Talk of Tigers
(Written March 9, 1990)

"Tell me about your tiger," she said. They were at the zoo, standing in front of the tiger cage. A huge, restless Bengal tiger paced back and forth the length of the cage. His eyes looked devoid of life, cold, neutral. The huge paws silently padded up and down, the tawny skin rippling over muscles bunching and loosening as he walked, endlessly pacing. There was about him an ominous presence, a sense of unbelievable power and force, frightening, even with the steel bars separating him from outsiders.

"OK," he replied. "I guess to do that the best way to start is to tell you about this dream I had. In the dream I was walking down a road with a friend, and I was taking her to see my house. I wanted to show her all the beautiful new rooms I was discovering in my house. We opened the front door and went inside, and as we closed the door behind us, I knew there was something in there with us." He stopped, paused, took a deep breath. "We began walking through the house, with me pointing out all the neat rooms and nice features. Suddenly there was a tiger with us, walking next to us. My friend was, of course, very frightened. I assured her It was a tame tiger, that I knew it, and that it wouldn't hurt us. Then it grabbed my arm in its mouth. I could feel the tremendous power of its jaws, even though it wasn't biting hard - just playing almost. Then I knew the tiger was not tame, I had been fooling myself. I could not control it, and sooner or later it would destroy me, and any of my friends who might be around. I got scared, and the dream ended."

"Boy," she gasped, "that's pretty powerful. So what does the dream mean to you?"

"The house, of course, is me - the inside of me. It has many wonderful parts - rooms - to it, a lot of which I'm just now discovering. The tiger was my rage. Something terrible because it was uncontrollable, capable of destroying the house - me - and anyone who came close to me."

The tiger continued to pace as they watched in silence for a few minutes.

"What was it about tigers that scared you most?"

"I think it was that they are so compassionless. They kill for food with no thought of the prey, no remorse. It's almost like a need to hurt."

"Wow! That's pretty intense."

"Yeah. Also, they have great self control in their stalking, but once they go for the kill they are merciless. And they live so much of their life alone, roaming, seeking the kill. I didn't want to live my life that way. But there was a part of me that understood that. It scared me so much, I kept it hidden - even from myself a lot of the time."

"That's pretty scary. But - I've never seen you like that."

"You see. I kept it that well hidden. But it was there. Some people have seen it."

"How in the world did you get like that?"

"I guess you could say it was an inheritance. From being raised by a brutal Ex-Marine who let his tiger act out on a twelve year old boy. Like his Dad did to him." The tiger continued to pace.

"So what did you do about it?" she asked.

He was quiet for a long time. "For me, learning about the tiger was a sort of revelation. I didn't know he was inside me. But overcoming the tiger was a process, a journey if you will. It started the way much of my journey started, with the First Step."

"You mean The First Step?"

"You got it. Powerlessness. As long as I tried to fight the tiger on my own, I lost - it was too powerful, too destructive. It was as I worked The Steps on my rage that I began to be able to conquer it." He stopped and reflected for a moment, then spoke again very deliberately. "There is some more to it than that - some specific things that happened. But they're still very private for me. I don't share them with people. It's like, it's just between me and God. I guess the best I can say is - do you believe in miracles?"

"Yes, I can accept that," she replied. They turned and walked away. The tiger, at long last winded and tired, had finally laid down to rest.


10-28-09 I'm finally about ready to talk about the things that were still very private at the time the above piece was written. The miracles and the events of confronting my rage. It will be the topic of a book, "The Tiger Unveiled," that I have laid out, but not finished. Below is the pivotal event that made me face the tiger within me.

The Tiger Unveiled

As they sat down at the Denny’s restaurant, what went through his mind was, “Oh, my God, this feels like an Intervention.” There were six of them, and one of him. They had gotten him out of bed that night - woke him up late - and said they wanted to buy him dinner. From the first his intuition was that something was wrong. The people who came to his back door didn’t fit together - some of them didn’t even like each other. And they wanted to buy him dinner? This late? But he had gone along with them - because he trusted them, gave power to their words - in a sense because they were family.

He had seen these people earlier in the evening at a party. He had been in a lot of pain - because of grief over his Dad’s death, but also the pain of knowing that he must move on from some of these people. He loved them dearly, but he had to detach from them, for his own well being, to save himself. So when it got too emotionally crowded at the party, he went home.

Now as he sat in the middle of the table, surrounded by these people - trapped in a sense - his thought was: listen to what they have to say. Give them the benefit of the doubt - don’t get angry and get up and leave. Trust them. They began talking. They told him they wanted to confront his pattern of backing away from people. That felt strange. Couldn’t that have waited until tomorrow? They said they were doing this out of love. As he looked at them, they looked frightened, agitated. They made statements that sounded reasonable, but in some way sounded angry. The things they said about him could have been true about them as well. It sounded like they were describing themselves, but they were saying it was about him.

Their words grew more hurtful, more demanding. They were accusing him of things, diagnosing him - telling him how sick he was. Some of them grew more angry, more insistent. It continued.

Several days later, he found out the truth about how this had all come about. He grew angry, very angry. He felt his tiger. It scared him deeply, because there was an immediate target for the rage. Something had to be done.

The event at Denny's was one of the most hideous experiences of my life. Yet I would later refer to it as one of the greatest blessings I'd ever received. It forced me to confront and deal with my anger and rage. But I was committed not to hurt anyone. I ended up signing before 2 witnesses, very solemnly, an Anger Contract that that stayed in effect for 2 years, as to how I would not act out my anger on someone else. I also committed to actively to release that anger in safe ways. It worked! That was the great blessing of the event at Denny's.

Author's Bio: 

Dan Hays is the author of "Freedom's Just Another Word, a hopeful and inspirational memoir about his struggles to overcome the effects of growing up with a violent alcoholic. Dan also presents hopeful radio messages in his broadcasts "Minute to Freedom." On his roundtable radio show "Dialogues With Dignity," Dan discusses topics of depth and substance.