Grief is just so scary. Our grief and rage just terrify us. If we finally begin to cry all those suppressed tears, they will surely wash us away like the Mississippi River. That’s what our parents told us. We got sent to our rooms for having huge feelings. In my family, if you cried or got angry, you didn’t get dinner.
We stuffed scary feelings down, and they made us insane. I think it is pretty universal, all this repression leading to violence and fundamentalism and self-loathing and addiction. All I know is that after 10 years of being sober, with huge support to express my pain and anger and shadow, the grief and tears didn’t wash me away. They gave me my life back! They cleansed me, baptized me, hydrated the earth at my feet. They brought me home, to me, to the truth of me.
~Anne Lamott in an interview with Salon
She's right, of course. How often do we cry those tears and then feel ourselves cleansed? Our problem might still exist, the pain might still be there, but somehow it feels smaller. Somehow we feel as those we've paid respect to our pain. Acknowledged its legitimacy.
Unfortunately women's tears have had a bad rap. Men, having typically been told since they were toddlers that "boys don't cry" have long stuffed their sadness, expressing it instead in anger or addiction or affairs. We women were given a bit more time to get our emotions under control. It was acceptable for us to cry until our teens. And then, because it often made the males in our lives uncomfortable – our boyfriends, our bosses – we blinked the tears back. Otherwise we risked being called manipulative, "turning on the waterworks", too sensitive, emotional.
My mother, who cried booze-tears instead of the real kind, often looked at me, her hyper-sensitive child, like I was some sort of alien being. "Why are you crying?" she would ask me, genuinely curious. Why was I crying? Well...my mother didn't understand me, she drank too much, I felt lonely and, well, sad. But I got the message. Tears were weakness.
But those tears saved me. I couldn't have stopped them if I tried, and frankly I never saw the point in trying. Consequently I felt my feelings instead of numbing them. My mom eventually unearthed her own pain but not before she'd stormed through a decade, cauterizing her sadness with alcohol.
Thanks but I'll take a cup of tears. A thousand cups.
The agony of D-Day and the subsequent weeks and months of anguish brought with it an ocean of tears.
My therapist, soaked to the knees in my tears, told me that some cultures believe that we have a finite number of tears to cry before we're cleansed. You, she told me, just haven't reached that number. In other words, let the tears flow and trust that the day will come when they will dry up.
That permission was crucial. Equally crucial was the understanding that, eventually, the tears would dry. Implicit in that is the recognition that the sadness will lift. But for now...cry.
The grief, as Lamott promises, won't wash you away. It will baptize you into this new world that holds pain but also love, sadness but also joy. Those tears will, if you let them, bring you home to the truth of you. That you are whole. That you are worthy. That you are sane and human and okay and sad. Right now, you are sad.