spent a day with friends pruning a neglected rose garden, I know how vigorously one can “groom” a rose bush, eliminating the branches that stymie abundance, cutting old canes back to the “bud eyes” of new growth so that it will bloom with renewed glory in the future. It seemed an appropriate metaphor for the delicate young woman before me who is probably more hardy than she imagines.

Think of the last time you were angry. If you contained your anger 4 examination, what did you find out about yourself? What questions would you ask your anger? How would you go about grooming it? If you were to draw pictures of your anger – past, present and future, what would they look like? If you were to draw a picture of your anger embracing an ancient grief, what would it look like? If your were to write a poem or a prayer, what would you say?

Looking forward to what you have to share.



2 comments to 4 Examination

  • Michelle Holmes


    Thank you (again) for your post. There is almost always something that speaks directly to me.

    I spent 20+ years consumed with anger at my ex-husband — many times dreaming of myself holding a gun or firehose aimed at him — and the bullet just falling out of the gun barrel at my feet, or the water trickling out of the firehose: dreams of rage and of my impotence and powerlessnes, and I would wake up exhausted and defeated.

    Finally I worked through some of that anger (through some rather painful journaling AND drawings) to the point that I actually had a dream about him that seemed to say I had begun to heal. In that dream I was holding a baby he had with ANOTHER wife — he was leaving the other wife and he had handed over the baby to me. In my dream, I just looked at him and said “Oh, I’m so sorry you missed the love.” The dreams of rage and powerlessness stopped at that point. I will never forget that — and your post brought it to mind again. Such grace after so many years!


  • Helen

    I used to think I was a cool grown up who dealt with her emotions very neatly!
    But it seems God thought otherwise, and dealing with a life-time of hidden pain and numbed down emotion is very much the work in hand just now.
    God showed me the sad ‘honey child’ locked within me; a dear little girl who dances with the wind of his Spirit as her pent up emotions are slowly revealed and expressed and eased.
    A few months ago an ‘angry dance’ appeared – I cannot tell you how much it helps me!

    And the honey child danced on
    And all the sadness rose within her
    As the loneliness of the years
    Bit deep
    And the song in her heart
    Empty and forlorn
    Drifted away to catch the wind
    And the wind blew in and curled
    Teasingly round her toes
    And she danced with him
    And her grieving spirit
    Released by his touch
    The fury rose within her
    And her dancing feet
    Began to beat
    A rising tattoo
    Of anger and pain
    And her heart raged on
    And her feet throbbed apace
    Until at last
    She could dance no more
    And her anger all spent
    Painful tears flowed
    And hurts coursed down
    To empty her heart
    And all the while
    The wind curled gently
    Around her dancing form
    And caressed her dancing toes
    And heard the depths
    Of her dancing cries
    And soothed by his lilting touch
    And refreshed by his gentle grace
    Her heart was eased
    And sinking low
    She rested on the ground
    Beneath the window
    And the wind blew in
    And curled softly
    Around her grieving heart


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