I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve cried in public. To be clear, I’m talking about true public outbursts, inconsistent with the emotional state of those around me. Outside of movies, and a notorious dinner at South Street Brewery in 2007, I’ve managed to keep the majority of my emotional episodes confined to my own little safe zones.
In 1987, during story time in nursery school, I got a calf cramp and accidentally kicked the girl sitting in front of me. As can be expected of kids at the ripe age of 3, my kick triggered her water works and story time came to a hault. Not yet being at a communication level to explain the chain of events causing the kick, the terror of being in trouble overtook my little body and I broke down. It was the first time in my life that I had known public embarrassment, vulnerability, and my own perceived feeling of weakness. And guess what? I didn’t like it. Not. one. bit.
This memory has haunted me, in vivid detail, for a quarter-century, but not because I carry any guilt about kicking that little girl. Incidentally, that girl pushed me in the playground bushes several weeks later, sparking a new chain of events where I vehemently expressed my displeasure to my entire 3 year old network. It was years before I would appreciate the symbolic significance of the experience when compared to the larger world.
What actually stuck with me most was my complete recollection the moment, internal thoughts, and immediate decision that I hated having people show up uninvited to moments of extreme vulnerability and exposed tears. Extreme being a relative term.
Over the course of my life I’ve logged several similar moments into my memory bank, but all with one major difference – I shed no tears. I accepted the fact that I could not control or prevent vulnerable situations or unfavorable outcomes, but I managed to find a way to control my own emotions. I learned to compartmentalize like a champion, bury feelings deep, and over time developed a hyper-rationalization method that broke situations and emotions down so logically that I became immune to them. Or, I became dead inside, the verdict’s still out on that one. Now, I’m not saying that I became a complete emotionless bot in all aspects of my life – I still felt happiness, joy, possibility and all the good gooey feelings that go along with normal upslopes of relationships and life – I just didn’t allow myself to react openly to the less favorable moments. Eventually I became so trained to numb myself in the moment, that I forgot to ever go back and fully react.
This would all be great if it were even remotely healthy – but it’s not. Emotions can’t be held captive forever, and need to be released in due time or the overflow will eventually break the dam. And that’s exactly what happened.
Sure, there were small leaks and warnings over the years, usually in conjunction with emotionally charged movies or things that impacted people close to me, but nothing like this past year.
Last October following the funeral of a friend, I cried for hours, aimlessly roaming the city in my car grieving that loss, and all of the losses I had known over the past decade. Even now when I think back on that morning I can feel my throat tighten up. In May I went to see the comedic hit ‘Bridesmaids’ with friends, and cried – ugly cried – from the opening credits straight on through. In August I sprung another leak, shortly after I had moved to Charlotte, when my parents sent me pictures of my dog that my dad kidnapped, and quickly followed that up with a TOTAL breakdown, when I finally admitted to myself how severely I hated my job at the time, and regretted making the move. September and October brought much of the same – privately – and finally debuted publicly on Halloween while surrounded by some of the friends that have become my family. Little by little I let things go, releasing my emotions and by allowing myself to do that I was finally able to release myself from the draining situation I was in.
I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit lately while navigating through this particular life transition, cautious about slipping back into a similar pattern. I’ve become so accustomed to keeping things to myself, sharing only with my most trusted confidants when I’m ready, that it takes effort for me sometimes to battle against my inclination to close off and self-manage. It’s an ongoing process, and I’m not certain that its one that I will ever fully release, but the good news is that I’ve surrounded myself with a core group of friends that have become my family, that challenge me, and that I know will be there to support and love me whenever I find myself being pushed in the bushes — and isn’t that what really matters?
We all have ups and downs – it’s a part of life and not a sign of weakness. Being vulnerable is being human, and sharing doubt, fears, and insecurities are WHY it is so critical to have people in our lives. This really isn’t about public crying, or crying at all, but really about allowing myself to bring other people in to what I’m experiencing so I can work through the process with their support. By clearing space within myself to let others share little bits of my being I’m not losing the pieces of me that make me whole, I’m shedding the parts that hold me back. Plus, assembling a strong and loyal army of supporters makes it’s far less probable that anyone’s going be pushing you in the bushes.