Life Lessons from a Lifetime of Ugly Crying

(Song Dedication: Tracks of My Tears by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles)

When Smokey sings about crying, it’s not only melodic and poetic…it’s a pretty picture of a still face, smile out of place, with tracks of his tears only if you look closely.  This has been unobtainable for me.  I admittedly, like so many others, am an ugly crier.  Red face all screwed up like a dish rag, snotty nose like a toddler, heaving shoulders slumping inward on themselves, chin to chest in shame, splotchy and blotchy as the crying jag continues until the fire hydrant can be shut off by a team of trained first responders (and sometimes they can take hours to show, busy at another call I guess), it all terminating in a raw face; features softened by the puffiness that swells the eyes, nose and mouth, my mug clouded by a catatonic gaze that gives the hint of remorse for letting it all go with such abandon, fog of numbness closing the curtains on that performance.  Yeesh.

So the good news is, that does not happen often.  I mean, how could it?  If I were to do that regularly, I would surely give up on life for the sheer exhaustion it took to produce such an exhibition of emotion.  As a little girl, I was quick to cry and often told not to, you don’t need to, or just plain stop, that’s enough.  You hear it enough, you begin to believe it.  It took years, and I understand why as an adult it took years, to reign in my childhood emotions.

I was a child with a very high ACE’s score (Adverse Childhood Experiences – with a (discriminating) 7 out of 10.  As an educator I became aware of this research, working with children who struggled with social-emotional constraints on a regular basis (and no, I am not in special education, this is just my analysis as a regular public school elementary classroom teacher).  My background all plays big into why I chose this particular caregiving profession.  Saving the world one child at a time, so I thought.

So I did.  I reigned in those reigns as tight as I could manage, wrapping their leather straps around my hands with circulation-cutting tension, shortening the unpredictability of my emotional steed, flexing my muscle to pull back at the first signs of any inkling of outer emotional distress, for fear of exposing true inner emotion, happy or sad.  What I didn’t realize was this horse was beginning to pick up speed, racing down a unfamiliar heavily forested path, branches whipping back in my face, and the more I tried to control her, the more she sped up, increasing her force, to outmuscle mine.  Anyone who knows horses, I was fortunate as a child to have a dear friend who’s father taught me how to ride (a saving grace in my young life and another post for another day perhaps), knows they (the rider) need to learn quickly that you cannot fake-out theses creatures of intuition.  They know energy, because they are energy, and will do as they please if they sniff out your uncertainty.

I adapted as the years ticked away and found a socially acceptable way to be and present my emotions to the outside world in which I lived.  I got really, really “good” at it too.  Becoming a picture of stoicism, which lead me to appointments of leadership as a high school student and athlete.  My seemingly steely nerves providing a platform for my team mates and peers, getting things accomplished and inspiring hard work in others.  All the while, I was a wreck inside, the beast inside me rearing it’s head, trying to buck me off for my inauthenticity.  And I hung on, rode it out so to speak, until pretty recently.  I mean a few times she did buck me off, but I was quick to climb back on and show her who was boss.  I wasn’t going to let theses silly little emotions get in the way of my hard-earned acceptance from my peers and family.  You let them see the vulnerability, you will surely lose them, risking your belonging as they drop you and your issues at the next rest stop (a-BAN-don-meeennntt – I like to say that with a sing-songy voice).

(The metaphors are really active today….assembled in my medial temporal lobe (brain) as my audience, hands raised and waiving….oh! oh! pick me!  That’ll do Metaphor and Simile, that’ll do.)

My Dad said recently, “I am trying to read your blog, but they are so long sometimes!  It’s like reading a book!” He chuckled when he said this.  It warmed my heart to know he is trying though, so Dad if you are still with us…I am trying to wrap er up here, promise… And at least I got your cowboy theme in there today with some horse talk! (Not intentional, but I like a solid sell and thought this might help you connect?)

