Recently, I attended a men’s event where part of the training was around empathy. One man told a story about losing his son in a car accident while the man standing beside him wept uncontrollably. By the end of the story the other man was on his knees crying out at the top of his lungs. It struck me that this was the first time in my 57 years that I had ever seen an adult man cry like that.
This man was completely losing his shit.
What else struck me was how much I admired him for his courage and how many times I wished I had allowed myself to let go at that level. I’ve always had a hair trigger when it comes to my tears and sometimes it takes everything within me to resist that which would feel so good…a good cry.
I learned at an early age that I could substitute tears with laughter by being a jokester. Later on, I discovered the addictive drugs and behaviors that could also help me hide that shameful part of myself.
Like many men, I was taught that tears and balls went together like oil and water. The men in my life had become masters at holding back their tears and if I was ever going to be like them, I had to learn to do the same. My dad had six brothers and I’ve only seen one of them cry and he was considered the problem child. Today, I see that it had more to do with some of his other character traits rather than his inability to hold back his tears but those things weren’t revealed to me as a boy.
When I first began my recovery journey and started sharing my story in the rooms, I could barely get a sentence out without crying. There were times when I’d just introduce myself and break into tears. I remember watching cartoons with my kids and crying over Wiley Coyote falling off a cliff after the Roadrunner tricked him for the umpteenth time. I don’t know why he never learned his lesson.
I did a little research and it appears that the gender gap of crying is a fairly recent development. In a 2015 essay in Aeon, author Sandra Newman gives numerous examples of noble men crying their eyes out throughout history and how the more recent industrial era played a large role in stigmatizing crying men in order to make them more productive worker bees.
To the factory owner, men standing around sharing their emotions was a waste of precious time that could be spent on making widgets.
We get mixed messages from our society telling us that crying is a sign of strength then showing us through their reactions that they really don’t believe it. Recent men of power like Speaker John Boehner have been fodder for ridicule in many of the media outlets for his unwillingness to suppress his true nature as an emotional being. Regardless of his ideologies I have great admiration for his strength.
When I reflect on all the harmful things I did to myself and those I loved through my addictions, I see that I was a survivor. Back in the day our very survival depended on not appearing weak to the tribe and I guess that’s still true today. The difference is we have so many more tribes to choose from today with just as many varying viewpoints. Why not choose the one that empowers us to live true to ourselves?
So, the next time you get the urge to “cry like a baby”, or “cry like a little bitch”, don’t do it.
Instead cry your fucking eyes out like a POWERFUL MAN who is not afraid to fully feel and express the emotions that make him who he is.
Then see how that feels. I’m guessing it will feel better than the guilt that comes from a relapse.