My New Years Resolution in 1999 was to not cry. I was eleven years old, and apparently had had enough experiences where I cried in public and was humiliated for it. To avoid further humiliation and shame I made a solemn resolution not to cry. Like all resolutions it didn’t last. A few months later I cried, felt ashamed, and what’s more felt anger toward myself for failing to keep my resolution.
When you think about it, crying is a strange phenomenon. It’s basically water coming out of our eyes. It’s the first thing all of us do when we are born. As we grow up, however, it’s discouraged. Especially for males. Big Boys Don’t Cry. The ability to withhold tears is equated with stoicism. And in this society, for whatever reason, stoicism is associated with masculinity. By the transverse formula of meaningless mores, not crying is a mark of manhood.
Probably has something to do with eleven year old me committing not to cry. I didn’t want to be a girl. I didn’t want to be a boy. I wanted to be a man, a man capable of great suffering- who didn’t show it. Sure enough, eventually my tear ducts ran dry. Sometime in high school, I stopped crying. Sure, there were exceptions, but only on account of physical pain. When it came to emotional pain I didn’t cry. I couldn’t cry. I was numb.
And in college, I took an active role in making myself numb through a number of chemical avenues. I recently caught up with a friend who knew me at the time. He recalls a conversation (I don’t) in which we were both high and drunk. I told him in dead-pan declarative sentences that I needed to cry, I wanted to cry, but had no idea how. That’s pretty sad- someone incapable of crying. But really it was a success story- I finally kept my resolution to not cry.
That’s all changed in the past two years, since I’ve gotten sober. Like a flower gone dormant during winter I am awakening to emotions I haven’t felt for years, if ever. As a result, sometimes I cry.
Some of the emotions are not embarrassing at all. There’s this one type of melancholy-happiness that occurs when I look deeply at the ones I love while realizing we’re all going to vanish one day, and I get to appreciating my time in the world and I start to cry. There’s another non-embarrassing type of tears that happens whenever I meditate about ten minutes in; just a few tears as my chest unclenches.
But then there’s the not so proud crying. Like how I cry at sappy movies now. The lamer the movie, the more uncontrollable I am. But even that’s not so bad. Not as bad as the episode where I was back to being an eleven year old boy humiliated by his own feelings.
This was about a month ago. I was working on a home improvement project with my dad. Things were going good, then we took a break for lunch. After lunch I wanted to take a nap, but we had to keep going. That was the first trigger. Next, I was climbing the ladder to nail something into the wall but saw from my perch a wonderful view of the neighbor’s yard dappled with the red leaves of a tree and a field of straw extending in the background. I wanted to draw it with crayons- it would of taken me only a minute, but I had nailing to do. Trigger number two. I was losing focus of the project so my dad took over and I was left being his gofer, holding the ladder and fetching him tools. I became bored, apathetic, disengaged. Trigger number three. Then, as my dad was smacking a nail with the hammer, I imagined the nail was a human jaw and the human jaw was being shattered by the hammer and the owner of the human jaw was experiencing unpronounceable agony. This is a thing I do whenever I watch somebody use tools or power tools (imagine the tools used in the worst way possible). Ever since I was a kid. It makes me feel horrible. Trigger number four.
A combination of all these things: the fatigue, the apathy, the drawing I didn’t draw, the feeling of subordination and fear of physical torment, boiled over into hostility at my dad. I started to pout. He looked at me and said ‘What’s wrong?’ I wouldn’t say. He laughed at me and said ‘Come On’.
At that moment the tears started to come. They rose up from my stomach up to my heart, up to my throat and then- they stopped. It happened in slow motion. On the one hand was my will that refused to cry. It argued that there was no real reason for crying and that I was just being a baby. On the other hand was the Voice of Reason, that voice that doesn’t speak very often but when it does it’s plain as poo It said to me, Cry. It would be very healing for you right now to just cry in front of your dad, for no reason other than you can.
But I didn’t. I choked back the tears and they stayed there in my throat.
I regret not crying then. I did it to protect myself from humiliation and shame, but the price was not expressing how I felt, even if that expression would have been inarticulate, childish, dumb.
So my resolution for 2014 is to be more honest about my emotions, and if that means not using my words, so be it.