Anyhoo, as I was saying, the ugly crying…few and far between, so that’s good right?! As with many things I am coming to understand in my late 30’s, what I once thought was good and healthy, not so much!  Here’s what I understand today, the pretty-face-Audrey- Hepburn-cry may never be available to me.  I mean, it’s Audrey Hepburn, nobody should strive to fill her shoes anyway.  But what I did recently learn was how to take the edge off of my big, showy (unintentional, but showy) crying fits.  Cry more often.

Yup, I happened upon this by accident, like so many other great inventions of our time (microwaves, slinky, velcro and x-rays) this is how revolutionary thinking works!  By crying regularly, which I began doing unintentionally since mid-Mexico last week (for various reasons, but will not go into for the sake of holding Dad’s interest), I have gotten in “crying-shape”.  By regularly crying, I mean daily, if not a few times a day, I have found during these “crying-workouts” I am better able to reign their power in, in a less painful, explosive way.  Now the horse kind of trots, sometimes even just plods along as the tears come.  It’s still a bit ugly, but it doesn’t hurt like it use to.  Seriously, my crying-style use to hurt me physically.  My sinuses felt like they were being stabbed and there were hands of death around my throat choking off my air supply, or at the very least like I was trying to swallow a not declawed cat.  Now, instead of the fight I use to put up, I just let the droplets form at the edge of my lids and when they grow big enough (just like precipitation in a raincloud) they drop.  Rolling down my cheeks, under my chin and falling someplace I don’t really concern myself with; all the while I breathe and blink away more salt water until my vision clears and I am ready to resume whatever it was that triggered these emotions of sadness, happiness, sorrow, confusion, frustration, joy, connection, hope, so so so many reasons to cry!

Not that I claim to have invented daily doses of comfortable crying…not at all, there are many wise people who have studied the benefits of this practice and I even recently read that when children are allowed to cry unimpeded, the physiology in their brain and body changes, as this release of energy signals the “futility stage”.  Meaning if a child is allowed to cry in the learning process of whatever it is they are engaged in and they are met with difficulty and frustration, all they have to do is cry and the brain resets, allowing them to transition from this difficult emotion into a more productive, new learning emotional state.  Done repeatedly (say, through their formative years) in a safe, accepting environment, a relatively emotionally attuned child will turn into an emotionally stable adult. (Hold Onto Your Kids, Gordon Neufeld & Gabor Maté)

So I am 38 and have recently learned how to cry “properly”.  Here is an interesting tidbit for you to gnash on, since I intuitively stumbled upon this, I have not had a migraine.  It has been almost exactly 6 days, which is almost exactly 2 days longer than my recent migraine pattern has allowed.  Could crying be the emotional and physiological release my body has been begging for all this time?  I am not sure, but I am going to continue watching “This is Us” (which is something my husband and I finally started, in a late-blooming yield that everyone else seems to be raving about) but I, for selfish reasons did not want to engage with.  I didn’t want to be forced into crying, following Facebook rumours of how emotionally charged the story was.  This is also why I quit “Grey’s Anatomy” mid-season 8, many moons ago, because being forced to cry every episode was really pissing me off.  No doubt!  It hurts like hell to cry when you are emotionally constipated!

So bring it world, stories of inspiration on Ellen, human struggle and triumph on my news feed, Sarah McLachlan’s BCSPCA public service commercial, my son’s broken heart over another kid telling him he has a stupid face, thinking of how old my dog is getting, listening to Coldplay’s The Scientist, tapping into old family trauma from generations past, reading and writing my own story, let’s do this.  The children’s song, “It’s Alright to Cry” by former NFL star, Rosey Grier was always just a nice melody and words to me until now.  Truth Rosey.  Truth!  I may finally be out of fucks on this, but know now I will never, ever be out of tears.

Raindrops from your eyes
Washing all the mad out of you
Raindrops from your eyes
It’s gonna make you feel better




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